By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
EDITORS: Xu, Shi; Kienpointner, Manfred; Servaes, Jan TITLE: Read the Cultural Other SUBTITLE: Forms of Otherness in the Discourses of Hong Kong's Decolonization SERIES: Language, Power, and Social Process 14 YEAR: 2006 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
Anna Renz, unaffiliated scholar, graduated from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun (Poland)
The theme of the volume 'Read the Cultural Other: Forms of Otherness in the Discourses of Hong Kong's Decolonization' evolves around the analysis of non-Western discourses, in particular those of Hong Kong. Through employing various strategies and methodologies in their writing, the authors of the 13 essays presented in the book turn their endeavours to highlight non-Western discourses into an important voice of criticism aimed at cultural imperialism and universalism.
Chapter 1: 'The study of non-Western discourse' by Shi-xu
The book consists of three parts, the first of which is concerned with 'Paradigmatic reorientation'. According to the arguments outlined in the introductory Chapter 1 by Shi-xu, to struggle against universalistic approach means to challenge the Western Weltanschaung as the main background for discourse analyses in a way that would allow to bring non-Western, non-White and Third World discourses to a close, continuous attention of international researchers in linguistics. Therefore, the volume advocates a pluralist cultural-political approach to discourse research, and formulates also a significant claim that, in the face of globalization, securing the position of non-Western discourses on the international scientific arena is indispensable for the survival of the human cultural world. Another interesting point is made in Chapter 1 through the discussion of the impossibility of cutting any definition with clear-cut boundaries for the idea of (non-)Western discourses. First of all, it is stated that both Eastern and Western discourses are not homogeneous or monolithic, but 'internally diversified and externally indistinct and constantly shifting' (Shi-xu page 7 of the book). The understanding of non-Western discourses postulated in Chapter 1 constructs a complex theoretical basis for all the following articles. Thus, such concepts like resisting the domination of the Western discourse, reclaiming cultural freedom and cultural identity by a cultural community differing from the Western one, are presented as crucial for non-Western discourses. However, there is no claim of non-Western ideas to totality, on the contrary, they are described more as 'selected entities'. The cultural-historical context of colonialism, post-colonialism and neo-colonialism is stressed as a very important factor for all the analyses. Finally, general theoretical considerations proposed in Chapter 1 are redirected to the particular context of Hong Kong and its transition on July 1, 1997. After introducing the historical background to the event, and presenting the methodologies of research employed by the book's authors, Shi-xu finishes Chapter 1 with a short summary of all the essays that follow.
Chapter 2: 'Communication theory and the Western bias' by Denis McQuail
Chapter 2 of the volume is devoted to the analysis of historical development and functions of media. Starting with the late 19th century, McQuail examines how various social movements and scientific approaches shaped communication and media theory throughout the decades, and gradually contributed to the emergence of the mass production of communication in the early 20th century. At the same time, the chapter offers a glance on how the self-styled superiority of the Western point of view achieved a worldwide scope in the media production and science, including linguistic research. McQuail's essay closes with him proposing some solutions to the existing situation. He suggests reevaluation of existing forms of research, ethnocentric in nature, so as to account for the diversity of world cultures, their changing identities, and to include the concerns and contexts of all the non-Western intellectual traditions marginalised so far by the West.
Chapter 3: 'Towards multiculturalism in discourse studies' by Shi-xu and Robert Maier
The main objective of this essay lies in proving an aculturalist and universalist approach to discourse analysis wrong and insufficient for reflecting the variety of contexts offered by the world's cultures. According to the article's authors, who base their discussion on well-known theoretical resources, linguistic research cannot be perceived outside any socio-cultural context since language and communication are deeply rooted in culture. In other words, they themselves are cultural discourses. What is more, by drawing connection between Wittgenstein's theory of 'games' and diverse cultural discourses, Shi-xu and Maier suggest that intercultural communication and exchange of ideas are highly desirable for social as well as scientific reasons (Shi-xu and Maier page 34 of the book). This statement is then followed by an illustration of cultural-political strategies for discourse research, from trying to identify and rediscover existing discourses enabling the intercultural coexistence, through inviting a search for discriminatory discourses constructing and marginalising the Other, to suggesting that scientific researchers should engage in deconstructing and subverting the latter--and attempting to formulate possible new approaches that would highlight experiences of the cultural Other.
Chapter 4: 'Beyond differences in cultural values and modes of communication' by Jan Servaes
This article closes the theoretical ruminations presented in Part 1 of the volume. It contributes to the current international debate on the dichotomy between universalism and cultural relativism. Servaes supports his criticism of universalist approach by presenting a general comparison between the Western and non-Western profiles and the contrasting cultural values inherent in them, at the same time drawing the reader's attention to the obvious limitations of such an exemplary binary description. He then moves on to analysing cultural relativism as reflected in the problematic discussion on the (non)universality of human rights. Servaes criticises both universalist and relativist approaches, thus engaging in the effort of looking for an in-between point of view. In his opinion, it is the pluralist approach to cultural and linguistic diversity that can render the intercultural dialogue possible, based on the exchange of experiences and mutual criticism. He suggests the opportunity to formulate the principles for global ethics through this dialogue, but leaves the question nevertheless open.
Chapter 5: 'Reporting the Hong Kong transition: A comparative analysis of news coverage in Europe and Asia' by Jan Servaes and Sankaran Ramanathan
This chapter opens Part 2 of the volume, a more analytical one, entitled 'The discursive dominance of the West'. Here, the authors present in detail the results of their analysis of the news coverage of the Hong Kong transition in the Western, Hong Kong and Chinese media. For their research, they chose the period of time between 27 June and 6 July 1997, and focused on different news items from 15 leading Asian and 15 leading European newspapers. The aim of their investigation, consisting of both qualitative and quantitative analyses, was to illustrate the discrepancies between the ways in which Asian media present European events and vice versa.
Chapter 6: 'The contest over Hong Kong: Revealing the power practices of the Western media' by Shi-xu and Manfred Kienpointner
The authors of this article offer a critical analysis of the way the Western media approached the event of Hong Kong's transition. To a large extent, they base their discussion on authentic entries from various Western newspapers, which, as they reveal, resorted to discourses of cultural repression when addressing the Hong Kong issue. In this chapter, they distinguish two main types of repressive discourses in the Western media, namely the one used to dictate a specific pro-Western course of conduct to China after the transition and to threaten it with possible sanctions, and the other through which these media define the identity of Hong Kong people, thus not letting 'the Subaltern speak' for themselves (Spivak 1995).
Chapter 7: 'Hong Kong's press freedom: A comparative sociology of Western and Hong Kong's views' by Junhao Hong
In this paper, the author examines the views on press freedom in Hong Kong held by the Western, Chinese, and Hong Kong societies. Fundamental discrepancies between these perspectives are presented as an important reason for employing a culturally specific attitude when analysing aspects of a culture, be it identity or a standpoint on press freedom. Moreover, Hong argues here that press and its freedom are phenomena closely linked to specific social, political and cultural institutions of a given country. In this way, he implies possible contributions of the non-universally approached Hong Kong and Chinese media to the process of 'reading the Other'.
As the title itself suggests, the following third and last part of the volume is an endeavour of its authors to introduce to the reader the 'Complexity, diversity and Otherness of non-Western discourses.'
Chapter 8: 'Unfamiliar voices from the Other: Exploring forms of Otherness in the media discourses of China and Hong Kong' by Shi-xu
The idea presented by Shi-xu in Chapter 8 is to highlight non-Western discourses through depicting the ways in which they differ from the dominant Western discourses. From the variety of unfamiliar non-Western discourses, he focuses on a few that in his opinion are most significant in the case of the Hong Kong transition. All of them try to challenge the Western ethnocentric way of perceiving the events, and thus to imbue the Hong Kong people with the power to speak for themselves.
Chapter 9: 'Media and metaphor: Exploring the rhetoric in China's and Hong Kong's public discourses on Hong Kong and China' by Lee Cher-Leng
Cher-Leng devotes her paper to a detailed analysis of the Hong Kong and Chinese discourses concerning the transition of the former. She offers a comparative analysis of the interesting methaphors present in both of them, with particular attention paid to the textual and contextual aspects.
Chapter 10: 'Voices of missing identity: A study of contemporary Hong Kong literary writings' by Kwok-kan Tam
Chapter 10 is devoted to the theme of identity (re)creation through literary writings. The author treats the circumstances of the historical transition as the background for the presentation of the complexities inherent in Hong Kong identity. Instability, i.e. constant reshaping and changing, is shown as the most important feature of identity connected with 'the floating city' of Hong Kong (Shi-xu page 168 of the book), overlooked and neglected by the Western discourses on the place. The Hong Kong writers, on the other hand, are presented as the (re)creators of identity that 'is a bridge that ''gathers as a passage that crosses''' (Bhabha quoted in Tam page 173 of the book).
Chapter 11: 'Identity and interactive hypermedia: A discourse analysis of web diaries' by Hong Cheng and Guofang Wan
This paper explores further the notion of Hong Kong identity. This time the focus is on a new genre of mass communication, namely the diaries created on the Internet. The authors of the essay provide a captivating picture of particular web diaries entries contributed by people from Hong Kong to the Public Broadcasting Service. The purpose of this analysis is to pay attention to the Subaltern's own voices, show the variety of different identities within Hong Kong and also to highlight the conflict that appears more often than not between the cultural and social identities of the Hong Kong people.
Chapter 12: 'Narrating Hong Kong history: A critical study of mainland China's historical discourse from a Hong Kong perspective' by Lawrence Wang-chi Wong
Chapter 12 is the last analytical one in the volume, and deals with historical discourses on Hong Kong. The author of the essay points to the manipulations within the discourses describing the history of the city, and analyses the political and social circumstances underlying this process.
Chapter 13: 'A nascent paradigm for non-Western discourse studies: An epilogue' by Narcisa Paredes-Canilao
Part 3 closes with a chapter summarising the whole undertaking of the book's authors. It provides a theoretical background for the practical analyses presented in preceding papers. Dwelling upon the well-known theories, the author describes a nascent paradigm for non-Western discourses advocated in the whole book, and puts a final emphasis on the idea of a pluralist cultural approach to discourse analysis.
The volume 'Read the Cultural Other', as a scientific venture attempting to promote cultural approach and stress its significance for various academic disciplines, successfully employs a diversity of research possibilities to support its point of view. Not only do the authors point to the interrelations between the linguistic and cultural domains of scientific research, but they also propose a wide range of practical illustrations of how linguistic analyses may be connected with and enriched by a pluralist cultural approach.
What is more, the book in question is an interesting example of a post-colonialist discourse, which captivates with its treatment of Hong Kong's decolonisation. As Hong Cheng and Guofang Wan relate in their essay on the city's identity (re)construction, the nature of Hong Kong's decolonisation in comparison to other colonised nations make it an untypical case of a post-colonial society. First of all, unlike in other colonies, the decision about the decolonisation of Hong Kong was made by its former coloniser (Great Britain) and its motherland (China). There was no regard for the actual citizens of Hong Kong. Secondly, for most other colonies decolonisation meant becoming an independent nation, while in the case of Hong Kong its sovereignty was simply transferred to another country (China). The thing that deserves special attention is that the analysis of the post-colonial characteristics of Hong Kong is presented here in a way that both introduces the idea of post-colonialism to researchers unfamiliar with the topic, and also gives a valuable account for people professionally occupied with this scientific field.
Another aspect worth noticing is the fact that most of the authors of the articles in the book act from diasporic, hybridized positions. As they themselves claim, 'living-in-between-East/West cultures ... is an advantage and a source of strength' (Shi-xu page 10 of the book), especially when one deals with notions of fragmented and hybridized identities. However, this statement is not to be mistaken for a claim to ''be'' the voice of the Other. On the contrary, the authors rather seem to appreciate their hybridity as giving them access to diverse cultural points of view, which further enable them their attempt to retrieve the authentic voices of the Hong Kong Other and present them to the Western readership. As for me, the most interesting and controversial point of the authors' discussion about the voice of the Other is their criticism of the well-known idea of Spivak, according to whom 'the subaltern cannot speak' (Spivak quoted in Paredes-Canilao page 223 of the book). Paredes-Canilao suggests in the theoretical essay closing the volume that perhaps the voicelessness of the subaltern is more a logical than realistic impossibility, and that the core of the problem lies in the very definition of the subaltern, because it has been constructed so as to make the term ''a speaking subaltern'' an oxymoron. Such thesis will surely prompt a fascinating discussion about these problematic questions.
The editors of 'Read the Cultural Other' deserve much credit for the way they selected and put together all the essays. The articles create a kind of continuum consisting of both the theoretical and empirical researches. Each essay gives the impression of being interrelated to all the previous and following ones. For instance, the initial approving of the attitude of ''strategic essentialism'', and allowing the term ''non-Western discourse'' (as opposed to pluralist ''discourses'') in order to valorize the marginalised voices (Shi-xu page 7 of the book), is closely connected to the later discussion of the threat that over- or misused ''strategic essentialism'' may lead to the Chinese, Hong Kong and diasporic discourses being judged as nationalistic or imperialistic (Shi-xu page 121 of the book). To caution against such perception, Cheng and Wan involve in their paper in an analysis of the ambivalent and complicated nature of the Hong Kong identity, which they end by stating that it is characterised by 'a kind of lack of nationality, a nationalessness' (Cheng and Wan page 191 of the book).
While the standpoint challenging universalism manifested by the book's authors (who aim at creating an attitude in between universalism and relativism) is generally presented in a convincing way, I found it difficult to acknowledge the use of the generally criticised binarism at one point in the volume. In Chapter 4, Jan Servaes draws upon Koh's idea about the possibility to divide both Asian and Western values into those good and those bad ones (Servaes page 63 of the book). Although such a course of argumentation may in fact fit the idea of the author, it appears a little bizarre that it should be employed in the general discussion about universalism without a more detailed explanation.
What is more, at the outset of the book, the authors outline a convincing critical statement that marginalising non-Western discourses illustrates the ignorance of the Western cultural, political and social institutions (McQuail page 25 of the book). This idea is developed in the next article, where Shi-xu and Maier further expand the book's discussion about universalism and the need for a cultural approach in communication and linguistic studies. However, despite the fact that they openly criticise the academic and scholarly circles in these scientific disciplines for continuously excluding and neglecting cultural aspects in their researches, they somehow limit their allusions to linguistic theories by merely mentioning the main ideas underlying them. It is a pity mostly because reading of this volume gives the impression that, apart from undermining the power of the universalist discourse, its main aim is to encourage a cultural approach in linguistic studies. It would be more convincing for linguists if the analysis of particular linguistic theories in connection to cultural discourse was given a more detailed attention (Shi-xu and Maier pages 35-37 of the book).
Nevertheless, these few critical remarks are not meant to diminish the overall value of the book's argumentation. It surely provides the reader with a deep theoretical insight into the issues of post-colonialism, identity and discourse. The diversity of empirical researches presented in it constitutes, on the other hand, a rich source of information for the scholars from various scientific fields such as linguistics or cultural and communication studies.
Shi-xu, Manfred Kienpointner, Jan Servaes (eds.) 2006. Read the Cultural Other: Forms of Otherness in the Discourses of Hong Kong's Decolonization. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1995. Can the Subaltern Speak? In Bill Ashcroft et al. (ed.) The Post-colonial Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Anna Renz is an unaffiliated scholar, graduated from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun (Poland). Post-colonialism and linguistics are the main fields of her study. She plans to write a doctoral thesis that would reconcile linguistics with a cultural approach.