Review of What Writing Does And How It Does It
Date: Wed, 30 Mar 2005 12:26:35 +1000
From: Bernard McKenna
Subject: What Writing Does and How it Does it
EDITORS: Bazerman, Charles; Prior, Paul
TITLE: What Writing Does and How it Does it
SUBTITLE: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Bernard McKenna, University of Queensland Business School,
University of Queensland.
Although this book incorrectly claims that the growth in discourse
analysis studies has been largely in the area of spoken language, it
nevertheless provides much useful theoretical and practical guidance
for those teaching written discourse analysis. Primarily oriented to
composition scholars (p. 5), it nevertheless provides much that is
useful to any discourse analyst. The authors point out that three
aspects need to be understood before reading the book for, indeed,
one can select from the various chapters without having to read the
book in its entirety. Each of the eleven chapters has been
organized "around a basic question that can be used to interrogate a
text". The first six chapters show how to analyse texts, while the latter
five consider the analysis of textual practices. There are some
significant contributors such as Tom Huckin, Jack Selzer, and Charles
Bazerman, but the contributions by some less high profile are quite
strong as well.
In Chapter 1, Thomas Huckin discusses Content Analysis, or "what
texts talk about", pointing out the difference between thematic or
rhetorical patterns in texts and formal stylistic approaches such as
register analysis. In analysing the former, Huckin clarifies the
difference between conceptual analysis and relational analysis. His
exposition of twelve research publications using content analysis
research that deploys various forms and levels of qualitative and
quantitative data, as well as deductive and inductive approaches,
provides an excellent introduction to the novice researcher. Also
useful is his suggested procedure and critique of the research
conducted so far.
The under-researched area of the role of cognitive, social, linguistic
and rhetorical figures (poetics) in everyday texts is the basis of Philip
Eubanks' Chapter 2. Without providing much by way of methodological
justification, Eubanks analyses three texts by Microsoft's Bill Gates for
their narrative strategy. He then explains how these strategies have
an argumentative function by tapping into the "distributed cognition" of
Ellen Barton attempts a large project in Chapter 3 by showing how
Linguistic Discourse Analysis reveals the workings of language. She
begins by explaining the two foundational linguistic terms, structure
(units of language) and function (its purposeful use). Novice
practitioner-researchers will find her clear definitions very useful, as
well as her explanation of the differences between structural
linguistics and those that are anthropological and sociological. She
then shows how the qualitative work of Chafe and the quantitative
work of Biber can converge. Using Huckin's "Context Sensitive
Discourse Analysis" Barton explains that bottom-up and top-down
analysis can reveal the rich features of text, "those features that point
to the relation between a text and its context".
Second language teachers will find Marcia Z. Buell's explanation of
the complexity of Code Switching for Second Language Users in
Chapter 5 extremely useful. She points out that code switching
identifies shifts in social identities, relationships and contexts.
Although this happens in single-language situations, it is a significant
aspect in second-language users as an indication of the facility they
reveal in adopting the non-native language. Her case study of an
African college student's composition helps to make this point.
Also in Part 1 is Charles Bazerman outline of the basic concepts of
intertextuality (Chapter 4) and The Multiple Media of Texts (Chapter
6) by Anne Francis Wysocki.
The five chapters in Part II analyse textual practices, beginning with
Paul Prior's explanation of how texts come into being (Chapter 7).
This rather ambitious attempt to plot the writing process by tracking
the changes in a sociology student's writing over ten months, although
admirable, did not quite seem to come together. Prior separates
composing and inscription, as well as the various dimensions of
authorship (animator, author, principal). The third element of his
analysis is the process of intertextuality and the dialogic influences of
real and imagined audiences. The method he uses is extremely
complex and thorough, but one wonders whether the effort is worth
the research yield.
Kevin Leander and Paul Prior, in Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 (Children's
Writing) by George Kamberelis and Lenora de la Luna provide
excellent mini-ethnographies revealing the role that talk plays in the
development of school genre written text. In Chapter 8, the authors
develop Biber's understanding that "bundles of linguistic features vary
with the whole range of situational features, not just mode". Using
fieldnotes, audiotape and videotape, they describe two studies. In the
second, they track the "talk to text" of a classroom discussion of Huck
Finn. Although useful, it is surprising to me that the subject position of
Tony, the Afro-American who is agitated about the use of "nigger" in
Twain's book, is not explored very well. To my mind, this should raise
questions about the methodology. This is where I think Kamberelis
and de la Luna's study was more satisfying. The reason for this fuller
understanding, to my mind, is that they explicitly organize their study
around three co-constitutive dimensions, text, context, and politics.
Using an inductive approach based on multiple forms of data, they
provide two case studies. The second of these analyses the
interaction of talk and text in a fifth grade laboratory-based science-
writing event. What was of most interest here, although muted in the
account, is the capacity of children not only to imitate the genre
functions that are required, but to do so with a sense of irony or
parody (in this case intertextually drawing from Beavis and Butthead
and Arnold Schwarzenegger). This study practically elaborated the
Vygotskyan findings of play (meaning to act out adult functions, not
the playfulness of parody).
Chapter 10 by Jack Selzer is designed to provide a good
understanding of rhetorical analysis and a method for developing an
instructive rhetorical analysis. There is little theoretical foundation for
Selzer's notion of rhetoric, which is seen as "how texts persuade
readers". He does briefly refer to Aristotle's Rhetoric (forensic,
deliberative, and epideictic rhetoric; ethos, pathos, and logos), as well
as the canons (inventio, dispositio, etc), as well as Kenneth Burke,
before providing two examples of "doing textual rhetorical analysis"
based on texts that are provided. Although the conclusion that
this "critical reading, the art of rhetorical analysis, can make you a
better arguer, a better citizen" is debatable, the exemplars are useful
and quiet adaptable to class usage.
The book concludes with Charles Bazerman's explanation of speech
acts, genres and activities. In particular, he uses a classroom study to
show how textual interactions help to develop "social facts". Using
Searle, he claims that speech acts are meaningful social actions
accomplished through language, and that these are patterned into
genres. He takes this to a further level by seeing genres as "psycho-
social recognition phenomena". Although Bazerman provides
methodological guidelines, there is insufficient explanation of what
genres are and how they are discursively and textually created,
indeed no reference say to John Swales (bureaucratic), Jimmie
Killingsworth (technical), or Greg Myers (science) to mention just three
very established writers in the field.
Of the six chapters analyzing text, Huckin, Barton and Buell's
contributions I found to be of most value. Most of the chapters in Part I
were well grounded in theory. It was surprising, then, to see
Bazerman's explanation of the notion of intertextuality was not
grounded in theory, nor was the The Multiple Media of Texts (Chapter
6) by Anne Francis Wysocki. Any study of intertextuality, I would have
thought, should acknowledge its origin in the Bakhtinian proposition
that "the utterance is related not only to preceding, but also
subsequent links in the chain of speech communication" (Bakhtin
1994, p. 87). Fairclough (1992) provides a workable definition that
might have been useful: "the property texts have of being full of
snatches of other texts, which may be explicitly demarcated or merged
in, and which the text may assimilate, contradict, ironically echo, and
so forth" (p.84). He also provides useful distinctions
between "manifest intertextuality" (i.e. overtly drawing upon other
texts) and "constitutive intertextuality" or "interdiscursivity" (i.e. texts
are made up of heterogeneous elements: generic conventions,
discourse types, register, style).
While not claiming that Fairclough or anyone else for that matter
should have been used, I was puzzled by the absence of a strong
theoretical basis by Bazerman, a veteran scholar in this field. Similarly,
although Wysocki states that she adopts a rhetorical approach, the
theoretical orientation is not further explained. Unfortunately, I found it
difficult to find the coherence in Wysocki's chapter. That is, the
chapter explains terminology (e.g., different typefaces; the
arrangement within a photograph), and then provides an approach for
analyzing the visual elements of text. Yet there was no theoretical or
methodological grounding. For example Kress and van Leeuwen
(Kress and vanLeeuwen 1996; Kress, Leite-Garcia et al. 1997) have
been developing theories of visual textual genres and the interaction
of visual and verbal text, to say nothing of the work on multimodal
hybrid "texts" and "hypertexts" (cf. Lemke 1999). An excellent practical
book on visual text analysis by Burnett (1995), I think may provide
Overall, it seems clear from the many references to other chapters
that the authors spent much effort disseminating the chapters among
the contributors rather than simply amalgamating separate articles into
an edited book. The book certainly provides a rich source of seminal
and recent works for the researcher-teacher and as a foundation for
those undertaking higher studies. Usefully the sixteen pages of
references are located at the end of the book rather than with each
chapter making it easier to seek out references. The effectiveness of
the activities at the end of each chapter was varied in its usefulness;
however, the further reading generally was broad and relatively recent.
Bakhtin, Mikhail (1994) Speech genres and other late essays. In
Morris (1994), 81-87.
Burnett, Ron (1995) Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, and the
Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Fairclough, Norman (1992) Discourse and social change. Cambridge,
England: Polity Press.
Kress, Gunther & Leite-Garcia, R. et al. (1997). Discourse semiotics.
In van Dijk (1997), 256-289.
Kress, Gunther & van Leeuwen, Theo (1996). Reading Images: The
Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.
Lemke, Jay (1999). Opening up closure: Semiotics across scales.
Paper presented at Closure: Emergent Organizations and their
Dynamics, University of Ghent, Belgium.
Morris, Pam (1994). The Bakhtin reader: Selected writings of Bakhtin,
Medvedev, Voloshinov (M. Holquist & C. Emerson, Trans). London:
van Dijk, Teun (1997). Discourse studies: A multidisciplinary
introduction: Volume 1, Discourse as structure and process. Sage:
London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Bernard McKenna is a Senior Lecturer the University of Queensland
Business School Organization and Communication Program. His
academic teaching background covers communication theory,
corporate and scientific communication, political communication,
organisational communication, and business ethics. His diverse
research interests include technical, political, and managerialist
discourse; professional writing; and wisdom and knowledge
management in the new economy.