PhD titles and the “oh that’s what it’s about” look

Sometime it’s best to start at the beginning, or, in my case, with the title of my thesis.

I had an extremely useful meeting with my second supervisor yesterday where I was basically suppose to bring him up to speed with where I was at with my research.  Not quite knowing where to start, he suggested we look at my title.

The next 60 minutes was an eye-opening look at the the bare bones of my thesis, or more specifically, what my thesis is about.  The working title is “An Honourary Native Speaker: Exploring the status and identity of visible ethnic minority, native English speaking teachers in TESOL”.  We focused on the section starting with what “visible ethnic minority” (VEM) means, or at least, how am I choosing to define it and why.  It was interesting exploring where the “visible” part of this phrase emerged from and where it’s used in a conventional sense.  For example, in the UK it’s simply “ethnic minority” rather than “visible ethnic minority”, which is more the case in Canada.  We discussed the notion of using the word “colour”, as in “teachers of colour in TESOL” and where the use of “colour” is more common.  While I won’t go into a more detailed discussion here, the concept of “white” and “whiteness” is a hugely complex area that, in our discussions, revealed our own (dis)associations with it.  For example, my second supervisor is a white, non-native English speaker who taught for a number of years abroad and whose whiteness opened many doors for him – a fact he is very aware of.  In contrast we talked about my own status as a VEM and how I being a native speaker of English allied myself with the whiteness of English language teaching status.  As my own thinking is developing around this thorny issue, the labels that I choose to use carry their own cultural and historical weight.  Add the mix of “English” with “native” and “non-native” and you have a whole new territory that is intertwined and needs to be carefully delineated.

I understand that what I’ve just written is quite generalised and needs to be unpacked, defined, discussed, referenced and clearly contextualised in light of my research.  The point was that by looking at my thesis title, we were able to take stock (so to speak) of where I’m at and where I need to go.  I’m at the point where I’m feeling ready to write the first part of my thesis where the issues briefly presented here will be explored in fine detail.  By the start of the new term I’m hoping to look myself in the mirror with some expression of understanding!

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