Interview by Amanda Kaminsky
Amanda Kaminsky: This book takes a highly unconventional structure. It begins and ends with a scripted dialogue among various stakeholders, while the middle takes the form of a rich collage of voices, photographs, and ethnographic details. What were your goals when setting out to write this book, and what was the process through which you arrived at its final structure?
Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese: Voices of a City Market is an outcome of the ethnographic research we conducted in Birmingham Bull Ring Market. The book is structured in three parts, and breaks with the conventions of the traditional ethnographic monograph. Part I and Part III represent the voices of characters who engage in dialogue about the research. The characters discuss and debate aspects of the representation of the social life of the market. Part II represents the voice and action, the sound and smell, the taste and touch, of the market over four months. Curating examples of everyday practice in the market enable us to argue that the structure and form of Part II of Voices of a City Market is polyphonic, and represents the heteroglossia of the social and commercial life of the market The text allows the closest possible approximation to real life. It is polyphonic, a diversity of social speech types, a diversity of individual voices. At once a curation and a creation, the text orchestrates the heteroglossic diversity of voices through authorial framing, the speech of narrators, and the speech of characters. These are voices which are not closed or resolved, neither finalised, nor unfinalisable. They are voices that represent the human condition.
Amanda Kaminsky: Multilingualism recurs as a theme throughout this book, both through your interlocutors’ reflections on their own language use, and through the rich descriptions of market interactions. With the exception of a few phrases in Chinese, however, this book is written in English. What challenges did you encounter representing such multilingualism on the page?
Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese: In other books (such as Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective, 2010) we represented different languages both phonetically and in different scripts. For this book, however, we decided to largely translate speech into English. Translations were checked and re-checked. Our decision was made on the basis that the book would be principally published in Anglophone countries. The multilingual/heteroglossic character of the market was one of the most salient and interesting features of the research site.
Amanda Kaminsky: I am intrigued by the character of the Entrepreneur, who appears in the first and final sections of the book to critique the ethnographic project for its lack of profitability. Where did the idea for this character come from? What do you envision the role of ethnographic research to be within a capitalist system?
Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese: The character of the Entrepreneur is important as a counterpoint to the more-or-less liberal orientation of some of the other characters. The discourse of the Entrepreneur offers resistance, which can be a vital catalyst to creativity. Ethnographic research has potential to reveal the inequalities of the capitalist system. It would be good to believe that it can make a difference, and improve people’s lives.
Amanda Kaminsky: Much of the story that unfolds throughout this book centers on a particular butcher shop within the market. As these butchers weigh mincemeat and slice pork belly for their customers, we gradually learn about their backgrounds, their senses of humor, and their hopes for the future. I’m curious about the role that meat plays in the story you tell. What insights into the modern market experience were you able to glean from focusing on butchers, rather than focusing on another industry within the market?
Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese: The butcher stall was a fascinating research site. However, a fish stall, or shoe repair stand, or tee shirt vendor, and so on, might have been equally interesting. The research told us much about the ways in which people from different backgrounds, with different languages, are able to communicate by deploying whatever semiotic resources are available to them. Commerce and trade were key imperatives in this communicative process.