Dr Kate Spowage


I did my undergraduate work, Masters by Research, and PhD at the University of Leeds. I joined the University as a Lecturer in September 2020. 

Research interests

In broad terms, I am a sociolinguist and cultural theorist. I am particularly interested in the politics of language and linguistic thought, especially as it relates to colonialism and its legacies. I view language as a lens for exploring the structuring forces that shape human life and political struggles. My work is interdisciplinary, and in particular it draws on sociolinguistics, political theory, and cultural theory. There are several strands to my recent and current research projects, summarised below.

Global Languages, the State, and Language Policy

To date, much of my work has centred on global languages, both as an idea and a (debatable) phenomon. Chiefly, my interest is in ‘global English’ and ‘world Englishes’, but I also work on French and La Francophonie. I am interested in how, exactly, a language comes to be seen as ‘global’, and why governments around the world might legislate in favour of such languages. English is the most obvious example here, given its staggering spread around the world (it is an ‘official language’ in some 50+ countries). Classical explanations for the rise of English as a global language have focussed on its role as a lingua franca in multilingual countries, its position as a ‘colonial inheritance’ in the former British Empire, and its current role in global business. In my forthcoming monograph, Language as Statecraft, I attempt to complicate some of these ideas by examining Rwanda, an atypical case. As a former Belgium colony which is virtually monolingual, Rwanda troubles certain assumptions about what makes an ‘anglophone’ country. Its history, unravelled in the book, places issues of social class, democracy, and political economy at the centre of an analysis of English language policy. It also demonstrates the importance of a critical engagement with the State for understanding the politics of English in domestic and global terms. I argue that this seeds an innnovative way of conceptualising global English (the ‘global English nébuleuse’) and lays the groundwork for a more cultural-materialist approach to ‘global English’. 

Culture, Economy, and (De)colonial Lingusitic Theory

I am interested in unpicking the theories and histories that shape debates around language policy and politics, particularly in relation to colonialism and decolonisation. In particular, I am interested in how linguistic theories have interacted with (and continue to interact with) cultural and economic forces, especially primary processes of capitalist production (including primitive accumulation and exploitation). I explore these issues in relation to ‘global English’ in my monograph, and in relation to the concept of ‘francophonie’ in other published work. I am currently working on these topics from several angles, including in relation to the work of Johann Gottfried Herder, Wilhelm Bleek, Alexis Kagame, Frantz Fanon, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Several of these interests are also drawn together in an article I co-authored with Dr Hayley G. Toth on the Victorian State and the public libraries movement in Britain – a different context which highlights the envisaged connections between cultural practices and the reproduction of material life, as managed by the State.

The Politics of Language and Space in Video Games

A third area of my research, which I am currently exploring, centres on how video games can help us to explore the politics of language and space. This touches on questions around toponymy, spatial semiotics, and speculative histories/futures. I am particularly interested in how video games offer players creative and speculative ways of engaging with real world questions around language and power in public and private space. In some of this work, I am collaborating with Dr Adrienne Mortimer, with a particular focus on The Last of Us

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD English Language
  • MRes English Language
  • BA (Hons) English Language and Linguistics

Professional memberships

  • Treasurer, British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) Language in Africa Special Interest Group
  • Reviews Editor, Key Words Journal (Raymond Williams Society)

Student education

I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

I teach a range of modules in the School of English, including Key Concepts in English Language Study, Language in Society, and ‘Global English’: Colonialism, Postcolonialism, and Decolonisation. 

I supervise dissertations in Sociolinguistics and the Politics of Language (and welcome enquiries in these areas). Exemplary topics: language policy or linguistic ecologies in postcolonial societies; ‘global English’; language ideologies; language in relation to race and/or class; the history of English; language debates; critical toponymy. 

I also welcome enquires from PhD students to work on topics which relate language/linguistic theory to postcolonialism, cultural production, politics, and language policy – but I am happy to hear from any perspective PhD student who thinks there might be a research fit between us. 

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>