Review of Narratives in Academic and Professional Genres
This edited volume opens with a brief foreword from Vijay K. Bhatia introducing what is to follow. The book begins properly with a theoretically focused introduction by the editors which serves to both justify the volume and locate it within several different approaches to the study of situated language use. As the authors write, ‘we believe that by applying the tools and foci of Narratology to the study of academic and professional genres we may enrich their description and contribute to deepen into their interpersonal workings, synergising theoretical positions and opening research windows that otherwise would be less prominent in specialised communication’ (13). This goal has largely, and successfully, been achieved by the 11 chapters focusing on academic genres in the first part of the book, and by the 10 chapters focusing on professional genres in the second part.
Although the chapters are not numbered in the volume, I use chapter numbers to refer to them (in order of their appearance in the book) for ease of reference.
Chapter 1, Anna Mauranen’s ‘Narrative elements in conference presentations’ argues that narratives in conference presentations add rhetorical power to the presentations. Data is drawn from the English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings (ELFA) corpus. However, due to the small data sample used, it would be difficult to generalise findings beyond the specific scope of the chapter.
Chapter 2, Begoña Bellés Fortuño’s ‘Marginal stories in classroom asides’ investigates a lesser-studied phenomenon but, like Chapter 1, has a small data sample and even more problematically makes assertions which such a small sample does not necessarily support. For example, the author writes, ‘This study has shown that asides are recurrent pragmatic features in academic lectures’ (74). Given that the data come from only four academic lectures, this assertion seems a bit too broad for this chapter. The author might have amended the claim to reflect the data which was analysed for the chapter.
Chapter 3, Christine Feak’s ‘Narrative in and of public meetings of the university’ uses observation of and official minutes from four open public meetings in a major US university to argue that despite the apparent transparency in their activities, the board meetings appear to be more of a ritual through which identities are preserved through embedded narratives. The chapter is coherent and well argued, a pleasure to read.
Chapter 4, Yiannis Gabriel’s ‘Storytelling in organizational research’ examines some of the main genres of stories recounted by academics, and seeks to understand how stories function in academic discourses and the role they play in creating solidarity. Data collection and analysis draws on the author’s life experience. This methodology forces the reader to trust that the author has the experience and authority in the academy to substantiate any assertions made in the analysis.
Chapter 5, Marina Bondi’s ‘Historians as recounters: Description across genres’ uses corpus linguistic methods to provide a well-argued discussion of theorising how people describe objects and places in different research traditions. However, due to the limits of the corpora from which data is drawn, results of any analysis should not be generalised.
Chapter 6, Carmen Daniela Maier and Jan Engberg’s ‘Tendencies in the multimodal evolution of narrator’s types and roles in research genres’ considers the relationship between mode of transmission of research knowledge (traditional printed academic journal article and multimodal academic video essays). Like many of the chapters in the volume, the small data sample makes it difficult to generalise findings. However, this chapter was well argued with good evidence to support assertions.
In Chapter 7, ‘Narratives in academic blogs’, María José Luzón explores the various reasons why and results of uses of narratives in blogs written by academics. She argues that academics use narratives strategically to create intimacy with readers, for self-preservation management, and for validation of the self.
Chapter 8, Rosa Lorés-Sanz’s ‘Enhancing membership and constructing knowledge in Spanish and English book reviews’, argues that academic book reviews have features which characterise typical narratives, and investigates cultural influences on evaluations of these narratives. This chapter is well argued, and makes a solid and interesting contribution to intercultural pragmatics.
Chapter 9, Pilar Mur Dueñas’s ‘Scholars recounting their own research in journal articles’ finds differences between English-language and Spanish-language research articles in personal references and agency, adverbial clauses, and verb tenses. Though it is not clear that the two data sources are directly comparable (English-language articles are from high impact journals; Spanish-language articles are from low impact journals), findings from this analysis may assist Spanish-language scholars wanting to publish in English-language journals.
In Chapter 10, ‘Narrative structure in students’ scientific writing’, Christoph A. Hafner, Lindsay Miller, and Connie Ng Kwai-Fun have two goals: to consider how teachers of English for Science and Technology (EST) can help their students to write for audiences outside of academia whilst maintaining appropriate academic criticality and rigour; and how teachers of EST can work with both newer digital media and traditional written media whilst acknowledging the power that such traditional written forms still have in scientific disciplines. The authors found that using a popular science genre (digital storytelling) in the dissemination of scientific research helped EST students themselves to make the science more accessible to non-specialist audiences, which helped EST students’ own academic writing.
Chapter 11, Luisa Caiazzo’s ‘Factual reporting in the “About” page of British university websites’ uses qualitative and quantitative corpus linguistic methodologies to investigate the emerging narrative patterns in ‘About’ pages on 115 British university websites. Another focus of the chapter is to investigate the interplay between factual and evaluative self-representation in the narratives, which Caiazzo argues can be viewed as institutional writing (cf. Biber 2006).
The second half of the book is comprised of studies focusing on narratives in professional genres, and begins with Kjersti Fløttum’s ‘Narratives in reports about climate change’. This chapter investigates how multiple actors involved in climate change linguistic and discursively construct their climate policy, in three reports published by large international institutions. The chapter also seeks to gain a deeper understanding of climate change discourse from a narrative analytic perspective.
Chapter 13, Françoise Salager-Meyer, María Ángeles Alcaraz Ariza, and Marianela Luzardo Briceño’s ‘The medical narrative from a diachronic perspective (1840-2009): Titling practices and authorship’ claims to be the first study of the evolution of case report narrative titles. In their diachronic analysis of a corpus of 180 case report narrative titles from 1840 to 2009, the authors seek to develop a sense of the collaborative practices of medical case report narrative writers.
Chapter 14, Marco De Martino’s ‘Illness narratives: Gender and identity in patients’ accounts’ aims to discover gendered differences (i.e., differences in femininities and masculinities) in illness narratives, specifically if men and women ‘do’ gender and illness differently, and if so, what some of these differences are. In contrast with Charteris-Black and Seale (2010), data for this chapter are oncological conditions affecting primary and secondary sexual organs. The author cites research from the 1990s (e.g., Bem 1993; Connell 1995; Tannen 1991) to support the focus on gendered differences. However, there is a large amount of research on gender, identity, and language (e.g., Bucholtz & Hall 2004; Mills & Mullany 2011) that has developed (some may argue, progressed) the field and has shifted the focus of research toward sociocultural, ideological, and indexical influences on gender and identity construction. Such research argues that gender and identity construction is nuanced, contextual, and not always a matter of simple binaries. However, gender differences in discourse and narrative are compelling, and continue to be the focus of study (cf. Baker 2008).
Chapter 15, Ruth Breeze’s ‘Traversing legal narratives’ focuses on the central legal narrative genre of the judgment which ‘represents the culmination of legal action’, and follows the ‘natural history’ of the narratives embedded in it (344). The author draws on Bruner’s (1991) distinction between narrative and argumentative approaches to reality, arguing that the framework of the law ultimately sets the parameters for what can be considered a tellable legal story; additionally, logical argument is always superordinate to legal narratives. The chapter argues that certain legal authorities (e.g., judges, lawyers) play important roles in the intertextual construction and re-construction of legal narratives, and sets out major differences between legal and other narrative forms.
Chapter 16, Patrizia Anesa’s ‘Multiple narratives in arbitration processes’ highlights a reason for the lack of research in this important area: that arbitrators and parties involved frequently wish to keep narratives, discussions, and details of the arbitration confidential. Using the minutes of arbitral hearings and transcripts of parties’ examinations, the chapter seeks to understand to what extent arbitration proceedings are shaped by narratives; what stories are told by participants in arbitration; and how multiple voices heard in arbitration proceedings merge. Data come from documents in Italian domestic arbitration cases and despite the small data sample, the author argues that findings from the analysis could contribute some new insights into a specific type of arbitral hearing, namely the free parties’ examination.
Chapter 17, Carmen Sancho Guinda’s ‘The “Tell and Show” of aviation-catastrophe synopses’ argues that certain texts produced by the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States (NTSB) have storytelling elements in which attribution plays a significant role in both constructing relationships between narrator and audience and to the organisation of discourse in the text. After a discussion of the main features of Genre Theory, the chapter investigates NTSB aviation accidents’ narrative authorship and adequacy.
In Chapter 18, ‘Getting the picture in annual reports: A reflection on the genre-based analysis of photographic narrative’, Elizabeth De Groot argues that photographs that appear alongside text constitute manifestations of the narrative included in companies’ annual reports. The chapter aims to shed light on the complex nature of analysing photographic narrative, and to provide tools grounded in Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) genre theory that will allow for ‘systematic and consistent’ examination of multimodal narrative manifestations (413).
Chapter 19, Isabel Corona Marzol’s ‘Lives in retrospective: The journalistic obituary’ approaches the printed journalistic obituary as a multimodal text which is a composite of different units, each of which contributes different meaning-making resources to the obituary as a whole. The analysis seeks to identify and understand the different units that make up multimodal obituary texts in a corpus comprised of 200 printed obituaries from four leading British newspapers.
Chapter 20, Ismael Arinas Pellón’s ‘Motivation for descriptions of intellectual property’ describes US patents, aiming to consider what they are, what validity criteria they must fulfil, and what contexts influence their writing. Arinas Pellón draws on several methodologies including genre analysis, corpus linguistics, and narratology. The chapter concludes with a discussion of why descriptions are the main form of transforming an invention into a tradable property, and how such a claimed property is described in a way that meets the commercial interests of the patent applicants.
In the concise Afterword, Brian Paltridge calls for an increased use of narrative inquiry in academic and professional genres, in order to help understand how people who work in these areas develop their expertise in the use of these genres, how people learn to participate in them, and the issues they face in doing so.
The book is sure to appeal to scholars interested in applied linguistic anthropology research, as many of the chapters focus on topics which have heretofore received little linguistic attention. Those interested in narrative studies are also likely to be interested in the volume, given the many different approaches to and theoretical discussions of ‘narrative’. Moreover, the volume will likely appeal to scholars in English for Special Purposes (ESP) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP), given the variety of ESP and EAP topics and situations which are included for analysis.
The editors aimed to offer ‘an engaging panorama of the construction of specialised discourses and practices within academia and diverse professional communities’, according to the blurb on the back of the book, and for the most part this goal has been achieved. Sancho Guinda’s chapter on aviation catastrophe synopses is striking, given the paucity of work on aviation discourse (my own area of research), particularly accident and incident narratives. It is a welcome addition to the small (but growing) body of aviation discourse scholarship. Indeed, many of the chapters discussed topics which have previously received little linguistic attention (e.g., Maier and Engberg on multimodality and academic narratives; Anesa on narratives in arbitration; Arinas Pellón on US patents).
The book is not without a few minor issues. Many chapters were difficult to follow, either because of poor editing, typos, or other problems. The book felt like it was hastily completed, which may account for the editing errors and typos. In fact, in the review copy, a page from one of the chapters (from the bibliography) was missing from the bound book, and was included as a supplement. These issues are unacceptable with a list price of US$124.95/£77/€96.07.
These issues aside, the book is an interesting and useful resource for narrative-focused research into areas that have traditionally been understudied.
Bem, Sandra. 1993. The lenses of gender: transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Biber, Douglas. 2006. University language. A corpus-based study of written registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Bruner, Jerome. 1991. The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry 19. 1-21.
Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall. 2004. Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. Language in Society 33. 469-515.
Charteris-Black, Jonathan & Clive Seale. 2010. Gender and the language of illness. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Connell, Robert W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Mills, Sara & Louise Mullany. 2011. Language, gender, and feminism: theory, methodology and practice. London: Routledge.
Tannen, Deborah. 1991. You just don’t understand: women and men in conversation. London: Virago.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Barbara Clark is a linguistic anthropologist specialising in institutional discourse, intercultural communication, miscommunication, and aviation discourse. She holds a Visiting Research Fellow position at Queen Mary, University of London, and is founder of You Say Tomato which provides linguistic anthropology consulting services.