Third Space Lab – Overview

When my colleagues Dr. Zhang Xin and Dr. Saghar Leslie Naghib started the Third Space Lab (TSL), little did we know that it would have to be launched online during a pandemic.

Third Space is the opening of a new field where different cultures converge, contest, and collaborate. It is a place of contact between languages (or “ways of being”), that is, a social and cultural reality co-constructed through discourse among people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The rules for games and expectations for players in this space don’t always conform to the assumptions and norms of the dominant, but are fluid and dynamic. The proposed lab is grounded in the theme of underrepresented voices (gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, linguistic, sexual orientation) and narratives of cross-cultural Third Space. We examine how the performed stories of the represented and the marginalized co-construct and transform their multilingual identities in the Third Space.

Adopting an interpretivist approach to cognitive interview and ethnographic observation, this lab investigates the transformation of multilingual students’ identity in multicultural environments, with a focus on international education contexts. Treating identity as something fluid, dynamic, diverse, contextual, and never complete, “liquid crystals” (Derwin & Jackson, 2018, p. 67) that can be affected and modified, this lab explores persona formation and change through story-building and storytelling.

The lab aims to connect scholarship and practices while engaging faculty, students, staff, and different DKU units (Humanities Research Center, the Language and Culture Center, Office of Study Abroad, and the library, among others) as consultants in the lab. The main research project of the lab is a longitudinal, qualitative multiple case study of Chinese and international students at DKU and abroad, which answers the following research questions:

  1. What kind of stories do Chinese and international students compile as a result of entering a multilingual cross-cultural Third Space?
  2. In what ways, if any, do these stories reflect student changes as a result of multilingual and cross-cultural encounters?
  3. Do Chinese and international students start to form Third-Space personae in international and multilingual contexts?
  4. If so, when do they start to form Third-Space personae (in terms of proficiency levels, SA phase, and critical encounters/unsanctioned spaces/experiences)?
  5. What kind of stories are integral to the building of third-space personae?
  6. Do students perceive that there is a connection between what is learned in the story-building phase and their actual encounters? If so, how do they perceive the story-building phase influences their experiences and narratives?

For more information on the research projects of the lab, please visit the page dedicated to TSL on the Duke Kunshan University Humanities Research Center website.

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