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Review of  Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization

Reviewer: Daniel Lees Fryer
Book Title: Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization
Book Author: Carmen Pérez-Llantada
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 24.565

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“[H]ow is the experience of living in a globalized world affecting contemporary scholarly life? What is the scope of the changes produced by globalization in academic and research settings and can changes have motives? […] How are individual scholars and their research practices affected by these global changes across cultural contexts? How is scientific knowledge disseminated by the current discourse practices of scholars today? And […] what role does the English language play […]?” (p. 1). These are some of the questions Carmen Pérez-Llantada explores in Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization: The Impact of Culture and Language.

As a response to the above and related questions, Pérez-Llantada takes a combined corpus-linguistic, ethnographic, and sociocultural approach, examining the products, processes, and social practices of scientific research across disciplines and across cultures and languages. As a specific case, Pérez-Llantada investigates similarities and differences in the textual and contextual preferences and practices of a group of Anglophone scholars from North America communicating in English and a group of Spanish scholars communicating in both English and Spanish, across four broad academic divisions: humanities and arts, social sciences and education, physical sciences and engineering, and biological and health sciences. The book also situates this case study in a wider perspective, reviewing and comparing similar or related work on scientific discourse, from a variety of linguistic and cultural contexts, from across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa.

Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization is divided into eight chapters, and includes a reference list and index. Chapter 1, “The Role of Science Rhetoric in the Global Village,” lays out the motivations and rationale (see opening paragraph), and the theoretical and methodological bases for the work, and provides a general overview of the organization and scope of the volume. Pérez-Llantada introduces and briefly defines key concepts such as discourse and discourse construction (based primarily on Gee 1996), globalization (Giddens 1990), plurilingualism, commodification and marketization, and nativization and hybridization (of second-language [L2] English scientific discourse). The book takes a genre-oriented and rhetorical approach, drawing on influential works by Swales (1990, 2004) and Miller (1984), among others, and chapter 1 defines the book’s intended audience as including scholars of rhetoric and composition, applied linguists and genre analysts, English for academic purposes (EAP) practitioners, translators and editors, policymakers in the field of language policy and internationalization, and scholars on whom the book focuses.

In chapter 2, “Scientific English in the Postmodern Age,” Pérez-Llantada explores the role of English in constructing scientific knowledge, and the commodifying forces at play in academia. In doing so, Pérez-Llantada draws on the work of Lyotard (1984) to comment on the provisionality of scientific knowledge and the effects of increased technology-driven interconnectedness and collaboration on the production and exchange of research-based information. In knowledge-oriented economies, particularly those in North America, Asia, and Europe, research is increasingly viewed as a commodity. Research output (and not just scientific results), from the humanities to the physical/natural sciences, has both socioeconomic and institutional value, attracting university funding and determining international rankings and student and researcher mobility, as well as being one of the main criteria for tenure and promotion. English plays a dominant (and increasingly dominating) role in this research output, for a variety of socioeconomic and sociohistorical reasons, and its use as a lingua franca is spurred by an “interdependence between information technology and society’s demands for open communication” (p. 40). Pérez-Llantada presents selected English-language textual norms or preferences regarding, for example, argumentation, voice, and organization, and discusses their relevance for non-native speakers of English as they adopt (“nativize”) or deviate from (“hybridize”) these norms, introducing discourses, genres, and styles from different cultural contexts.

Chapter 3, “Problematizing the Rhetoric of Contemporary Science,” examines the effects of “the commodifying, marketized nature of scientific production and dissemination” and the “‘selling’ of the science” (p. 47) on the phraseological/lexicogrammatical, organizational, and rhetorical features of contemporary science discourse. Pérez-Llantada describes several social framing contexts related to whether exchanges operate at intra- or transnational levels, and she discusses how these contexts determine the extent of deferentiality in academic conversations. This chapter, indeed the book as a whole, focuses primarily on the research article as a written instance par excellence of this academic conversation, and three common discipline-specific subtypes are identified: the argumentative essay (primarily in the arts and humanities), the Introduction-Methods-Results-and-Discussion (IMRaD) structure (primarily in biomedicine and physical sciences), and the problem-solution text (commonly used in subdisciplinary fields such as mechanical engineering and applied economics). A number of lexicogrammatical features common to or characteristic of these text types are presented and briefly discussed, including specialized vocabulary (both discipline specific and general academic), nominalizations, certain high-frequency collocational clusters, discourse markers, hedges and boosters, stance markers, references/citations, and grammatical voice. The chapter concludes by emphasizing text as process and text as end product. Pérez-Llantada stresses the importance of unifying these two views and provides a detailed visualization of how they intersect (Figure 3.3, p. 68).

In chapter 4, “A Contrastive Rhetoric Approach to Science Dissemination,” Pérez-Llantada uses contrastive rhetoric and corpus-linguistic techniques to examine “how scientists across cultural contexts textualize new scientific knowledge in adapting their discourse to textual conventions, socio-cognitive and social constraints” (p. 72). Using the Spanish English Research Article Corpus (SERAC) of the Interpersonality in Academic Written Discourse (InterLAE) research group, this chapter explores the convergences and divergences of textual features of North-American English (ENG) and Spanish English (SPENG) academic texts, and compares these with similar features in Spanish-language (SP) texts, across the four above-mentioned disciplinary fields. The approach is both corpus based and corpus driven. Standardized type-token ratios, word-class frequency lists, and lexical bundles (3-, 4-, and 5-grams) of differing function, such as markers of intertextuality, metadiscourse, modality, evaluation, and argumentation, are compared. What Pérez-Llantada finds is that, overall, the SPENG texts represent a hybrid form of discourse that, both qualitatively and quantitatively, lies somewhere between the two L1 profiles (ENG and SP); for example, there is more promotional lexis such as “important” and “interesting” in the SPENG texts than in the SP texts, but less than in the ENG texts, to name one of many hybridized features. Although less focus is given to cross-disciplinary variation, divergences and convergences are occasionally flagged, such as the different lexical profiles of the four academic divisions (Tables 4.2 and 4.3, pp. 76-77).

Chapter 5, “Disciplinary Practices and Procedures within Research Sites,” takes an ethnographic approach to “the actual social scenarios where scientific discourse is produced, the subjects (scientists) and their relation to their social context” (p. 105). Similar to the previous chapter, chapter 5 compares and contrasts the experiences of scholars in two geographic locations (the United States and Spain) writing in English (L1 and L2) and Spanish (L1). Using a semistructured interview of researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Zaragoza, Pérez-Llantada explores three main themes: scholars’ views on the epistemology of their field and the perceived role of globalization on their academic activities; their actual discourse practices and procedures; and their attitudes toward the role of English as a lingua franca. Some of the findings corroborate those of the previous chapter, such as the Spanish scholars’ struggles to find what they feel to be the appropriate argumentative style, or the Spanish and US scholars’ awareness of common stock phrases as a means of maintaining clarity and brevity. Both groups of scholars, in their comments as writers and as reviewers (gatekeepers), acknowledge the importance of having a common language for scientific exchange, and both acknowledge the potential difficulties faced by non-native speakers of English, as well as the advantages afforded to native speakers.

Chapter 6, “Triangulating Procedures, Practices and Texts in Scientific Discourse,” consolidates findings from the previous two chapters and proposes a view of scientific discourse from three interrelated perspectives or scenarios. The first, “disciplinary procedures,” includes reading the literature, thinking critically, and understanding the disciplinary ethos. The second, “discourse community practices,” involves enculturation to discourse norms, research group interactions, and ongoing feedback. The third intersecting scenario is represented by the “texts” themselves, as both process and product (see chapter 3), and involves developing ideas in plenum, outlining and drafting, and writing and revising a host of generic text types, including occluded or interstitial genres. Pérez-Llantada discusses ways in which globalizing processes might impact these scenarios. For example, in considering research output as a commodity, scientific texts not only contribute to knowledge communication across national borders; they also act to strengthen the power of global and local economies. Might, then, this competitive economic landscape, as Pérez-Llantada contends (pp. 142-143), also effect or impact upon the promotional features of scientific texts?

In chapter 7, “ELF and a More Complex Sociolinguistic Landscape,” the book examines in more detail the implications of English as a medium for academic discourse. In particular, Pérez-Llantada debates the “threats” and “opportunities” of English as a lingua franca (ELF). With regard to the threats, which are widely discussed in the EAP literature, ELF may represent an obstacle for non-Anglophone scholars, restricting access to and dissemination of new knowledge. There is also the potential for domain loss and the threat this poses to the existence and development of minority languages within academia. Its extended use may even lead to the epistemicide of culture-specific intellectual traditions. On the other hand, ELF allows for relatively standardized peer-to-peer exchange of ideas across cultural boundaries, and, according to the findings presented, particularly in chapters 4 and 5, ELF can accommodate and preserve “a rich variety of culture-specific traits and rhetorical traditions among its users” (p. 173). ELF, says Pérez-Llantada, may also consolidate polyglotism and raise awareness of “the value of multicompetence, plurilingualism and intercultural competence” (ibid.). In addition to a discussion of the legacy of ELF and previously dominant lingua francas such as Greek, Latin, French, and German, this chapter provides an interesting reminder that other lingua francas do in fact coexist with English. While their influence and reach is undoubtedly being limited by the continued expansion of English, it is worth bearing in mind that Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German, among others, also act as important vehicles for transnational scientific communication. Chapter 7 concludes with a section on EAP pedagogy and includes useful suggestions for learner-centered course design.

The final chapter, chapter 8, “Re-Defining the Rhetoric of Science,” stresses the importance of academic ELF as a “‘hybrid third’ […], a discourse in which Anglophone normative rules merge with culture-specific linguistic features instantiating a rich variety of non-normative writing styles” (p. 192). Rather than view the impact of globalization on academic cultural identities as part of an imperialistic or neocolonial agenda, Pérez-Llantada prefers to focus on the fluent communication of scientific ideas between native and non-native English-speaking scholars in local, intranational, and transnational settings. She does, however, advocate being critical of the ways in which languages are used in the construction of scientific knowledge, and emphasizes the important role education plays as an instrument of awareness and change. The chapter (and book) concludes with a series of pertinent questions for current EAP research and pedagogy: what impact does multiculturalism have on both local and global scientific communication; what standardizations and codifications are needed to find “an egalitarian fulcrum between normative models and culture-specific traits”; what “culture-specific linguistic fingerprints” can be identified in scientific ELF, and how can these be traced longitudinally (pp. 211-212)?

Part corpus linguistics, part ethnography of communication, part sociocultural theory, Pérez-Llantada’s ambitious work provides fascinating, contemporary insights into the interrelatedness of science, language, culture, and the processes of globalization. Her holistic approach is reminiscent of work by Mauranen (1993, inter alia), whose studies are frequently referred to throughout the book; I was also reminded to a lesser degree of Ivanič’s (1998) exploration of writing and identity.

In her advocacy of increased awareness of and sensitivity to non-Anglophone divergences from the possible standards of Anglophone centers, Pérez-Llantada’s position is consistent with much of the contemporary academic-literacies and EAP literature. However, her work provides important empirical data that suggest that the Anglophone center and ELF users are already somewhat sensitive to those alternative voices in the discourse. This can be seen in comments in the interviews with US and Spanish scholars (chapter 5), as well as the fact that the SPENG papers analyzed (chapter 4) are already published in international journals and can therefore attest to a certain level of existing acceptance and sensitivity to non-Anglophone standards. This is perhaps due to a diverse community of Anglophone and non-Anglophone gatekeepers and literacy brokers. As Pérez-Llantada notes (p. 135), this area needs further investigation.

I was particularly impressed with the thoroughness of chapters 4 and 5, and, based on the findings therein, on the usefulness of the suggestions for EAP pedagogy provided in chapter 7. The figures and tables, although used sparingly throughout, are also a great asset.

I would agree with the statement of intended audience (see above), but some groups are more relevant than others. For example, while I am sure that many scientists and policymakers would find the book interesting, I suspect that scholars of rhetoric and composition, applied linguists and genre analysts, and EAP practitioners, as well as students of all these fields, would find the book most beneficial. Indeed, some sections may be more appealing to certain groups of scholars than others; chapters 4 and 5, with their corpus-linguistic and ethnographic perspectives, respectively, are two obvious examples. These could be read as standalone texts, since Pérez-Llantada provides ample introductory material at the start of each chapter. However, I recommend reading the book as a whole, to fully appreciate the carefully constructed arguments that run through the book.

A few minor points: in chapter 5, I would have appreciated more explicit and consistent labeling of interview excerpts, with the inclusion of location, seniority, and discipline (three of the main variables investigated), for all examples. This is not always clear (e.g., p. 109), although it is sometimes clarified in the accompanying text. Also, I was not always certain of the discipline or disciplines being described. Except for the early part of chapter 4 and certain sections of 5, discipline-specific products, processes, and social practices are rarely flagged, perhaps because of relative similarities across disciplines. This is not necessarily a problem, since the primary focus is on cultural convergences and divergences, rather than disciplinary ones. I mention it, however, as I wonder whether the discussion sometimes refers to a particular discipline or limited set of disciplines, rather than all four. For example, when phrases such as “turning knowledge into words” and “write up disciplinary research” are used (e.g., pp. 69, 186), they seem to assume that the knowledge or research is already there or done and that this knowledge or research needs to be articulated, rather than socially constructed or construed. Can such assumptions be made regarding the processes and social practices of all four disciplinary categories, especially given the book’s sociocultural approach? Finally, I was a little surprised not to see Arabic mentioned, particularly in chapter 7 in the discussion of alternative lingua francas, alongside Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German.

Overall, Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization is a well-researched, thought-provoking, and timely book, with appeal to a wide range of scholars. Its scope is ambitious, and the book provides admirable responses to the questions posed above. Moreover, the book achieves its overall aim “to offer an in-depth examination of today’s scientific rhetoric and discursive practices” (p. 7) and to provide sociocultural explanations for the adoption and hybridization of scientific discourse norms.

Gee, James Paul. 1996. Social linguistics and literacies: ideologies in discourse. London: Taylor and Francis.

Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The consequences of modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge Polity Press.

Ivanič, Roz. 1998. Writing and identity: the discoursal construction of identity in academic writing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The postmodern condition. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Mauranen, Anna. 1993. Cultural differences in academic rhetoric: a textlinguistic study. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Miller, Carolyn R. 1984. Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech 70, 151-167.

Swales, John M. 1990. Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, John M. 2004. Research genres: explorations and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Daniel Lees Fryer is a PhD candidate at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and an assistant professor at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA), Norway. His research interests include systemic-functional grammar and social semiotics, academic literacies, and scientific discourse. He holds courses and workshops in academic writing for staff and students at HiOA and at the University of Oslo, Norway.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 144118872X
ISBN-13: 9781441188724
Pages: 256
Prices: U.K. £ 75.00