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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
Professor Parminder Bhachu and student Erica Ciporen are interested in the impact of economic globalization on cultural identity. While Bhachu examines how daughters of Asian immigrants in Britain have transformed the once-denigrated salwaar-kameez into high fashion, Ciporen investigates the deterritorialization of language.

Meet the researchers: A liberating experience

Interview with Erica Ciporen
Erica Ciporen '05 is interested in how economic globalization is contributing to what she calls the "deterritorialization of language," that is, the way in which many languages are becoming less and less tied to a particular geographic area. Erica, who is double-majoring in Visual Art and in Communication and Culture, hopes to pursue a graduate degree in International Communication.

In a recent interview, summarized below, she discussed the magazine internship she undertook in London during her junior year and the senior honors thesis she's in the process of researching under the supervision of Professor Parminder Bhachu.

The Culture and Communication Department sponsors a London internship that you participated in. What did that involve?

I've always been interested in publishing. I had completed some internships with book publishers, but I like the more fast-paced world of magazine publishing. So I asked to work on a magazine. I was placed with a non-profit organization based in London called Booktrust. Booktrust runs a program called Bookstart, which provides a package of books and poems to every new baby born in the United Kingdom. They also sponsor the Writing Together program that brings famous authors into schools to get students excited about writing. I actually went to a Writing Together reception attended by England's Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, which was very exciting.

I worked on Booktrusted News Magazine, a small children's book magazine with a circulation of a little over 1000. The Booktrust organization is very small, so I was pretty much in charge of my division, which focused on conducting market research for the magazine. That was really cool, because earlier at Clark I had taken a course in social research methods to fulfill my math perspective. I learned how to design questionnaires, how to survey people, and how to tally the results. I used that training to create questionnaires about the Booktrusted News Magazine.

At the time I was there, the people who read the magazine were primarily teachers and librarians. I compiled a list of other potential readership groups that I thought might be interested in the magazine, like parents, people coordinating after school programs, bookstores, etc. I put together a budget for the marketing study, collected addresses, and created and mailed out questionnaires customized for each target audience. Fortunately I was there long enough to get the questionnaires all back and tally the results. I only had time to do a rough tally, but it was enough to give the Booktrust people something to work with after I left. So I think it was helpful to them. The magnitude of what they'd entrusted me to do didn't really hit me until I was in my last week there. It was nice.

Did you receive course credit for the internship? What are its requirements?

Participants get two Clark course credits for the internship itself. (Students normally take four credits per semester.) Then I took one class for another credit at Birkbeck College London University. For the fourth credit I wrote a paper over the summer on a topic related to the internship.

What course did you take and what was your paper about?

I took a course called British Media and Institutions. It was very interesting and I learned a lot about the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). There's a whole different system of broadcasting in the U.K. than here in the U.S. Television owners in the U.K. pay a license fee (set by the government), which is used to fund the BBC. It's an interesting combination of trying to have an independent news source that, at the same time, is linked to the government. Spring 2004 was a particularly interesting time to be in London studying the media, because the BBC had recently been the focus of a scandal. As a result, many people were questioning whether the license fee was justified.

For my summer paper I wrote about British soap operas--which are very different from their American counterparts--and how they represent a uniquely British identity. Unlike our soaps where everyone is gorgeous, British soap opera characters are not particularly attractive and the producers try to make things as realistic as possible. Also, British soaps are broadcast around 5-7 p.m. instead of during the daytime.

Now you're researching a senior honors thesis. Is this the first time you've had a chance to become involved in a research project?

I've completed research papers for different courses, but the honors thesis is my first independent research project.

What is your senior thesis about?

I'm exploring the effects of globalization on language, specifically, the deterritorialization of language. Increasingly, many languages are moving into a global space, rather than being tied to just one location or country. English is a good example. There's been a lot of talk about the "English-ization" of the world--how English is becoming the dominant language. But I'm going to argue that any language can become deterritorialized through contact with the global system.

This detachment of language from place has a lot to do with economic globalization and the factors that drive market forces. I'm looking at the internet as a contributing factor in disconnecting a language from its geographic base, and in modifying individual languages. For example, when computer-related terms like "delete" or "reply all" need to be translated into, say Punjabi, Punjabi speakers often come up with new combinations of words that don't quite say the same thing as the original English. It's very interesting.

I find other examples in company and product names. It interests me how products and companies create space for themselves in the new global marketplace. For instance, a lot of Korean companies used to include suffixes or prefixes in their names that indicated Korea as their country of origin. But now those same companies might add "net" or "com" at the end of their names to give a sense that, like the U.S. and other superpowers, they're hi-tech and globally competitive. When I visited Spain last summer, I saw a great ad for Jagermeister liqueur that featured information on how to produce Jagermeister in Spanish.

What are your thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of participating in research, in contrast to more traditional, classroom based learning?

You have to be very disciplined and organized to undertake independent research. In a classroom setting an organizational framework and deadlines are usually provided for you. With your own research you have to be especially dedicated and resourceful. Working on my thesis has been a good experience for me because I am those things.

For someone who isn't like that, I think it would be the worst possible torture! It's torturing me! But I can handle it and I want to do it. (I think anyone who takes writing seriously is tortured by his or her writing. I think it's a pretty common feeling.) But doing independent research is a great experience and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to pursue it.

Doing research is also a really liberating experience, because you're researching and writing about what you want, and what you're interested in. In that way research is almost easier than taking a regular class, because it's all you, it's all what you're interested in. You don't have to sit through anything that might be boring. So it's really been very nice for me.

 

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Erica Ciporen
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