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Publicly Available Published online by De Gruyter Mouton May 9, 2022

Peripheral multilingual scholars confronting epistemic exclusion in global academic knowledge production: a positive case study

Ingrid Piller ORCID logo, Jie Zhang ORCID logo and Jia Li ORCID logo
From the journal Multilingua


The decolonization of knowledge is increasingly high on the agenda of applied and sociolinguistics. This article contributes to this agenda by examining how peripheral multilingual scholars confront their linguistic and epistemic exclusion from global knowledge production. Based on the product of such a challenge – a Chinese-centric special issue of Multilingua, a global academic Q1 journal, devoted to crisis communication during the COVID-19 pandemic and committed to furthering intercultural dialogue in research – we explore the decades-long knowledge production process behind that product and so provide a look into the “black box” of academic networking and publishing. Advocating for collaborative autoethnography as an inherently inclusive method, we focus on enabling academic and personal networks, textual scaffolding, and linguistic and epistemic brokerage. The article closes with three aspects of linguistic and epistemic citizenship that are central to inclusion, namely recognition of the value of peripheral knowledges, recognition of a collaborative ethics of care, and recognition of shared responsibility.

1 Introduction

Global knowledge production raises several questions of linguistic and epistemic justice. Linguistic justice in academic publishing has received substantial attention in debates over the dominance of English as the global language. This includes how English as almost exclusive medium of knowledge communication is imbricated in research content, theoretical frameworks, and methodological approaches (Faraldo-Cabana 2018; Lillis and McKinney 2013; Lillis et al. 2010). To be regarded as publishable, research needs to address research problems and espouse epistemologies that are legible as “global” (Y. Gao and Wen 2009; Kang 2009). Globally legible research problems and epistemologies in applied and sociolinguistics typically show a high level of abstraction, are far removed from any local context, and, if contextualized, are based in the Anglosphere (Liddicoat 2016; Piller 2016b). Additionally, English is not a neutral language that is equally open to everyone but that is racialized as a white language (Piller et al. 2021; Von Esch et al. 2020). As a result, research by women of color is less likely to be published in the first place and, if it is, it is less likely to be cited and to have impact (Kubota 2020; Piller 2019). The barriers to participation in the “academic game” are even higher for scholars based in institutions of the Global South (Babaii 2010), and the linguistic and epistemic inequalities discussed here are, of course, undergirded by entrenched material inequalities (Canagarajah 1996; Mweru 2010; Paasi 2015).

Against this background, this article presents a case study of peripheral multilingual scholars engaging with this “language-epistemology power complex” (Wen 2021). Based on a collaborative autoethnography of global knowledge production related to crisis communication during the COVID-19 pandemic, we examine the nature of linguistic and epistemic exclusion in our field, show how peripheral multilingual scholars navigate barriers to their participation, and suggest implications for linguistic and epistemic inclusion.

We do so by examining the process of knowledge production that led to the publication of a special issue of Multilingua devoted to language challenges in public communication during the COVID-19 pandemic (Piller et al. 2020b). Published in September 2020 under the title “Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis,” the special issue was, to the best of our knowledge, the first concerted linguistic research effort related to the pandemic in English. We address three research questions. First, in what academic and personal networks is the published product embedded? Second, what textual scaffolds lie behind the published product? Third, what role did we play as linguistic and epistemic brokers?

To clarify our terminology before we proceed, we regard the UK and USA as the centers of the Anglosphere. Anglophone settler colonies – Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa – are peripheries within the Anglosphere. Continental Europe is outside the Anglosphere linguistically but has long been central to global knowledge production. The rest of the world has been made peripheral both linguistically and epistemically through colonialism, even if great variation exists. It goes without saying that neither centers nor peripheries are clearly bordered entities. They consist of multiple, fluid, overlapping, and shifting time-spaces. Furthermore, centers and peripheries are not only constituted in space but also on bodies. Those racialized as white may carry their center status with them as they move across spaces, just as racial others may carry their peripherality with them (Li et al. 2022). This is particularly relevant in the highly internationalized academic field, where it is increasingly common for individual scholars to circulate across centers and peripheries (Morley et al. 2018; Phan et al. 2020). We are cognizant of these complexities when we use the terms “centers” and “peripheries.” The same is true for “multilingual,” and we reserve the label here for those multilinguals with a variety of English in their repertoires that is conventionally labelled as “non-native.”

Understanding how peripheral multilingual scholars engage in global knowledge production and how they navigate barriers to their participation in our field remains limited (Curry and Lillis 2019). Our case study therefore provides an account of collaborative inclusive global knowledge production and thus adds to the empirical knowledge how peripheral multilingual scholars insert themselves into global knowledge production processes. To this end we pursue two aims here: first, we intend to illuminate how peripheral multilingual scholars engage in global knowledge production, specifically in our field of applied and sociolinguistics. Second, we intend to make a practical contribution to shifting the epistemic center of gravity in our field away from English and US/Eurocentrism.

We begin by reviewing debates around epistemic justice in global knowledge production, particularly as they relate to peripheral multilingual scholars, before introducing our collaborative autoethnographic case study. We then illustrate the dynamics of confronting linguistic and epistemic exclusion from global knowledge production by discussing the role of academic and personal networks, textual scaffolding, and brokers. We close with implications by charting paths towards greater linguistic and epistemic inclusion.

2 Epistemic exclusion from global knowledge production

Global academic knowledge production occurs in several segmented circuits ranging from local/national, via regional, to international (Beigel 2014). The most highly valued of these is the central “global” publishing circuit emanating from major corporate publishing houses. Publications in this circuit are considered the “standard” by which academic decisions – including hiring, promotion, and funding decisions – are made by institutions around the world. By contrast, publications in other circuits are widely considered peripheral to the system of global knowledge production and may be devalued to the degree that they are not even considered as constituting academic knowledge at all (Blaney and Tickner 2017; Wen 2017).

To work within the neoliberal academy – as we do – places critical scholars in the paradoxical situation that they must seek acceptance in the most central circuit of knowledge production in order to gain and maintain professional legitimacy (hooks 2009; Zheng and Gao 2016). Regardless of affiliation with an institution that is centrally or peripherally placed, it requires us to seek to publish in so-called top tier journals (Feng et al. 2013; Tian et al. 2016; Wen 2017, 2021). Access to this global academic circuit is ideologically constructed as meritocratic despite obvious epistemic and linguistic exclusions (Piller 2016a; Li and Wang 2020).

Epistemic exclusion refers to unwarranted infringements on a person’s ability to contribute to knowledge production (Dotson 2014). Academic knowledge production is driven by publication and therefore we are here concerned with unwarranted infringements on a scholar’s ability to publish in the most central circuit. We accept that there are warranted infringements on academic publishing that relate to quality assurance, such as the requirements that academic authors be PhD-credentialled or engaged in higher degree research, that they be affiliated with a recognized university, or that their manuscripts be subject to peer review prior to publication. By contrast, unwarranted infringements are extraneous barriers, such as a scholar’s language background, gender, racialization, or the prestige of their institution. The largest group affected by unwarranted infringements are women and people of color, who have traditionally been excluded from academic knowledge production on the grounds of their supposed irrationality (Wolf 2020).

Sexist and racist exclusion from academic knowledge production has received intense scrutiny in recent decades (e.g., Kubota 2020; Settles et al. 2021). The focus of this scrutiny has largely been on epistemic exclusion within the Anglosphere. Given that the countries of the Anglosphere “exert a virtual monopoly on knowledge dissemination and its evaluation” (Descarries 2014, p. 564), we will here shift the gaze to the exclusion of scholars from outside the Anglosphere. As is well-understood with regard to sexism and racism, systems of oppression are internalized by individuals as feelings of inferiority (de Beauvoir 1949; Fanon 1967). The affective side of the epistemic exclusion of peripheral multilingual scholars is less well understood although there can be no doubt that they labor “under a heavy mountain” (Gao and Zheng 2020).

This heavy mountain is made up of a wide range of experiences of failure and rejection spanning all career stages. The most relevant example of such experiences for our discussion is the experience of repeated rejections of manuscripts submitted for publication. It may be argued that in the highly competitive academic system rejections are normal and are experienced by all scholars equally. However, this is not the case as the massive overrepresentation of scholars form the Anglosphere among academic leaders in our field shows. A count of the 100 most cited scholars under each of the keywords “Applied Linguistics” and “Sociolinguistics” with a Google Scholar profile[1] reveals that 110 (=55%) are affiliated with a UK or US institution. A further 31 (=15.5%) are affiliated with an institution in another Anglophone country (=141 or 70.5% in total), and 36 (=18%) with one in continental Europe. Only 23 (=11.5%) of the most cited scholars in Applied and Sociolinguistics are based in the rest of the world. This includes four scholars each based in Hong Kong and Japan, three in Singapore, two each in Brazil, Iran, and Malaysia, and one each in Chile, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Peru, and Venezuela.

We acknowledge that this is a rough measure with several limitations, but it makes a stark point. With 177 (=88.5%) of global research leaders in our field based in the Anglosphere and Europe, they are massively overrepresented. By contrast, not a single applied linguist or sociolinguist based at a Chinese university is among the most highly cited scholars although China accounts for 18.47% of the global population, constitutes the second largest economy on the planet, and invests massively in research (Shead 2021). These facts point to the likelihood that manuscript rejections from journals in the most central circuit of academic knowledge production are experienced at disproportionately high rates by Chinese scholars. In other words, epistemic exclusion is not only an abstract oppressive structure but involves frequent experiences of rejection.

A common strategy to achieve epistemic inclusion is to seek affiliation with a center institution, either permanently or for some part of their career such as during PhD study or as a visiting scholar (W. Li and Costa 2021). Yet instead of achieving epistemic inclusion, peripheral scholars in center institutions are often confronted with new forms of epistemic exclusion that undermine their knowledges. Examples include the stereotype that international students and visiting scholars lack critical thinking skills (Singh and Lu 2020) or the suspicion that they are prone to engage in plagiarism (Phan 2006) and other forms of academic misconduct (Bodis 2021). As a result, time spent at center institutions may be associated with heightened anxiety, self-doubt, depression, and loss of confidence rather than epistemic inclusion (Heng 2017).

Such experiences individuate epistemic oppression and serve to obscure structural inequalities. Indeed, given that the academic field is discursively constructed as a meritocracy, achieving inclusion is, by and large, seen as a matter of personal responsibility. In other words, those who are experiencing exclusion are exhorted to try harder. Advice on how to get published “as a non-native speaker of English” is endless and peddled in publications, training workshops, and through innumerable informal channels. When epistemic exclusion is treated not as a structural but an individual problem, the logical response is entrepreneurial, such as strategically seeking out co-authorships with more centrally placed academics (W. Li and Costa 2021; Luo and Hyland 2021).

Such entrepreneurial responses may or may not work for individual scholars. From an epistemic justice perspective, they are problematic for two reasons. First, they leave the overall system of oppression in place and, second, they place the responsibility for remedying their own exclusion on the shoulders of the oppressed. By contrast, epistemic transformation is a joint responsibility where center academics must take the lead and confront their own privilege (Heller et al. 2021).

3 Collaborative autoethnographic case study

In this methods section, we introduce our approach (a case study in the form of a collaborative autoethnography), describe our data, publication platforms, participants, and methods of data analysis.

3.1 Approach

Autoethnography is an increasingly popular qualitative method where the researcher draws on their own experiences to investigate a social phenomenon. Individual autoethnography is often criticized as self-indulgent and anecdotal (Chang et al. 2016). To overcome these shortcomings, researchers may engage in a collaborative autoethnography to “pool their lived experiences on selected sociocultural phenomena and collaboratively analyze and interpret them for commonalities and differences” (Hernandez et al. 2017, p. 251). Collaborative autoethnographies have been increasingly used by marginalized scholars to systematically explore their experiences of isolation (Belkhir et al. 2019; Roy and Uekusa 2020). In these examples, collaborative autoethnography is not only a research methodology that investigates exclusion but one that also contributes to overcoming it.

Collaborative autoethnography is therefore ideally suited to addressing issues of epistemic injustice, as it forces scholars to clearly identify their “locus of enunciation” – a precondition for the decolonization of knowledge (Diniz De Figueiredo and Martinez 2021). In short, our approach seeks not only analysis but also epistemic transformation.

3.2 Data

Our data includes three distinct datasets. The first dataset consists of the special issue of Multilingua devoted to “Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis” and is comprised of 12 articles (Bai 2020; C.-M. Chen 2020; X. Chen 2020; Jang and Choi 2020; J. Li et al. 2020a, 2020b, Y. Li et al. 2020c; Piller et al. 2020a; Shen 2020; Zhang and Wu 2020; Zheng 2020; Zhu 2020). The special issue was edited by Ingrid Piller, Jie Zhang, and Jia Li, who along with all the contributors self-identify as multilingual scholars, with English as an additional language in their repertoires. Piller is based in Australia, a country at the periphery of the Anglosphere, and Zhang and Li are based in China, a country peripheral both to the Anglosphere and US/European epistemic centers. At this point in our careers, each of us is employed in a continuing higher education teaching and research position, spanning different career stages with Piller a distinguished professor and Zhang and Li both associate professors.

Of the remaining 16 contributors, 13 are based outside the Anglosphere and US/European centers (10 Mainland China, 2 South Korea, 1 Taiwan), one in the Anglophone periphery (Australia), and two in the Anglophone center (UK). Based on editor and contributor linguistic identities – all multilingual with English as an additional language – and institutional affiliation – centered on China – we consider the special issue an example of a successful challenge by peripheral multilingual scholars to their exclusion from the central circuit of global knowledge production.

To examine the process of knowledge production behind the special issue we draw on two additional datasets. The second dataset consists of publications that flanked the special issue such as the call for papers, associated research blog posts that preceded and followed publication of the special issue, social media posts, and related online lectures and seminars. Most publications in the second dataset have been collated as the Language on the Move COVID-19 Archives (Piller 2020–2022).

The third dataset is made up of our individual and joint reflections, notes, and records related to our work on the special issue and our collaboration spanning two decades.

3.3 Publication platforms

Multilingua is an international top-100 linguistics journal and a Scopus Q1 journal in two fields (communication and linguistics).[2] The journal is published by Germany-based publishing house de Gruyter Mouton. Founded in 1982 to focus primarily on questions of multilingual terminology in Europe, Multilingua was a multilingual journal under its first editor, Juan C. Sager (Manchester University, UK) (Kaal 2021). Issues from the 1980s contain articles in English, French, and German in about equal measure and, in somewhat lower numbers, Italian and Spanish. The second editor, Richard Watts (Berne University, Switzerland) established the journal as a leading international journal devoted to multilingualism and intercultural communication. During his tenure (1987–2013) the multilingual publications policy continued although fewer and fewer articles in languages other than English were received and published over time. By the early 2010s, submissions in languages other than English had all but dried up and a decision was made for logistical reasons to no longer consider the few that arrived. So, Multilingua today publishes in English only. The journal now has an explicit focus on research from neglected sociolinguistic contexts worldwide. The linguistic trajectory of Multilingua can itself be considered evidence of the epistemic effects of English dominance. “This is a bit like the Chinese idea of ‘learning foreign technology to compete with foreigners and rescue our nation.’ We multilingual scholars paradoxically adopt English monolingualism as an instrument to counter the monolingual mindset and epistemic injustice,” as Zhang observed while writing this article. Since 2013, Piller has served as editor and Zhang as a member of the editorial board.

Language on the Move ( is a virtual research dissemination platform edited by Piller. Founded in 2009 by Piller and Kimie Takahashi, it connects scholars with research interests in intercultural communication, language learning, multilingualism, and bilingual education, and brings their research to a broad global audience. The site currently (April 2021) hosts over 800 research blogposts and content pages, and over 6,500 reader comments. Most of these are in English although the digital medium offers much greater flexibility and the site also hosts content in Armenian, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Thai.

Among the 136 contributors to Language on the Move, peripheral multilingual authors, based in 28 different countries and on all continents, predominate. Readers of the open access resource come from all countries on earth, except for the Central African Republic, North Korea, and Republic of the Congo. In 2020, the site attracted 566 visitors daily on average (over 200,000 in total), with the top 10 audiences coming from USA, China, Australia, United Kingdom, Philippines, India, Germany, Canada, Japan, and Spain (in this order). Zhang and Li have been contributors since 2011 and 2014, respectively.

3.4 Participants

Piller, Zhang, and Li are an established team and have been collaborating for two decades. Piller and Zhang first met in a teacher-student relationship in 2001 at the University of Sydney, where Piller was a new lecturer from Germany and Zhang a new postgraduate student from China. In the following years, Piller returned to Europe and Zhang to China before reconvening for another intensive period of co-located collaboration in the form of PhD supervision between 2008 and 2011 at Macquarie University, also in Sydney. Zhang’s PhD research was an ethnographic investigation of language policy and planning for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Zhang 2011). Immediately after graduation from her PhD in Australia, she returned to her home university, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, where she has since been promoted to associate professor. During this period Zhang has published regularly in Chinese and in Chinese journals (e.g., Li and Zhang 2020; Zhang and Wang 2021; Zhang 2019a, 2019b) but struggled to publish her PhD research in the most central circuit of academic publishing. This experience with its ups and downs significantly informs our study. Although prolonged, the long transformation from PhD thesis to book published by a center academic publisher, de Gruyter Mouton, ultimately proofed enriching to the research (Zhang 2021).

Li first met Piller and Zhang during an intercultural communication conference at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan in 2012. The conference was co-organized by Zhang, and Piller had been invited as a keynote speaker. The conference constituted a valuable opportunity to affirm existing relationships and build new ones, as Piller (2012) reflected on her blog: “When I checked in at the airport in Sydney, the check-in officer commented that Wuhan was an unusual destination for Australians to visit. However, it turned out that I was not visiting a foreign country but that I was visiting friends!” In 2020, the Wuhan connection proved pivotal to the way we designed the special issue, as we explain below.

One of the new friends was Li, then an English lecturer at Yunnan University in Kunming. Soon after the conference she won a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council to undertake her PhD under Piller’s supervision at Macquarie University (2014–2017). Her PhD project investigated the language learning and educational experiences of Burmese students in a border high school in Yunnan province (Li 2017; J. Li 2020b; J. Li et al. 2020a, 2020b; Li et al. 2022; Li and Han 2020; Li and Zheng 2021). Li’s research and lived experience in the multilingual borderlands of Yunnan, a multiethnic peripheral province within China and one that shares a 4,000-km border with Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam provide another important background to our study.

As is apparent from this description, our collaboration pivots on Li’s and Zhang’s PhD relationship with Piller and being members of a network of current and former supervisees of Piller. Piller has supervised 31 PhD candidates to completion and 24 of these use English as an additional language and come from outside the Anglosphere (20 from 9 different countries in Asia and the Middle East; 3 from 2 different countries in continental Europe; 1 from Africa). Our close knowledge of the experiences of these scholars with global academic knowledge production constitute another important influence on our perspective here.

3.5 Data analysis

As mentioned above, the special issue constitutes an example of a challenge mounted by peripheral multilingual scholars to their exclusion from global knowledge production. The product of this challenge is published and freely accessible to a global audience.[3] We therefore concentrate our analysis on the process behind the product.

To address our research questions, we used thematic analysis as a flexible approach to qualitative analysis (Clarke and Braun 2014). In a first step, each of us individually generated an interpretive account based on our notes and records of our different perspectives on relevant academic networks, textual scaffolding, and brokerage. We then met to discuss formal codes related to language choice and spatio-temporal locations. We continued to refine our analysis and interpretation over a period of about half a year (October 2020–April 2021) in a back-and-forth process of interpretive writing, where each of us took the lead on different parts of the analysis and the others provided feedback through the Microsoft Word “Comments” tool. The three of us also conducted regular Zoom meetings in English, and Li and Zhang additionally communicated about the project frequently in Chinese on WeChat. We also sought and received feedback from other members of our network and gratefully acknowledge critical input from Gegentuul Baioud, Jinhyun Cho, Ingrid Gogolin, Alexandra Grey, Loy Lising, Vera Williams Tetteh, and Hanna Torsh. Overall, dialogic interpretation through digital channels as part of our collaborative autoethnographic commitment to epistemic dialog was central to our analytic processes.

4 Academic and personal networks

Conceived and produced in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic between March and September 2020, two academic networks were crucial to the timeliness with which the special issue could be produced: first, the global sociolinguistics “Language on the Move” network, and second, the Chinese “School of Language in Social Life” (语言生活派) led by Professor Yuming Li, chief scientist at the Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Language Resources at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU).

Our ability to spring into action and produce the first concerted global research effort related to the language challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic was undergirded by our long-standing personal connections. As noted above, our previous student–teacher relationship has formed our shared vision and research interests. This network is not limited to the three of us but comprises a larger informal global network, which we call the “Language on the Move” network as it centers on the Language on the Move web portal. Most key members are current and former PhD students of Piller.

The three of us all credit the network with nurturing our academic and personal growth in different ways. For several peripheral multilingual scholars in our network, research blogging on Language on the Move offered a first step to finding their academic voice, as Gegentuul Baioud stated in feedback on a draft of this article: “For me, research blogging, editorial help and comments generously offered by the team indeed cleared the first hindrance when I embarked on sometimes intimidating publishing journey […] what makes Language on the Move significant and unique is its embracing of diverse writers, and hence its production and spread of local knowledges. […] that’s where I had a voice in the first place.”

In February 2020, the network also proved pivotal to share perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic. For us, the pandemic was personal from the start because, as explained above, Zhang is based in Wuhan, the first epicenter of the disease outbreak. Shortly after the lockdown of Wuhan, Piller contacted several colleagues and friends in China to ask how they were doing. In the ensuing conversations, the idea to publish their reflections on the language challenges of the then-epidemic on Language on the Move was born. The special issue developed out of those initial research blog posts (Baioud 2020; J. Li 2020a; Wang et al. 2020; Yu 2020; Zhang 2020).

The second network that was crucial for our ability to produce Chinese-centered knowledge about the language challenges of the pandemic was Zhang and Li’s association with the “School of Language in Social Life.” After returning to China from their PhD research in Australia, Zhang and Li had begun to actively seek out Chinese academic resources and to insert themselves into Chinese academic networks by activities such as paying visits to leading domestic linguists and attending relevant national and local conferences. In doing so, they have been able to forge strong national collaborative relationships and they have also developed their knowledge of Chinese applied and sociolinguistics. Such knowledge had been absent from their research training in Australia. Yet, Chinese applied and sociolinguistics is quite distinct from the Anglophone tradition of their PhD training in its research topics, theoretical foundations, methodological approaches, and applied concerns.

Reflecting on these divergent traditions and the gap between them, we have come to the conviction that they need to be brought into conversation to achieve truly innovative transformational knowledge in our field. Currently, this conversation is a one-way street with the burden of bridging the gap placed unilaterally on the shoulders of Chinese scholars. Therefore, one of the central aims of the special issue, in addition to producing new knowledge about the language challenges of the pandemic, was to create a space for intercultural dialogue within sociolinguistics.

Starting in February 2020, when COVID-19 was not yet a global pandemic but still considered an epidemic within China, affiliates of the “School of Language in Social Life” had initiated a concerted effort to provide language services that could meet the language challenges of the emergency. For instance, multilingual materials in Putonghua (Standard Chinese) and nine varieties of Hubei Mandarin were produced in record time (Y. Li 2020). These multilingual materials were designed to support the communication efforts of the 60,000 emergency healthcare workers from 29 Chinese provinces sent to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, to help control the initial outbreak.

In addition to providing emergency language services, the network also initiated various research projects related to emergency linguistics. This body of work continues to grow and is highly visible in China, including beyond academia, as language and communication aspects of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery are now regularly discussed in national academic journals, research blogs, newspapers, and social media. The achievements of Professor Yuming Li and his team are particularly noteworthy. Working closely with government agencies, information technology professionals, and volunteers, they have managed to achieve state attention to social aspects of linguistic diversity at the highest level. On June 24, 2020, the National Working Group for Emergency Language Services (国家应急语言服务团筹建工作组) was officially launched. Plans are now underway to include the needs of linguistically diverse populations into all levels of the Chinese national emergency preparation, response, and recovery plan. In 2021, the development of emergency language services has been included as one of the key missions for educational development in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021–2025). Our special issue was motivated by our awareness that the significant body of knowledge produced by Chinese sociolinguists in the new field of emergency linguistics and the influence they are having on Chinese national policy was not being recognized, let alone disseminated, outside China.

In sum, to contribute successfully to global knowledge production at a moment of global crisis it was crucial for us to be centrally included in two different types of academic networks, an English-medium global network, and a Chinese-medium national network. Seeking to bridge the linguistic and epistemic gaps between the different worlds these networks are part of has been central to our collaboration.

5 Textual scaffolding

As explained above, before we ever thought of the special issue, a series of research blog posts devoted to the language challenges of the pandemic was started on Language on the Move. The response to some of those early blog posts – Y. Li (2020), for instance, was read over 10,000 times within the first week of publication – inspired us to consider proposing a special issue. We felt it was our duty to contribute to facilitating a better understanding of and a more effective response to the language challenges of the pandemic. And we believed that a special issue of a prestigious international academic journal would give this effort greater weight and inspire more scholars to join the research effort.

Because of the co-genesis of the Language on the Move series of research blog posts and the Multilingua special issue, some content was published twice at different stages of research and textual development. This is most apparent in Baioud (2020) and Bai (2020), which examine the dual role of traditional Mongolian fiddle stories (“khuuriin ülger”) in disseminating COVID-19 prevention messages and instilling Chinese patriotism in the Mongol minority.

In the early stage of knowledge production on this project, Language on the Move offered an open space to publicize our research and reflections in a timely manner and in short formats (the average length of a research blog posts is just under 1,000 words) that are relatively fast to write and to read. Language on the Move was originally conceived in response to the multiple and intersecting exclusions from academic networks experienced by (a) academics in Australia, where “the tyranny of distance” has made close and ongoing engagement with the centers of the field in Europe and North America difficult; (b) women academics whose networking opportunities may be severely curtailed due to carer’s responsibilities; (c) multilingual academics with English as an additional language in their repertoires who often experience challenges with academic networking; and (d) international PhD graduates returning to low-resource countries, particularly in Asia, after study in Australia.

In the early stages, the timely and interactive process also helped to build solidarity with the authors in lockdown in China. Over time, contributors coalesced into a global community of practice devoted to researching the language challenges of the pandemic in their different geographic locations and sociopolitical contexts. Research blogging thus formed the basis of this emerging applied and sociolinguistic inquiry by showcasing the academic output and research activity of peripheral multilingual scholars.

In sum, some contributions to the special issue were built on earlier, more preliminary and flexible publications. Given the highly interactive nature of the Language on the Move platform, these research blog posts served as an early form of open peer review. Viewer numbers and social media metrics allow us to gauge whether a post has struck a nerve almost in real time. For instance, J. Li’s (2020a) post of March 04, 2020 about the exclusion of linguistic minorities from crisis communication in China proved highly popular. It received close to 20,000 views within a month of publication suggesting to us the need to raise precisely this research to a more central circuit of academic knowledge production.

Furthermore, feedback on research blogposts can be received through a variety of channels, ranging from direct to the author (email, face-to-face feedback) to public responses as comments on the platform or on social media where the posts are shared. The average number of public comments on the platform is nine per research blog post although there is considerable variation ranging from zero to 146. Again, some of our COVID-19-related posts proved highly engaging and received close to 100 comments (e.g., Piller 2021). Commenting can be done anonymously but all comments on the site are moderated to ensure relevance and respect. The constructive feedback that our readers see is thus only part of the story. As moderators, we are regularly confronted with sexist and racist comments and some of our COVID-19-related blog posts also attracted a substantial number of anti-Chinese comments. We choose to suppress these and keep them from our authors and readers through our moderation process.

6 Linguistic and epistemic brokerage

Our aim to serve as linguistic and epistemic brokers was central to the production processes of the special issue and was by necessity multilingual. The two main languages involved are obviously English, the medium of publication, and Chinese, the main language in the contexts under study. Additional named languages in the research contexts included Amis, Arabic, Atayal, Bangla, Burmese, French, German, Hakka, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Mongolian, Nepali, Paiwan, Portuguese, Rukai, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Urdu, and Vietnamese. This long list of language names is a small indicator of the linguistic complexity of the research contexts brought together in the special issue and, as all language names do, obscures just as much variation and diversity as it illustrates.

Engaging with such linguistic complexity not only as object of study but as central to the process of knowledge production is highly challenging. In this section, we explore the obscured work of linguistic and epistemic brokerage – the work that we did “behind the scenes” to produce the special issue. Specifically, we will focus on translation and editorial work.

To begin with translation, many texts associated with the special issue were produced bilingually, such as the call for papers (Piller 2020b), an interim report about the abstract selection process (Piller 2020a), several research blog posts (Baioud 2020; Hermosa Cavero 2020; Piller 2020c), and the follow-up online symposium (危机时期的语言多样性 [Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis, Chinese], Piller et al. 2020d; 危机时期的语言多样性 [Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis, English], Piller et al. 2020c). Most of these were first written in English and then translated into other languages. Two were originally written in Chinese and then translated into English (Y. Li 2020; Y. Li et al. 2020c). The two language versions of the symposium were produced in parallel and thus are not direct translations (although the Chinese version contains interpreted elements such as Piller’s opening speech, which was delivered in English and interpreted by Li). Additionally, a wide range of associated knowledge dissemination efforts such as lectures and social media promotion campaigns were undertaken in parallel, mostly in Chinese and English, but also in Arabic, German, Italian, Korean, Mongolian, Persian, and possibly other languages. This includes publication of revised versions of the special issue articles in other circuits of academic knowledge production (e.g., Piller et al. 2022; Zheng 2021).

The rationale for translation, interpretation, and parallel text production is clear. It constitutes the surest road to reaching diverse audiences and hence to international knowledge transfer (Burke and Hsia 2007; Wen and Gao 2007). Translation also constitutes a fairer and more effective form of global knowledge production than the current arrangement where every scholar from outside the Anglosphere must bear the significant costs of English language learning (Gazzola and Grin 2013). Yet, the work of linguistic mediators is too often obscured and the cost of translation is not factored into global knowledge production processes (with some notable exceptions, e.g., Mišak et al. 2005). The translation work for the special issue and its associated textual products was undertaken by ourselves and other volunteers.

We now turn to editorial work. The special issue obviously involved “normal” editorial work such as developing a proposal, soliciting contributions, selecting abstracts, communicating around 200 rejections, liaising with authors whose abstracts had been accepted through the writing process, undertaking editorial reviews, managing the peer review process, liaising with authors through their revisions, and communicating with the publisher. Piller’s dual role as editor of Multilingua and co-editor of the special issue meant that some tasks were less onerous, for instance, the tasks of taking the special issue proposal to a suitable journal, negotiating acceptance of the proposal, securing a publication slot, and liaising of guest editors with editor did not apply.

These small labor savings were far offset by editorial work that is not considered “normal” editorial work and that is specific to working with a team of peripheral multilingual scholars and at a time of crisis. The research blogging on Language on the Move by novice scholars is heavily supported through volunteer editorial and peer feedback, close writing support, copy-editing, and proof-reading. To a lesser degree this is true of contributions to the special issue, too, where we provided various forms of writing support that go beyond the expected editorial role. Such supports included bringing in co-authors, close readings of multiple drafts, feedback on macro- and micro-aspects of English academic writing, in some instances help with clarifying the argument, and provision of copy-editing services beyond the normal proofreading of accepted articles offered by the journal. According to Piller’s work log, she spent close to 200 h between March and September on editorial work associated with the special issue and the Language on the Move special series.

Our rationale for this heavy time and labor investment was as follows. As we showed above, center scholars dominate global knowledge production in applied and sociolinguistics. This is not due to a lack of submissions from peripheral multilingual scholars. While few journals publish detailed rejection statistics, it is an open secret that rejection rates of papers by scholars from outside the Anglosphere are extremely high. In 2017, Multilingua, for instance, received 54 submissions by scholars based outside the Anglosphere and published 13 such papers (these are not the same, as submission and publication does not necessarily happen in the same calendar year). 40 of these 54 submissions were from outside continental Europe but only 3 of these 13 publications were. Given our close association with the journal, we find these statistics deeply distressing. Indeed, we believe that most scholars in our field – irrespective of their linguistic background and location – would find them so.

As outsiders to the discourses of journals in the central circuits of knowledge production, peripheral multilingual scholars often need additional editorial support to make it through the peer review process and achieve publication. We factored these additional support needs into the design of the special issue and volunteered our time and resources to provide that support. We were fortunate to be able to do so and the “one-off” nature of the special circumstances in which we found ourselves made this work feasible. However, this level of – invisible and obscured – volunteer translation and editorial labor is not sustainable, despite being central to achieving inclusion of peripheral multilingual scholars. To achieve epistemic justice, this work needs to be factored into the business model of academic journals. This is in addition to the lively debate around the business model of contemporary academic publishing and how it restricts access both to knowledge and to knowledge production (e.g., Demir 2018; Farrell et al. 2021; Piwowar et al. 2018).

7 Towards linguistic and epistemic inclusion

Linguistic and epistemic exclusion of peripheral multilingual scholars is an undeniable fact in global knowledge production in applied and sociolinguistics, as in other academic fields. In this article, we used a collaborative autoethnographic case study to explore how these oppressive linguistic and epistemic structures are experienced and contested. We close with implications for epistemic justice.

Throughout we have distinguished between product and process. The special issue “Linguistic diversity in a time of crisis” as the academic product at the center of our investigation was eagerly welcomed and the lead article (Piller et al. 2020a) was downloaded over 8,500 times in the first three months after publication, making it the journal’s most downloaded article ever in this short time. Another indicator of the great interest in the content is the fact that the livestream of the bilingual online symposium (危机时期的语言多样性 [Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis, Chinese], Piller et al. 2020d; 危机时期的语言多样性 [Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis, English], Piller et al. 2020c), where each contributor presented their research, attracted 3,200 live viewers. The reception of the products of knowledge production is an important measure of inclusion. However, like all such products, the special issue is a point in an ongoing process of knowledge production and, as we have argued here, to achieve transformation, we need to subject the processes of global knowledge production to greater scrutiny. We have concentrated here on three process elements, namely academic and personal networks, textual scaffolding, and brokerage.

Confronting linguistic and epistemic exclusion requires not only understanding of these processes but also transformative action. We consider the processes we have shared here elements of a new linguistic and epistemic citizenship within the academy. We take the term “linguistic and epistemic citizenship” from Stroud and Kerfoot (2020, p. 9), who define it as “acts of engagement that make visible/audible subjects and their claims” [emphasis in the original]. We argue that linguistic and epistemic citizenship rests on at least three recognitions, which we offer as implications for change.

The first recognition relates to the insularity and myopia of the dominant vision that is solely focused on the central circuit of academic knowledge production. Many efforts at global knowledge transfer are undergirded by the idea that Anglophone and/or US-Eurocentric knowledge is inherently best. In this vision, sharing center knowledge with the periphery is considered transformational. Many development scholars have argued that this vision of knowledge transfer does not actually flatten epistemic hierarchies but exacerbates them (Langthaler et al. 2012). We agree and wish to go further. As the special issue has demonstrated some of the most exciting developments in contemporary applied linguistics – the emergence of emergency linguistics – are located outside the centers. Knowledge flows in many directions and many circuits. Engaging with multi-directionality and multi-scalarity requires the kind of networks and teamwork we have exemplified here.

The second recognition relates to the identity of knowers. Within circuits of knowledge production, peripheral multilingual knowledge producers are assigned seemingly perpetual status as international students, academic novices, visiting scholars, junior partners, and interlopers in center institutions. These positionings ultimately preclude deep engagement. For us, the foundation of our joint work goes beyond academic collaboration and is based on longstanding personal friendship. We consider recognition of the affective dimensions of knowledge production and the importance of ethical relationships of care vital to transformation. As Josephs (2016, p. 100) puts it in her reflections on the affective labor of editing: “journal work goes beyond shaping the intellectual contours of a field to building and maintaining a community.” For us, the community building around Language on the Move is the foundation on which the central academic publication discussed here was built.

The third recognition flows from this and relates to confronting our privilege and supporting disadvantaged colleagues. The three of us each write from different points in our career and from different points of inclusion and exclusion in various centers and peripheries. The same is true for all academics and each of us has a responsibility to center questions of linguistic and epistemic justice in whichever position we may find ourselves. This includes sitting with uncomfortable paradoxes such as seeking inclusion in central academic circuits while being critical of them.

For us, this has involved building and engaging with various networks, collaborating across borders and generations, creating publication opportunities, and volunteering our time and expertise to act as linguistic and epistemic brokers. For those of us who have achieved even a modicum of inclusion, as we have, paying it forward is central to this process. As Toni Morrison reminds us, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.” (quoted from Piller 2019).

Corresponding author: Ingrid Piller, Macquarie University, Linguistics C5A, 2109, Sydney, Australia, E-mail:

Funding source: Australian Research Council

Award Identifier / Grant number: DP180103186

Funding source: Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung

Award Identifier / Grant number: Anneliese Maier Award

  1. Research funding: This work was supported by Australian Research Council [DP180103186] and Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung [Anneliese Maier Award].


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Received: 2022-03-31
Accepted: 2022-04-01
Published Online: 2022-05-09

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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