Like many conceptual frameworks, nexus analysis is used by numerous researchers in a multitude of ways. Here members of our research team respond to frequently asked questions about nexus analysis by sharing how they understand and use various concepts and components of nexus analysis in their work.
Frequently Asked Questions
After conducting extensive work on ethnic representations in media texts, I started working with indigenous, multilingual Sámi communities in the early 2000s. In this work, I wanted to include more ethnographic and action research aspects in my work without losing critical questions of power, inequality, and discourse. Given these aims, nexus analysis seemed very attractive and offered me one way of “thinking outside the box” and addressing the complexity of the language practices, experiences and discourses in Sámi communities. Nowadays I am especially interested in developing rhizomatic discourse analysis in an attempt to researching circulation and connectivity.
I think nexus analysis as a conceptual framework, or even more broadly the notion of nexus as a metaphor, allows me to look at the object of my research, a moment in social action, in terms of two main aspects: first, it allows me to conceptualize the object of my study as a crossroads (or as a nexus) situated in time and space in which different elements come together and build a new constellation. Second, it leads me to look at the connections between these elements (coming together in a particular moment in time and space) and the broader socio-historical processes.
In my research, I understand the notion of social action broadly, comprising also any kind of discursive action. So in my PhD thesis I viewed the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan as a nexus. In my current work on peripheral multilingualism, a nexus can be for instance the construction of touristic experience. Hence, the elements coming together in the nexus also vary. In the PhD thesis I looked solely at discursive elements (e.g. discourses and genres).
In my current work, the ‘elements’ can include besides discourses, or discursive resources, different kinds of material resources and human beings. In this sense, I think nexus analysis is particularly useful in that it allows one to look at how really different things come together and how they connect to broader processes. I think, at the moment, as I see things in terms of trajectories and connections, at least the metaphor of nexus figures in almost all my research.
I use nexus analysis as the conceptual framework of my PhD thesis because it helps me to describe, understand and explain the multilayered processes that affect the function and value of languages within my multilingual research context. I find nexus analysis useful in research that tries to describe processes on the move and in research where various historical and social factors have to be considered in order to explain the current situation of the research context. Nexus analysis is a good way to trace the processes that formulate the bigger picture in research that takes up issues of, for example, policies and contexts with competing ideologies and other power hierarchies. After mapping the bigger processes and discourses present, the researcher can concentrate on the smaller units, the nexuses, and analyze what is significant in them considering her/his research questions.
For me, Nexus Analysis is a conceptual framework that is well suited for investigating social processes for two primary reasons. First, it takes a transdisciplinary approach to studying social action by drawing on theories, methods, and concepts from various disciplines. This provides me with more tools to use as I seek to understand and explain the ways in which people, places, objects, and discourses are linked together by the actions in which they engage. Second, Nexus Analysis allows me to focus both on the moment-to-moment actions that unfold while also zooming out to consider the wider processes in which these actions occur across different scales of space and time. In doing so, I can trace the links among these actions and processes. I consider all of the work I do to be informed by Nexus Analysis.
Nexus analysis helps me make analytical connections across multiple social scales in a principled and systematic way. It offers a guide for both collecting and analyzing data in order to see how ideas flow across different spaces. As such, it allows me to make explicit relationships that might not be immediately obvious. For example, teachers’ beliefs about language and ideas reflected in national language policy may be part of the same wider social system, even if the national policy is not overtly about education or if the teachers have not personally engaged with the policy themselves.
Nexus analysis allows me, as a researcher, to gain a multidimensional perspective of the system as a whole which, in turn, facilitates tracing ideas through different parts of the system in order to find connections that might not be apparent if one were to experience only one scale. Sometimes it is about temporal scales, as in how historically situated ideas relate to current sociopolitical language issues or how policies emerge and change over time. Sometimes it is about spatial scales, as in how supranational, national, and regional policies relate to local policies and practices. Sometimes it is about a combination of both. In a recent study of the visual use Spanish and English in the public spaces of a Texas city, for example, I used nexus analysis to show how the current ways in which these two languages are used are mediated by contemporary interpretations of historically situated language ideologies.
In sum, when I am interested in seeking to understand relationships among sociolinguistic phenomena across space and time, I find nexus analysis to be a useful approach to guide my work. Conversely, there are instances when my focus is on one scale only, with the aim of gaining a deep understanding of it—a close analysis of a particular language policy, for example. In such cases, nexus analysis is (not always) needed for that single study.
-Francis M. Hult
For me, it started to make sense to apply nexus analysis as an analytical paradigm for studies of hidden language management when I was carrying out my research in multinational corporations (MNCs) operating in Estonia. During the initial phase, I was constantly facing the problem that the corporate actors whom I approached denied having any (need for) official language policy. Nexus analysis as an ethnographic tool allowed me to circle in to the internal communication in these companies and let the involved actors (managers of internal communication) themselves define language management issues. It turned out that a lot of unorganised language management took place related to the issues of human resource management, knowledge management, corporate social responsibility, management of the cultural diversity and finding a common culture or brand for a MNC. In that way, nexus analysis that describes the sociolinguistic ecology of communication, is an appropriate, systematic tool for portraying the complexity of challenges involved in understanding language policy.
Nexus analysis helps me to understand and address the complexity of language practices and experiences. It also helps me to bring together aspects of critical discourse analysis, action research and ethnography in my own work.
Here we come to the notion of connections again. First, as I said above, nexus analysis allows me to investigate the connections between different elements coming together in a particular nexus, connections between, say, particular social actors, guest houses, web pages advertising those guesthouses and discourses drawn upon on the web pages. Second, it allows me to try to trace the connections between the micro and the macro, say, between particular discourses drawn upon on the web pages and broader social processes.
In broader terms, nexus analysis allows me to try to trace the mutual constitution between the micro and the macro and to look at this in terms of multiple, unpredictable relationships. Concretely in my current research, it allows me to investigate how the globalized new economy influences the discursive practices and uses of linguistic and other cultural resources in peripheral minority language communities, and how ‘the globalized new economy’ gets shaped through these micro-level processes.
By using the nexus analysis I can examine language practices and language ideologies in my research context. Nexus analysis has helped me to track down the historical, social and economic processes in my research area and helped me to move from large scale global processes to smaller areal ones and back. The nexus analysis is useful for me as a method, because it offers tools to track down the resources that are circulating in my research environment and helps me to follow the trajectories of discourses, ideologies, actors and genres through and across different scales of time and space.
My work seeks to understand how sign and spoken languages for deaf and hard of hearing students are managed through US language-in-education policy. I have found Nexus Analysis to be a helpful methodological framework for identifying the links among policy texts, circulating discourses about deafness and languages, and individuals’ implementation of the policy texts. In my MA thesis, I draw on the concepts of ‘historical body’ and ‘discourses in place’ in order to see how the historical bodies of parents, educators, and administrators influenced the ways in which they opened up or closed down implementational space within national US special education policy that supports multilingual education for deaf and hard of hearing students. Using Nexus Analysis as a conceptual framework was also well suited for drawing on concepts and orientations from the field of language policy and planning in order to cast a wider light on these processes.
In designing and conducting my current research study on the creation of individualized education plans for deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States, I found the fieldguide at the end of the Scollons’ (2004) book to be invaluable. It provides a useful guide for those who are new to conducting ethnographic fieldwork. The questions that the Scollons’ raise about the research process itself are useful for both green and seasoned researchers. Each time I return to the fieldguide, I find another golden nugget that I had missed before.
I like to think of nexus analysis as a meta-methodology (see my 2010 article in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language for more details). Fundamentally, it encourages questions about connections among social scales and the people who engage with them and then suggests ways in which different methodological tools for data collection and analysis can be integrated in order to answer those questions. It was originally envisioned as a way of bringing together ethnography of communication, interactional sociolinguistics, and critical discourse analysis; however, tools from other methodological traditions can be useful as well. Nexus analysis, thus, helps me negotiate what Nancy Hornberger refers to as ‘methodological rich points’—in essence figuring out when one has or does not have the right tool for the right job and what collection of tools are needed for certain kinds of jobs. Rather than cobbling together a haphazard rationale for combining methods, nexus analysis offers a conceptual guide for making principled and systematic choices that guide sound data collection and analysis.
-Francis M. Hult
It is always challenging to work in a transdisciplinary way and try to put concepts that have different roots and traditions into dialogue in a way that is helpful regarding your own research interest and data. But it is great fun, too.
As laid out by Scollon and Scollon, nexus analysis is an incredibly rich framework, impossible to ‘use’ as such. So one first challenge is in any case to decide which aspects one wants to focus on in a particular study, where to lay the emphasis and what to leave out. So almost in each study you have to ‘invent’ a new version of nexus analysis, tailored for the current specific project.
Another challenge, more specific for the kind of research I’ve been involved in so far, relates to the discourse analytical dimension in nexus analysis, which for me appears as rather underdeveloped in the nexus analytical approach. When dealing with this aspect, Scollon and Scollon make reference in the first place to CDA. The methodological frameworks of CDA, say those of Fairclough, Wodak and van Dijk, however, are not really compatible with the nexus analytical approach. Hence, the effort to apply “nexus analytical thinking”, let alone “nexus analysis”, on (mere) discursive data, has required, and still does, a good deal of inventiveness.
I made an attempt in this direction in my doctoral thesis, drawing on the concept of discourses as a theoretical-analytical concept. I find that the nexus analysis as conceptual framework has a lot potential and a lot to give to discourse analysis. However, this is a dimension in the framework which still needs a good deal of experimentation and elaboration with different kinds of data and topics of inquiry.
I find it difficult to capture and use the concept of the interaction order when examining the nexuses. Therefore, I instead use the concept of genre in lieu of the interaction order because it is better suited for my research purposes.
Because much of my research is concerned with policy texts, I wish that Nexus Analysis provided a richer theoretical and methodological discussion of how the concept ‘discourses in place’—and ‘discourse’ in general—is used within the nexus analytic framework. Nexus Analysis draws on concepts from Critical Discourse Analysis and yet there is not much in Nexus Analysis about how to carry out a discourse analysis of a policy text.
A common challenge in all academic work is terminology. A single term can be used by a variety of scholars to mean (slightly) different things. Alternatively, there may be multiple terms for essentially the same phenomena. This is certainly a common frustration in discourse studies. As an approach that is about making connections across methodological traditions and across scales of society, nexus analysis makes use of a broad constellation of terms and concepts. Some of them are readily familiar to discourse analysts, ethnographers, and sociolinguists while others are new or unfamiliar. When integrating nexus analysis with other theories and principles, it can be a challenge to reconcile these terms and concepts in a way that is both systematic to a particular study and also transparent for other researchers who read it.
Similarly, teaching nexus analysis can be a challenge. Since several of its fundamental concepts (e.g., historical body, interaction order, nexus of practice, social action, among others) stem from diverse philosophical and intellectual traditions, it is helpful to understand their backgrounds in order to fully grasp their meanings and applications. Many who first encounter nexus analysis find it terminologically difficult. In my experience, it is useful to first imagine elements of nexus analysis intuitively by drawing analogies between the key concepts and everyday encounters. Ultimately, nexus analysis is a highly practical approach to research. With a practical sense of the concepts, students of nexus analysis can begin to unpack the intellectual lineages and theoretical implications of the concepts.
-Francis M. Hult
I do think that nexus analysis shares lots with many critical approaches to language, be they critical discourse research, critical sociolinguistic ethnography and critical discourse ethnography. All of these approaches attempt, I believe, focus on language as practice and overcome some of the dichotomies, most notably the micro-macro dichotomy. What is special to nexus analysis, I think, are the particular concepts and traditions it brings together and the research strategies it employs.
One big difference of nexus analysis, compared with (any approach of) critical discourse analysis, the field of research where I ‘originally’ come from, is of course the heavy emphasis on ethnography and the shift of the focus from texts to social action. But also without the ethnographic aspect, applied on merely discursive data and understood rather as a conceptual metaphor than as a methodological framework, nexus analysis allows a different (theoretical and analytical) approach to the object of your study than any other framework within critical discourse analysis. Essentially, this has to do again with the notion of nexus and the multiple connections of the nexus (a single moment of social action in time and space) with different social processes.
I see nexus analysis as a more holistic and accurate framework for describing and analyzing the multilayered research contexts that, for example, peripheral communities are. Nexus analysis can offer an analysis that considers more aspects than the more traditional methods used within sociolinguistics. One aim of the use of the nexus analysis is to change the nexus of practice. By applying the nexus analysis one does not only point to the possible inequalities, but also can offer new perspectives and suggestions for the change of practices in different kind of communities.
For me, Nexus Analysis is unique in its attempt to orient the research lens towards a specific social action rather than towards a particular group of people or specific policy texts. By doing so, it leads one to ask questions that one might not otherwise ask. As a result of asking these questions, one can effectuate social change. Perhaps most striking to me about Nexus Analysis is that it is a framework that positions researchers (as well as participants) as agents of social change: by virtue of one person asking the kinds of questions that arise when investigating a social action, the nexus changes.
People sometimes ask, “what is new about nexus analysis?” It does not offer a radical break from earlier research traditions about language in society. One of its greatest strengths, for me, is that it builds upon and offers continuity with earlier approaches. What initially attracted me to nexus analysis was that it was compatible with my training in ethnographic sociolinguistics and discourse studies while providing a way of getting at the kinds of multidimensional questions that interest me. It is in asking new questions and then in suggesting a way of synthesizing earlier research traditions in order to answer those questions that nexus analysis becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
-Francis M. Hult