Articulating Rubbish: A Sociolinguistic Approach to the "Crisis of Waste"

An SNSF-funded project running from May 2023 to April 2027, directed by Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow with doctoral researchers Charmaine Kong, Alessandro Pellanda and Laura Wohlgemuth. Whether we call it trash, garbage, junk, refuse, detritus, or just rubbish, waste is undoubtedly a matter of major concern: “With approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of municipal waste generated each year … urgent action is needed to head off the threat to the environment and human health posed by this global waste crisis.” (UNEP, 2012). Simply put, the Articulating Rubbish project asks the following question: what is the role of language in this “crisis of waste”? We know, for example, that language plays a powerful role in naming and categorizing the world around us. It is in this way that words not only help define what waste is and isn’t, but also help produce, maintain, and regulate the everyday practices of waste-making – both small-scale and large-scale.

The Senses: Past and Present

Co-principal investigators: Prof. Annette Kern-Stähler (University of Bern), Prof. Fiona Macpherson (University of Glasgow), and Elizabeth Robertson (University of Glasgow): This sensory studies project brings medieval sensory studies into dialogue with contemporary philosophy and science. Past international conferences and workshops, funded by the SNSF and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, at the Universities of Bern and Glasgow; 2023 conference at Monte Verità, Ascona, funded by Centro Stefano Franscini.

Sensing Creation: Perception and the Book of Nature in Anglo-Saxon England (SNF Project Prof. Annette Kern-Stähler)

‘Sensing Creation’ seeks to uncover how learned Anglo-Saxon writers understood perception and how the senses allowed people to make sense of the world around them, that is God’s Creation. The project examines this interface between the senses and the external world both in the learned Latin texts which circulated in Anglo-Saxon England and in Old English vernacular writing. Where much recent research has utilised ecocritical theory to approach the ‘natural world’ in Anglo-Saxon England, this project instead turns to early medieval thinking about the external world, allowing us to understand medieval texts on their own terms. This way of examining medieval texts depends, moreover, on the Biblical metaphor of the ‘book of nature’, which signified that one could come to know God by studying his Creation. Central to this metaphor is the idea of reading, an act dependent on sight, hearing, and to a lesser extent touch, faculties of sense which we already suspect to have been of central importance in the Anglo-Saxon understanding of perception. Finally, this project, as the first systematic study of the senses in Anglo-Saxon England, will be a substantial contribution to this burgeoning field of inquiry.

Mediating the Ecological Imperative -- Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

The goal of this SNSF Sinergia project (2021-2024) is to research the way twentieth and twenty-first century cultural products respond to the ethical demands the ecological crisis places on our society and how this manifests in the formats that mediate these demands. Examples of these cultural mediations are part of a growing consciousness about the image politics of climate change and the role of cultural sustainability or examined according to the principles of contemporary eco-aesthetics and new documentary ecologies. We take the notion of an “ecological imperative” of cultural products—an ethical stance toward human resource management built upon Kantian terms—as a starting point. This SNSF Sinergia project builds on the rich research results of the Environmental Humanities and propels the state of the art by exploring the mediation of ethical demands engrained in images, literary texts and eco-ekphrases, expanded artforms, and practices of social engagement. We ask how specific formats in cultural production work intermedially to engender the ecological imperative. Our corpus differentiates between specific formats and modes from across the disciplines of image studies, literary studies, art history, and social anthropology. Our objects of study are examples of cultural products’ potential to inspire human beings to take action and to acknowledge the demands of an ecological imperative. Due to our common expertise, the geographical focus is on the Americas.

The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century.

August 2020 - July 2024. SNF Project. The beach is an important space in Western literature. Ever since the rise in popularity of the seaside holiday, the beach has been depicted as a site of leisure, sensuous enjoyment and play, clearly distinguished from and often in a dialectical relationship with industrialised and metropolitan spaces of work. Despite its significance as a spatial frame in fiction, travel writing and memoirs, however, the beach has played a relatively minor role in scholarship until fairly recently. This project seeks to redress this neglect, focussing on a period in which the beach has undergone dramatic changes, both in everyday culture and in literary and artistic representations: the ‘long twentieth century,’ dating roughly from 1890 to the present. Team: Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter, PD. Dr. Ursula Kluwick, Guðrun í Jákupsstovu.

Elite Creativities: Engaging the Language Work of Professional Wordsmiths

May 2020 to December 2023. SNF Project. In short, the Elite Creativities project seeks to make substantial contributions to the field of critical sociolinguistics. As a multi-sited discourse-ethnography, the project has four unifying aims: (1) to investigate three domains of professional language work largely or completely overlooked by language scholars; (2) to expand scholarship on language and political economy by looking at more elite, “high-end” forms of language work; (3) to generate new empirical insights into two cutting-edge issues in sociolinguistics and discourse studies, namely semiotic ideology and discursive creativity; and (4) to apply a discourse-ethnographic research design centering practitioners’ reflexive accounts of their work. Team: Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow (PI), Dr. Gwynne Mapes (postdoc) and Olivia Droz-Dit-Busset (doc). Affiliated doctoral researcher: Lara Portmann. Student Research Assistant: Nicolas Röthlisberger.

Canonicity, Obscenity, and the Making of Modern Chaucer (COMMode): An Investigation of the Transmission and Audiences of The Canterbury Tales from 1700 to 2020

January 2020 – December 2024. This SNSF Eccellenza project will recover the untold history of how Chaucer became both an icon of English literary fame and an icon of obscene humour by examining the evolution of his most famous text alongside the evolution of his reputation between 1700 and the present day. The project team includes Prof. Dr. Mary C. Flannery (project leader) and Dr Amy Brown (postdoctoral researcher) and will also include a doctoral researcher, who will join the project in the autumn of 2020.

Auto_Bio_Graphy: Historiographic Perspectives on Ego Documents/Personal Testimonies in Literature and the Visual and Performative Arts -- Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

From 2018. Interdisciplinary Walter-Benjamin-Kolleg research platform - a cooperation between Dance Studies (Prof. Dr. Ch. Thurner), Spanish Literature (Prof. Bénédicte Vauthier), Literatures in English (Prof. Dr. G. Rippl) and Visual Anthropology (Prof. Dr. M. Schäuble)

Dialect at the fairground: mobility and language variation among a nomadic British community

Nov. 2018 – Oct. 2022 SNF Project

This research project analyses the dialect spoken by Travelling Showpeople in East Anglia, England. Travelling Showpeople are a cultural group who live a nomadic lifestyle due to their occupation which mainly entails operating travelling funfairs. They are described as an extremely close-knit, family-centred community who have little contact with the settled population. Why is this interesting? Firstly, English dialectology has tended to shun nomadic speakers since they are often not deemed to represent authentic speakers of a place. Despite the existence of various nomadic groups in England, there has always been a strong focus on geographical continuity and local embeddedness. Secondly, the Travelling Showpeople are a relatively isolated community with a distinctive lifestyle. Analysing their dialect will enable us to theorise to what extent such speakers are able to acquire sedentary dialect norms and how language change enters such communities and is transmitted from one generation to the next. 

Project team: Prof Dr David Britain (PI) and Sarah Grossenbacher (PhD candidate).


Name Provisional Thesis Title Supervisor
Akin, Banu

Writing the Body: A Feminist Reading of Novels by French-African and African-American Writers

Prof. Dr. Thomas Claviez
Biber, Olivia Encountering Female Figures: The Domestic, the Economic and the Material in the Victorian Novel.
Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter
Boog, Michael The Problem of Worldmaking: Critical Irrealism in Contemporary Anglophone World Literatures Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl
Curtis, Kristen Chaucerian Obscenity and the Wife of Bath Prof. Dr. Mary Flannery
Grossenbacher, Sarah

Dialect at the fairground: Mobility and language variation among a nomadic British community

Prof. Dr. David Britain
íJákupsstovu, Guðrun Making Home in the Littoral: Of Encounters, Undoings, and Assemblages on the Beach. Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter
Kong, Charmaine Social lives and social meanings in working with waste Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow
Pellanda, Alessandro Waste as a communicative resource in public space Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow
Sarfin, Jonathan Ecological Imaginaries: Eco-Ekphrasis in Twentieth- and  Twenty-first Century North American Fiction Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl
Spillmann, Caspar The Importance of the New Weird’s Diegetic Reactions Dr. Zoë Lehmann
Sutter, Malaika Crafting the Needle: Text/ile-Image Constellations in Contemporary North American Fiction and Art Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl
Troxler, Marion Half a Human, Fully a Woman:  Female Hybrid Creatures of the Seascape Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter
Ulrich, Jenny Dialogic-affective entanglements: A discourse ethnography of an antigypsyist housing policy in Czechia  Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow
von Rütte, Sabine

Contemporary North American Motherhood Memoirs

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl
Wohlgemuth, Laura The discursive production of value in talk about waste Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow


United under One Banner: Medievalism and National Remembering in Twenty-First-Century Switzerland and Britain -- Director: Prof. Dr Annette Kern-Stähler, Doctoral researcher: Matthias Berger

April 2016 - December 2019. Swiss National Science Foundation. This research project explored the recent return to medieval history as a source of pride and legitimacy in narratives of national identity. Situated in the field of medievalism studies, the project compared British and Swiss material at the intersection of culture and politics and across the boundaries of media and genre to find the Middle Ages again playing a key – and at times problematic – role in contemporary stories of national exceptionalism in the European context.

Original - Copy: Techniques and Aesthetics of Reproduction -- Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

From 2016. Interdisciplinary Walter Benjamin Kolleg research platform - a cooperation between Medieval German Literature, Art History, Literatures in English (with Prof. Dr. A. Gerhard, Prof. Dr. Ch. Göttler, Prof. Dr. P. Schneemann, Prof. Dr. M. Stolz and Prof. Dr. Ch. Thurner; coordinator: G. Rippl)

The Cultural Discourses and Social Meanings of Mobile Communication -- Director: Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow, Doctoral researcher: Vanessa Jaroski

January 2016 - December 2018. This project is part of a larger Sinergia research programme titled What's up, Switzerland? conducted together with researchers at the universities of Zurich, Neuchâtel, Leipzig and Bern. The project is organized around two complementary strands of research activity, all of which centre on the creation of a unique, open-access repository (the "Digital Discourse Database") for scholars and students engaged in the study of new media language. The first, primary strand of work entails archiving and analysing a substantial dataset of national, regional and also international newspaper reports about new media language with specific reference to mobile messaging. The second, supplementary strand of work entails an up-to-date ethnographic survey of local Swiss users of mobile/online communication technologies.

Cultural Sustainability: The Concept of Culture in the Debates on Sustainable Development--Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

From June 2015, with Prof. Dr. Torsten Meireis, Theology Department, Humboldt University of Berlin

English in Paradise? Emergent Varieties in Micronesia--Prof. Dr. David Britain

January 2015 - December 2017. Swiss National Science Foundation  - co-researchers Dominique Bürki and Tobias Leonhardt. This project investigates the emergent structures of and the similarities and differences between the new Englishes developing in three Micronesian territories: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Kiribati.


Of Cultural, Poetic, and Medial Alterity: The Scholarship, Poetry, Photographs, and Films of Edward Sapir, Ruth Fulton Benedict, and Margaret Mead--Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

 August 2014 - July 2017. SNF-funded research project with Prof. Dr. Philipp Schweighauser and Prof. Dr. Walter Leimgruber (University of Basel)

Contact, mobility and authenticity: language ideologies in koineisation and creolisation--Prof. Dr. David Britain

August 2013 - December 2016. Swiss National Science Foundation. With co-researchers Christoph Neuenschwander and Laura Tresch. This project examines how the process by which new language varieties, such as pidgins, creoles and koines, with roots in acts of mobility, become, in public and media discourses, legitimised and authenticised. The project is examining two creoles (Tok Pisin and Hawai'ian Creole English) and two koines (New Zealand English and Estuary English).

Of Cultural and Medial Alterity: The Scholarship, Poetry, Photographs, and Films of Edward Sapir, Ruth Fulton Benedict, and Margaret Mead--Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl with Prof. Dr. Philipp Schweighauser and Prof. Dr. Walter Leimgruber

This three year research project brought together two literary scholars and one cultural anthropologist to explore convergences between two types of alterity: cultural alterity (the otherness of other cultures) and medial alterity (the otherness of media other than the academic text). 2010-2014

Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice--Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), this project brought together 15 researchers from the fields of American Studies, German Philology, Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology, Empirical Cultural Studies, and Media Studies. From 2010 to 2013, six sub-projects investigated a narrative format that has become a defining feature of popular aesthetics: the series.

Theories and Practices of Authenticity in Global Cultural Production--Prof. Dr. Thomas Claviez

2013 - 2016

Seriality and Intermediality in Graphic Novels--Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

This project focused on two aspects of comics and graphic novels which have been neglected by researchers so far: Firstly, seriality is not considered to be merely a reduction of aesthetic complexity and part of the culture industry´s ideological context of deception, but rather a form of standardization and schematization, generating new possibilities for formal, experiential and ideological variation. We understand seriality as an interaction of formal-material conditions and experiential practices. Secondly, we investigated intermedial narration. 2010-2013

The Poetics and Politics of Cosmopolitanism in English Literatures of South Asian Background--Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter and Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl

The term cosmopolitanism has gained such a wide currency in contemporary debates that some critics speak of a paradigm shift. The fascination with the concept of cosmopolitanism dates back to antiquity and has often been regarded in view of its translation as “world citizenship”. Today, the potential – but also the pitfalls – of cosmopolitanism are being discussed across various disciplines with a sense of urgency. While the interest in recent literary cosmopolitanism seems partly fuelled by authors’ biographies and book marketing strategies, it is also informed by the identification of a vaguely cosmopolitan stance. Although the concept does feature in literary studies, the difference between a normative-philosophical and a descriptive-analytical approach is often not distinctly established.  This research project aims at closing this gap by defining the cosmopolitan stance in a methodologically and terminologically reflected manner, by a critical analysis of postcolonial texts. 2010-2013