A Snapshot of the Field: Linguistics

About the project

In academia and particularly in highly theoretical fields, there is a concerted and idealistic effort to divorce knowledge from individual emotion and personality: scholars should remain disconnected from the subjects they study so as to maintain objective points of view, and the topics that are chosen for study should be driven purely by intellectual motivations. As much as this sort of emotional disconnect is championed, however, I believe that such a rigorous divide is humanly impossible. What we care about, how we care about it, who we are as individuals, and how we form our relationships with other scholars drive our academic fields and questions of study as much as the intellectual factors.

“A Snapshot of a Field” is a photographic portraiture project that seeks to create an audio-visual ethnography of the modern-day academic field of Linguistics by documenting the scholars that comprise the discipline. It is a common practice in academia to make appraisals of our fields from a scholarly point of view, asking what progress have we made on the main questions of linguistics and where does the field go from here. In this project, I aim to take stock of the field from an emotional point of view, archiving a slice of the discipline by making portraits of academic linguists, focusing on their individual personalities through portraiture. As a component of the portrait sessions, there will also be short interviews with the linguists on how they started in the field. The artistic goals of this project are to explore how the individuals and the sum of their personalities and relationships form an academic community. These photographs and interviews will ultimately be displayed en masse, as a collection representing how the scholars in the subject define the field of Linguistics.

This project is in part funded by a Spark! Grant from the Stanford Arts Institute.

View the work-in-progress gallery here.

About the photographer

Stephanie S Shih is a phonologist and Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at Stanford University and a concurrent exchange scholar at University of California, Berkeley. Shih is also a food and travel photographer whose work has been featured in print and digital outlets including Gastronomica, Food & Wine, Saveur, Bon Appetit, and sated.

Are you a linguist?

Please let me make your portrait! Get in touch at stephsus [at] stanford [dot] edu.