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 Stephen Pihlaja
/'stiːvən 'pihlaija/


Hi there, my name is Stephen and I'm an applied linguist, discourse analyst, and stylistician researching and teaching at Newman University in Birmingham (UK). I teach a suite of classes in the English subject group, focusing on the use of linguistic tools to study literature, language, and culture. My first book, Antagonism on YouTube was published by Bloomsbury in 2014 and my second book, Religious Talk Online was published this year on Cambridge University Press. I've also recently edited special issues of Language and Literature and Metaphor and the Social World and am an editor for the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies

My own research focuses on the dynamics of discourse, or language in use, particularly in online interaction around religious issues. I analyse discourse to understand how people present themselves and their beliefs to diverse audiences, and how technology changes not just the presentation of belief, but how and what people believe. To do this, I employ different methods of discourse analysis to investigate metaphor, narrative positioning, categories, and impoliteness in interaction.

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and most recently worked as a Primary Investigator on a Social Innovation Project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council called 'Let's Talk about Sex: equipping student leaders to address sexual violence on campuses'. 

I review articles for a variety of different publications, and serve as membership secretary for the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) and the secretary for the University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL). I am a regular member of the Researching and Applying Metaphor Association (RaAM) and the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL).

Dazed article

23 May 2018


Quoted in a Dazed article, using mild profanity:
I spoke to Stephen Pihlaja, another Applied Linguist. He told me that insulting someone to show affection is not new; in fact, “we all do it as a way to protect ourselves from being exposed to the hurt of saying that we care about someone and not having them respond in the way we’d hope. It’s much easier to call a your friend an asshat than to say ‘I appreciate you’. Like lots of stuff online, this gets amplified because you have both this access to incredibly famous people, but also the sense that they are unlikely to ever see what you tweet anyway.”
He added that, “fans are trying to get the attention of celebrities or to raise their own visibility, and being insulting or shocking is a good way to do that. It also has some of the elements of the defence mechanisms I mentioned. Being too big a fan of something might be seen negatively, so if you insult someone you like, you aren’t left out in the open in a way you might be if you said you loved them.”

Journal of Youth Studies Article

2 May 2018

My second article with Naomi Thompson on research we conducted a couple of years ago is out now. You can see it here!

Thompson, Naomi, & Pihlaja, Stephen. (2018). Temporary liberties and uncertain futures: young female Muslim perceptions of life in England. Journal of Youth Studies, 1-18. doi:10.1080/13676261.2018.1468021

Talk at Linnaeus University

28 March 2018

I will be making my first trip to Linnaeus University next week as a visiting fellow in the Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. Here is the poster for the event:


Talk at English Scholars Beyond Borders conference

21 March 2018

I will be speaking this weekend at the English Scholars Beyond Borders conference in Toyama City, Japan. See poster below!