By Khadija Azhar, Lok Hang Vincent Chu, and Rajesh Panhathodi

Adam Jaworski obtained his MA (1979), PhD (1985), and DPhil (1991) in English sociolinguistics from Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, where he taught as Assistant Professor until 1991. Between 1991–1992 he was Lecturer at the Department of Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck, University of London. In 1993 he moved to the Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University. In 2012 he joined the University of Hong Kong.

You have now spent a decade in HKU in various academic capacities. What initially attracted you to join HKU?

My first ever visit to Hong Kong took place in 2002 for a conference organized by the City University of Hong Kong and I completely fell for it from the moment I arrived. As a declared urbanite, I revel in the excitement of crowded public spaces and the rhythm of the street.

Before joining HKU’s School of English, on Chris Hutton’s kind initiative, I spent two semesters at the School as a Visiting Professor in 2007 and 2011. I will be always grateful to Chris and other colleagues for facilitating this opportunity, which eventually led to my move to HKU full time in 2012. I enjoyed the School’s intellectual climate, interdisciplinarity and collegiality, including the interface between postgraduate students and staff.

Over these years, what did you most enjoy in HKU? How did you find it different from other places you worked before?

Hong Kong is a great academic centre for language and communication, which is my research area, and my colleagues in the School (past and present) are among the cutting edge scholars in a number of its fields internationally. I was very pleased and proud to join such a distinguished grouping, alongside literary historians, creative writers, and others.

Another incentive was the wealth of research opportunities at HKU and generally in Hong Kong. The availability of internal and external funding available in Hong Kong is second to none, including for research postgraduate students.

Has Hong Kong influenced your perspectives in research and life in general?

Living and working in Hong Kong has given me an opportunity to become less Eurocentric than I used to be. This has worked in many subtle ways such as choosing some of my examples in my teaching as well as research topics. For example, when I taught the course Language and Globalization, I needed to rethink the intelligibility of some of my points of reference for Hong Kong students. Thanks to living in Hong Kong, although I am not a Chinese speaker, I have been able to combine my interest in the English language in the context of its place and visibility in public spaces.

How do you think this seemingly never-ending pandemic is going to change academic research in Arts?

The pandemic-related restrictions have indeed hampered our research. I see two main consequences. One has been our inability to conduct fieldwork, including gathering ethnographic data, accessing archive materials, browsing non-electronic library holdings, recruiting and interviewing participants, and so on. Second, we have been unable to maintain the same intensity and quality of networking. Much academic work relies on spontaneous and planned, brief and extended, formal and informal visits, exchanges, conversations and discussions with our colleagues at home and internationally. I particularly regret the lack of opportunities in this regard for current postgraduates. I hope that with the global effort to vaccinate as many people as possible the current pandemic will subside, and early career researchers, including postgraduate students, will be able to build new networks.

How would you describe your experience of organizing an international symposium during a pandemic?

The Sociolinguistics Symposium is a major international, biennial conference. The School of English had been selected to organize its 23rd edition in 2020, the first in Asia. We started preparations in 2017 and needed to extend the work by one year to hold the conference virtually in June 2021. It might have been easier to cancel the event, but it did not seem right to deprive a large number of regular attendees of this important meeting point.

In the end, the conference attracted over 800 participants, which is close to the usual number of attendees. In order to make it work across different time zones and to maximize discussion time, all presentations were pre-recorded, and two discussion sessions were scheduled for each paper and panel.

Moving the conference online had the positive effect of keeping the international community of sociolinguists in touch despite the pandemic. However, budgeting time to view numerous presentations online before the conference started turned out to be a challenge for many. Most academics seem to need to extract themselves from their home routine and day-to-day tasks in order to concentrate on attending a conference, focusing on their presentations, listening to talks by others, and engaging in whole day discussions. In any case, I am delighted with what we have accomplished in what was a truly team effort. I am ever so grateful to all my wonderful, hard-working and supportive colleagues in the Organizing Committee, especially my Co-Chair, Brian King, as well as our Conference Administrator, our School Support Staff, School and Faculty Management, and all our student helpers.

You have served as the Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Arts. What changes would you like to see in the state-of-play of academic research?

There is always room for reducing the bureaucracy in managing research projects. I think there are signs of the University Management’s willingness to streamline the administration of projects at different levels.

I believe that all postgraduate research students would benefit from de-centralizing their research training away from the Graduate School. It would be excellent for faculties, schools and departments to be trusted with more resources to organize their own research training for their MPhil and PhD students.

Finally, I would exempt all non-local, RGC-funded postgraduate research students from paying composition fees, in line with local students. 

As an academic with vast teaching and research experience in the global setting, what are the opportunities for research in English language and literature?

I think English is a very useful and flexible designation for researching language, literature, arts, culture, media, communication, and other areas of social life. As a disciplinary and research label, we can “domesticate” English in many different ways. With undeniable links to the Anglosphere, the field of English Studies has become very diverse and multidisciplinary.

Over the years, research in the humanities has received criticism for being inaccessible and exclusive. Do you think these perceptions have evolved over the years or does research in the humanities remain esoteric?

I think it’s appropriate for academic research to be esoteric to some extent, which does not mean it should not be principled, rigorous, and clear.

As far as accessibility is concerned, I’m not sure whether it’s the best way to think about research. Accessible to whom? For what purpose? Under what circumstances?

For me, the main value of academic research in the arts, humanities and social sciences is to pose questions about structures of power, social hierarchy, justice and inequality. As critical scholars, we should foster the ideals of humanism and liberal democracy, oppose tyranny of authoritarian rule, populism, and conspiracy theories. We should also aspire to promote beauty and creativity.

Could you recount some of your best moments or memorable experiences with students and colleagues?

My fondest memories are related to friendships emerging around preparing and organizing various academic events, such as large-scale conferences, roundtables, workshops, seminars, and summer schools. Over the past ten years, I have organized over a dozen events. Collaborating with students and colleagues on these occasions and participating in associated social activities has been hugely enjoyable and gratifying. They took place mostly in Hong Kong as well as Copenhagen, Bern, and London.

Could you share with us your future plans?

Looking ahead to my retirement, the University has given me the honour of the title HKU Emeritus Professor from 1st July 2022. My main job will be to catch up with my three-year old grandson and the rest of my family in the UK and Poland. In my free time, I have some plans to complete a few unfinished pieces of writing, including some collaborations, continue to supervise my current PhD student, and edit my book series for Oxford University Press. It’s possible that I will pick up an odd review of a journal submission, academic report or assessment, or consult on an international project.

Could you briefly recount your academic journey from Poznań to Hong Kong ?

All my education took place in Poland, where I am from “originally”. Although I did all my schooling and university education in my hometown, the city of Poznań in western Poland, I was able to spend extended periods as a visiting postgraduate student and later a budding researcher at universities in the UK and the USA, including UCL, Reading University, University of Florida, and the American University in Washington D.C.

After completing my PhD and habilitation, I moved to Birkbeck, University of London, and then to the Centre for Language and Communication Research at Cardiff University. I am very lucky to have gained academic experience in so many excellent places and to have worked with many wonderful colleagues. If I could change anything, I would have probably tried to do more degree work outside of Poznań, just to have had exposure to new people and ideas sooner.

Published on: March 31, 2022 < Back >