UB to host 2022 Positioning Theory Conference

Baird Point and Lake La Salle at dusk (the blue hour) on North Campus in the fall of 2018.

The three-day conference will be held in Clemens Hall on the UB North Campus. Photographer: Douglas Levere

Release Date: June 15, 2022

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Portrait of Mary McVee, who has long hair and is wearing a dark shirt.
“That’s what makes smaller conferences like this special: You get to have those interesting conversations. ”
Mary McVee, professor of learning and instruction and director of the UB Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction
UB Graduate School of Education

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Academics, researchers and students from around the world interested in positioning theory – a concept in social psychology that characterizes interactions between individuals – are invited to attend the 2022 Positioning Theory Conference at the University at Buffalo.

Organized by the Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction within the UB Graduate School of Education, the international conference will allow researchers and practitioners at all career stages to share in-depth research and discuss the use of positioning theory in social science disciplines. 

The three-day conference is scheduled from July 24-27. Guests may attend in person at Clemens Hall on the UB North Campus or virtually. In-person attendance includes access to both on-site and virtual sessions. The conference is open to all, but advance registration is required by June 22. To register, visit the conference website.

“Even if someone else’s discipline is unrelated to yours, you still have something to talk about because you have this shared interest in positioning theory,” says Mary McVee, PhD, professor of learning and instruction in the UB Graduate School of Education and director of the UB Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction. “That’s what makes smaller conferences like this special: You get to have those interesting conversations.”

Positioning theory addresses individual rights, duties and obligations, and explores the mechanisms through which roles are assigned or denied, either to oneself or others. The theory describes storylines and agency that determine the boundaries of future acts and the meanings of what people say and do.

Research on the theory suggests that positioning can have direct moral implications. A person or group’s position may result in being identified as trusted or distrusted, or “with us” or “against us.” Additionally, multiple positions can be identified in ways that may help move beyond binary approaches to problems.

“I’ve used positioning to look at how predominantly white teachers talk about race and how they position themselves and the multiple positions that they take up,” says McVee. “If we think about positions being multiple, that enables us, in any field and with a lot of different research problems and disciplines, to explore the multifaceted parts that exist.”

Conference presenters will represent 13 countries and a diverse array of disciplines, including education, political science, linguistics, business, communication studies and international relations. The keynote speakers include:

  • Luk Van Langenhove, PhD, research professor and academic commissioner at the Free University of Brussels. Langenhove is one of the foundational theorists who helped establish what has now become known as positioning theory.
  • Michael Bamberg, PhD, professor of psychology at Clark University. Bamberg is known for his work on narrative and identity and how small stories are employed as general sense-making and identity-building strategies.
  • Bo Allesøe Christensen, PhD, associate professor of communication and psychology at Aalborg University in Denmark. Christensen’s scholarly interests include media studies, cultural psychology and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
  • Pasi Hirvonen, PhD, visiting research fellow at the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies in Belgium. Hirvonen is an expert in the use of positioning theory and conversational analysis in studying small groups and organizational change.
  • Mary McVee, PhD, professor of learning and instruction in the UB Graduate School of Education and director of the UB Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction. McVee’s work focuses on racial positioning in teacher discussions and multimodal positioning in children’s engineering literacies.

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