With University of Nottingham colleagues Louise Mullany, Victoria Howard and Tristan Emerson, I’ve been working on a project examining government communication strategies during Covid-19. Funded by a Research England QR award, the project examines how the government communicated with Generation Z (young people aged 16-23) and those working in organisations which support them during the pandemic. We have focused in particular on those who may have been at risk of abuse in the home, including female genital mutilation, homophobia and transphobia, and domestic violence.

We’ve conducted critical discourse analysis on a campaign materials produced by the government during Covid-19. These have included Something’s Not Right and You Are Not Alone. Something’s Not Right was released in November 2020 with a target audience of 13+. You Are Not Alone was released in April 2020 to support victims of domestic abuse of all ages, advising that refuge and support remained available despite Covid-19. Our analysis has revealed a number of issues with the language used in these campaigns, including the inappropriate use of ‘teen slang’, confusing imagery, and a lack of clarity regarding where young people can go for support.

To ensure that the voices of GenZ were heard as part of this research, we also conducted a survey of young people within this age group to gather their perspectives on these campaigns. Our survey ran for a month from 3rd February 2021; 324 young people from a number of regions responded. Participants in the survey supported our initial analysis, with frequent words used to describe the campaigns including ‘cringy’ and ‘inauthentic’.

In addition, we’ve conducted interviews with those working in youth and support services, specifically supporting LGBT+ youth and girls at risk of FGM. This strand of the research sheds light on the information available to such services as they tried to help and protect young people through the various stages of the pandemic. It also offers insight into the changing needs and pressures on young people during Covid-19.

We’ve developed a linguistic toolkit (here) with recommendations based on the research described above, including examples of good practice. We hope that this will support the government and other organisations when they need to communicate important information quickly and effectively to young people (and services supporting them) in the future. We also plan to publish the results of our analysis as an academic article.

Between 2018-19, I conducted fieldwork with young LGBT people in four socioeconomically and culturally variable locations in the UK. I am now in the early stages of analysing the data collected during this time, which are in the form of interviews and focus groups.

The project builds on a pilot study in the North of England (more information here). It combines ethnography with discourse analysis to examine the strategies used by the young people to negotiate norms and ideologies of gender and sexuality in their everyday interaction. Specifically, the project is focused on intersectionality to consider how factors such as the young people’s socioeconomic class, ethnicity, location, and support networks impact on their experiences as LGBT people and their subsequent identity constructions.

The aims of the project are (1) to develop a framework for the qualitative sociolinguistic analysis of LGBT identity which takes into account the impact of other social identities, and (2) to inform social policy and practice related to the support of young LGBT people.

In relation to the second point, I worked with the young people during 2020-21 to develop the LGBT+ Youth Manifesto; this empowered the young people and gave them a voice, and will feed in (along with the results of the wider project) to a briefing paper delivered to policy-makers during 2021-22.

The project is funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. Some reflections on applying for this grant are here.

With Luke Collins (Lancaster University), I’m working on a small project investigating how the introduction of HIV-preventative medicine on the National Health Service has been represented in the British press. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a drug that can be taken by those at high risk of infection from HIV through sex. In England, the NHS has been engaged in trials to determine the effectiveness of PrEP on high-risk individuals, with a view to deciding whether the drug should be commissioned as a standard form of preventative medicine in the future.

When this was first announced, the Daily Mail ran a front-page story criticising the decision to fund a ‘promiscuity pill’ which would encourage gay men to have unsafe sex. NHS funding for the drug was framed as ‘a skewed sense of values’ because the trial would take away funding from other groups, including children with cystic fibrosis and ‘blood cancer sufferers’. The fact that this negative coverage focused primarily on gay men inspired us to look more closely at a corpus of newspaper articles which discuss PrEP in relation to the NHS. This enables us to better understand the ideologies surrounding homosexuality which underlie the PrEP debate, which could feasibly impact on its availability in the UK. Our first publication from this project was published in 2020 with Journal of Language and Sexuality, and our second paper – which focuses on the use of external points of view – was published in 2021 with Journal of Corpora and Discourse Studies. 

Between September 2018 and July 2019, I was Principal Investigator on a collaborative project with Angela Zottola (Università degli Studi di Torino), Louise Mullany (English, University of Nottingham), Alison Pilnick (Sociology, University of Nottingham), Walter Pierre Bouman (Nottingham Centre for Transgender Health), and Jon Arcelus (Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham). The project involved the digitisation of autobiographical stories produced by patients at the Nottingham Centre for Transgender Health as part of their initial assessment process. The Research Fellow on the project, Angela Zottola, used corpus linguistic methods to identify and analyse key patterns within the autobiographies. Through this, we have learnt more about how patients present themselves in relation to broader ideologies surrounding gender and transgender experience. Angela and I presented our initial findings at Lavender Languages and Linguistics 26 in Gothenburg in May 2019.

Our first paper to emerge from this project has been published in the interdisciplinary journal Health Expectations. This paper focuses on the coping strategies identified in the corpus; transgender people currently face a very long wait to be assessed at transgender health services, and are particularly vulnerable during this time. The positive coping strategies detailed in our paper may help future clients of gender identity clinics to better cope with waiting times, as well as assisting practitioners in gender identity clinics in supporting their patients during this wait.

We are currently working on a second paper from this project which will focus on the trans men’s narratives in our corpus. We hope to show how the narratives reveal the regulatory power of social institutions in reinforcing narrow conceptualisations of gender. This will be published in Gavin Brookes‘ edited volume Masculinities and Discourses of Men, part of the Palgrave Studies in Language, Gender and Sexuality series, in 2022.

The project was funded by the University of Nottingham, via Development Funding for the Research Priority Areas of Languages, Texts & Societies and Health Humanities.

I’m interested in the discourses associated with transgender identity, and in particular the impact that these have on young people who are questioning their gender identity or who identify as trans. In 2015, I conducted a focus group with members of a transgender youth group; I asked them for their views on how transgender people are represented in the media and the impact these depictions have had on them.

During the focus group, the young people talked about a relative lack of positive representation in the mainstream media, but spoke enthusiastically about other young people who independently chart their own gender transitions on YouTube. I investigated this further for my first paper on this topic, published in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language. The analysis reveals key messages that are produced by some of these YouTubers; in particular, I found that ideologies of heteronormative desire and binary gender are reproduced in these videos. I have referred to this discourse as ‘transnormativity’, and am keen to explore whether similar ideologies are salient in the construction of transgender identities elsewhere.

I have also analysed the data emerging from the focus group itself. The first paper to emerge from this was published with Journal of Language and Discrimination in 2021, and the manuscript is here. In it, I show how the young people actively challenge and resist transphobia by ridiculing those who are ignorant and who (explicitly or implicitly) produce transphobic discourse. They thus construct an active, resistant, and validated mutual identity rather than a victimised, submissive, or othered one.

A final paper from this project is currently under review with the journal Language in Society. In it, I demonstrate how the young people’s embodiment is informed by other people’s evaluation and positioning of them, examining how they articulate affect as part of their identity construction in response to this.

In November 2017, a number of initiatives and guidelines were announced that are designed to challenge gender stereotypes in schools. The idea is that, if young children are encouraged to think creatively about gender from a young age, transgender youths may ultimately be less likely to experience bullying. There was some very negative press coverage in response, so I wrote this article for The Conversation which shared the experiences and opinions of the young trans people I’ve worked with.

In 2012, I conducted an in-depth ethnographic project with an LGBT youth group in the North of England, with participants aged between 15 and 22 – this is detailed below. I’m currently also working on a British Academy/Leverhulme-funded project with three additional youth groups at locations around the UK.

The first paper to emerge from my work with the Northern England youth group was published in Language in Society. This work analyses interviews that I’ve conducted with some of the group members, and argues that underlying assumptions about the links between ethnicity and sexuality are evident in the data. Specifically, the mostly white young people use language which positions Asian people as a homogenous, inherently homophobic group, and tend to position the LGBT experience as one which only white people share.

A second paper, published in Journal of Sociolinguistics, explores how the young people position themselves in line with discourses which draw on prevalent homonormative ideologies to construct their own sense of legitimate citizenship and downplay the significance of their non-heteronormativity. However, this identity work stands in opposition to the actual lived experiences of the young people outside of their youth group setting; they are frequently subjected to homophobia by members of their local community, and positioned as other by significant people in their lives.

A third paper was published in Sexualities journal, exploring stories that the gay and lesbian members of the group told me about how they ‘came out’. In the paper, I show that the young people draw on essentialist ideologies associated with binary gender and innate sexual desire, in order to construct a culturally ‘authentic’ sexual identity.

In 2015, I was invited back to do some more work with the transgender members of the Northern England group – more information on that is here.

Between 2012 and 2015, I was part of a research group ( looking at media discourses surrounding the recent introduction of same-sex marriage in the UK. We published a critical discourse analysis of speakers against same-sex marriage using language to take implicitly homophobic stances, taking our data from the Radio 4 programme ‘Moral Maze’. Information on this publication is here.

We also wrote up our findings from a survey conducted into surname practices and strategies amongst same-sex couples who marry or have a civil partnership; this was published in Gender and Language journal.

A third study involved corpus analysis of responses to same-sex marriage published in newspaper articles over the past few years. We looked at the discourses which emerged when the UK Government first announced its public consultation on the issue in 2012, when the Bill was debated in Government and then passed in 2013, and when the first same-sex marriages took place in May 2014. This was published by Discourse and Society – more information here.

My first research project was during my PhD at the University of Sheffield, under the supervision of Professor Emma Moore. Between 2007 and 2008, I conducted sociolinguistic ethnography with a lesbian hiking group made up of mostly middle-class, middle-aged cisgender white women. My thesis was examined by Professor Sara Mills in 2009. In my write-up of this study, I focused on how the women constructed a shared community of practice identity.

I published this as a monograph in 2012, Dyke/Girl: Language and Identities in a Lesbian Group (Palgrave). The book outlines interactive tactics used in the production of mutually-negotiated norms of authenticity – more information here.