Sara Mills


Research Materials

The research work which I do is informed by political commitment. In essence, it is important for me that my work makes a difference to the world outside the academy, rather than it simply being interesting academically. This political commitment stems from growing up in a working class community and learning at school to judge the values of that community through middle class norms. Contact with the socialist movement gave me a vocabulary for describing such discrimination. My politics were strengthened through contact with feminism and the Women’s Movement, and the relationship between gender and class became a continuing issue for me. Through working abroad teaching English as a foreign language and English literature in France, Libya and Morocco, I began to develop an interest in colonialism and in the linguistic strategies which those in positions of power used and the effect colonialism and post-colonialism has on identities and spatial relations. The physical distance from Britain was essential in terms of being able to analyse the structures of racism both within Britain itself and in Britain’s relations to other countries. Thus, my politics is a synthesis of these concerns with discrimination on the grounds of race, class and gender and it is also focused on trying to map out the combined force of these three factors in constructing identities and formulating a politics.

My political commitment is more than just the subject matter of my research. It entails a host of other elements: first, writing in a clear, simple prose is essential for me, since I want my writing to be read by those outside academic circles. Second, it is important for me to collaborate with other people on research, and to include younger researchers in research projects and in publications. Thirdly, speaking in contexts outside the academy is essential so that I get a sense of the way that people react to ideas and process them themselves. (This is starting to sound very priggish and self-congratulatory - it is not intended to be - it is just that I find it important that research work is not only writing about politics, but doing something to bring about change.)

I work on two main areas which are mostly unrelated; occasionally they overlap and inform one another. The first is feminism and linguistics/language study. I am interested in several areas here: firstly, in the way that feminists can analyse texts focusing on the linguistic components. I am trying to move away from a concern with individual language items to a focus on strategies used in texts which may have a number of different interpretations. Secondly, I am interested in gender and politeness - my concern here is not in proving that men and women use politeness differently, but in analysing the way that there may be contexts which seem to be already gendered and where the production and interpretation of polite speech for men and women may differ. I am currently in a research group analysing linguistic politeness and am working on postmodern discursive models of politeness. Thirdly, I am doing some research on strong women speakers - my initial aim was to critique then current models of women’s speech which characterised women as passive victims of male aggression in speech. I began to try to describe the speech of various women which seemed strong and competent, initially in valorised terms. I have had to revise my initial work to account for changes which I have noticed in my own reaction to strong women speakers, since it is clear that although `strong’ verbal behaviour may be good for those individuals, (and this may be questioned) it is often at the expense of other members of the group. My second area of research is feminism and post-colonial theory; at the moment I am mainly interested in the way that gender and class interact with race in terms of the production of spatial relations in colonial and imperial contexts.

Contact: Linguistics/English,  Sheffield Hallam University,  Sheffield S1 1WB