Michaela Fay


In this article I explore the interplay between language and mobility. As the number of debates about mobility and belonging has grown both in the social sciences and in feminist theory, there has been an increasing discussion about the interaction between language and place and I argue here that increased mobility leads to changes in one’s understanding and experience of the languages one dwells in. My argument is that the ways in which language is reflected upon shapes the ways in which subjects experience and define their mobility and further, that when individuals reflect about language, they also reflect, in fact, their affective relationship to their mobility through language. The ability to think about language can, hence, be seen as a way of describing one’s mobility. My focus is then not on language as a social practice but about how by thinking about the languages they inhabit, individuals shape their own mobility. I show that such an engagement with language disrupts and utilises the concept of the mothertongue by going beyond the often static, romantic conflation of space (in particular the nation of origin), language and belonging. I explore these questions based on empirical material drawn from an ethnographic case study of the International Women’s University ‘Technology and Culture’ 2000 (ifu). I draw on this particular empirical case because I believe that it is symptomatic of current developments towards academic internationalisation. Indeed, it is only possible because and in the light of these developments. The ifu is thus embedded in an institutional and academic context, which favours, even requires, transnational mobility and linguistic competence.

Author Biography

Michaela Fay is currently completing her PhD in Women’s Studies at Lancaster University. She has previously studied Sociology and Women’s Studies in Germany and at Wellesley College, USA.