Unmoored: Language Pain, Porosity, and Poisonwood


  • Alison Phipps University of Glasgow


language pain, ontology, subjectivity, poetics, trauma, Blen, Tigrinya


This paper considers the experience of unmoored multilingualism through autoethnographic reflection, literary fiction, and anthropological inquiry. Drawing from the work of Elaine Scarry, Simone Weil, Anne Carson, and Tim Ingold, Phipps contemplates the embodied relationship between pain and languages, movement, and the porosity of language worlds. Phipp’s exploration of these abstract concepts is shaped by a collage of voices from asylum seekers, refugees and their advocates, and through the voices of fiction, which tell of pain and porosity in unmoored languages. In particular, the paper draws from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible and Camilla Gibb’s Sweetness in the Belly, as well as Phipp’s own personal experiences.

Author Biography

Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow

Phipps holds the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow where she is also Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies, and Co-Convener of Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNET). She is based in School of Education at the University of Glasgow where she teaches refugee studies, critical multilingual studies, religious and spiritual education, anthropology and intercultural education and education for non-violence.