Reflections from the CASS student challenge panel member, part 1

Each year, one student from an outside institution is appointed to ‘challenge‘ CASS with concepts from their own novel research. Pamela Irwin, the 2013/2014 student challenge panel member, is beginning to wrap up her ‘term’, and has put together a series of reflections on the process. Read the first entry below.

I am a mature student with a background in health and higher education, and currently completing my PhD in gerontology. My research centres on the interaction between age, gender and the community in the context of resilience in older women living on their own in rural Australia.

Although ageing is informed by many disciplines, my research route is via the broad domain of social sciences. Serendipitously, a peer review of a journal article was responsible for my formal exposure to linguistics and corpus linguistics. The reviewers indicated that my paper reflected a sociological rather than the requisite social psychology orientation, and while I was aware that my topic crossed these disciplines, I was not fully cognisant of the critical importance of language in differentiating these subtleties. As a result, I enrolled in a corpus linguistic programme designed to improve academic language use, and through the inaugural CASS summer school, I was then able to consolidate, expand and apply this knowledge. This immersion in the world of linguistics stimulated a new and growing interest in the ‘function’ of language in academia and everyday life.

However I soon realised that my grounding in the grammatical structures of the English language was extremely basic. While I could identify the fundamental parts of speech, I could not parse a sentence and any further analysis was well beyond my skill set. Since then, I have been introduced to new concepts (semiosis), terminology (concatenate), techniques (linguistic ‘friendly’ transcribing) and technology (WMatix) amongst others, as well as being challenged to rethink and change some of my preconceived ideas (metaphor).

Here, my understanding of the figures of speech is particularly salient. Resilience, a key theme in my research, tends to have different meanings depending on both the subject and context. An overview of the literature suggests that resilience is often described metaphorically as ‘bouncing back’ in academic and popular psychology, whereas in an Australian setting, resilience is more likely to be associated with an image of ‘the (little) Aussie battler’ (Moore, 2010). In this context, resilience represents perseverance, with the ‘underdog’ battling against all odds to overcome hardship in adverse conditions. By contrast, at a systems (socio-ecological) level, resilience is not yet related to a specific metaphor or image. It is however, closely linked to a related term, ‘panarchy’, that involves a dynamic process of adaptation and transformation.

Thus resilience is defined by a metaphor (a ball), an image (a battler) and a conceptual term (panarchy) in my study. These differences provide a rich ‘landscape’ to uncover with corpus linguistics.


Moore, B. (2010). What’s their story? A history of Australian words. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Return soon to read Pamela’s next installment! Are you interested in becoming the next student challenge panel member? Apply to attend our free summer school to learn more.