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AUTHOR: Lillis, Theresa and Curry, Mary Jane TITLE: Academic Writing in a Global Context SUBTITLE: The politics and practices of publishing in English PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2010
Réka Jablonkai, Institute of Behavioural Sciences and Communication Theory, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
SUMMARY English has become the lingua franca in international cooperation, business and academia (see Hyland, 2006; Kachru, 2001; Nickerson, 2005). This development has spurred studies and textbooks aimed at giving guidance to researchers on writing and publishing in English (e.g. Hartley, 2008; Hyland, 2006; Károly, 2009). This ambitious monograph reports on a longitudinal study analyzing several aspects of publishing in different academic contexts. It sheds light on issues of English as an international language from a new angle. Following the epistemological and methodological approach of New Literacy Studies (Heath and Street, 2008; Street, 1984; 2004), Lillis and Curry move beyond the textualist tradition of academic writing reflected in most research and pedagogy in the field of English for Academic Purposes (Hyland, 2006) and take the position that academic writing should be viewed as a social practice rather than a textual phenomenon. In their longitudinal study, called Professional Academic Writing in a Global Context (PAW), they apply a text-oriented ethnographic approach using several qualitative methods blended into a coherent methodology to identify obstacles non-Anglophone-centre academic professionals face when publishing research. Furthermore, they argue for “the need to develop context-sensitive mediational categories” (p. 21) to better understand various contexts of academic writing embedded in specific cultural traditions and reflecting different ways of knowledge construction. Lillis and Curry focus on the politics of academic writing and also discuss what it means in their own research context as they are both native speakers of English and work in the Anglophone centre. They make clear that they are aware of “the benefit [they] gain from this privilege at this time of history” (p. 7).
The book contains seven chapters, a table of contents, lists of tables, figures, notes, references, and an index. Chapter 1 sets the scene by providing background and a theoretical framework. Chapters 2 through 4 provide insights into publishing and text production practices in non-Anglophone centres based on analyses of the experience of 50 scholars working in various institutional and national systems. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on knowledge making in local and global contexts and explore the role of locality in evaluation practices. Finally, Chapter 7 concludes by summarizing impacts the privileged status of English has on the work of non-Anglophone-centre scholars, proposes ways to assist scholars in their publishing activity globally and calls for an ‘open access’ approach to knowledge production and dissemination. The book also includes six methodological tools to provide a clear picture of the data collection and analysis. 14 Scholar Profiles provide insights into the priorities, interests and experience of scholars who took part in the study.
Chapter 1 introduces the authors’ starting point for the study and their stance on the politics of location in academic writing and the status of English in journal publication. Lillis and Curry argue that geopolitical location is a highly relevant factor in academic text production. The chapter also gives an overview of the complex qualitative methodology they applied -- ‘text-oriented ethnography’ -- including interviews, e-mail discussions, field notes and text analysis. One particular tool developed for the study is Text History. It provides an overview of “all the drafts produced, the different people involved -- including authors, reviewers, translators, editors and academic colleagues -- the chronology of involvement and the nature of their impact on the text and its trajectory” (p. 4). These methods and tools were used to analyze the academic text production and publication activity of 50 scholars from four countries (Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain) and two disciplines (education and psychology). These four research sites are described as non-Anglophone-centre contexts based on the status of English in these locations (Kachru, 2001) and their economic positions in the world (Wallerstein, 1991). The authors formulate four main themes that run through the book: (1) “the global status of English”; (2) “the geopolitics of academic text production”; (3) “the relationship between local and global knowledge production”; and (4) “the politics of participation in academic knowledge production, including issues of access to, and use of, a range of resources (human, linguistic, material)” (p. 27).
Chapter 2 explores academic text production from the point of view of the individual scholar in the above-mentioned non-Anglophone-centre contexts. Lillis and Curry find that most scholars experience increasing pressure to publish in English, reflected in local and institutional reward systems, policies and practices. English-medium publications are attributed higher status and publishing in English “functions as a powerful form of symbolic capital” (p.60). Therefore, scholars in such contexts face additional burdens including access to resources, time and energy for writing in a foreign language and achieve an appropriate level of English proficiency to meet specific employment and promotion requirements. Most scholars maintain a multilingual publication agenda by writing in their national languages, in English and in some cases in other additional languages. In these academic contexts, as the authors note, the requirement to publish in a foreign language or in an international journal tends to refer to publications in English or in high-status Anglo-American journals.
Chapter 3 presents academic text production as networked activity. The authors argue that strong national and international networking is a key element in research and publication. The scholars in the study were asked to draw a representation of their network relationships relating to academic text production. The analysis of these sketches indicates that links with other individual scholars, within and across different departments or institutions and between countries are among the most relevant connections in scholars’ networks. The following resources can be made available or mobilized through local and international academic networks to support text production: contacts (other scholars), information (conferences, grants, publishing opportunities), academic materials, rhetorical resources (English-language writing expertise), collaboration on writing and research, brokering (connections to publishing opportunities, help in interpreting reviewers’ comments) (p. 69). Furthermore, success in publishing in English-language journals is found to necessitate the mobilization of people and material resources via academic networks. Therefore, in stark contrast to earlier research and teaching in academic writing that has mainly focused on the individual competence (e.g. Medgyes and Laszlo, 2001; Norton and Starfield, 1997; Widdowson, 1983), Lillis and Curry emphasize the relevance of networks, a hitherto rather neglected factor, as a source of support in academic text production and publication.
Chapter 4 introduces the concept of literacy brokering. It refers to “all the different kinds of direct intervention by different people, other than named authors, in the production of texts” (p. 88). Moreover, Lillis and Curry argue that literacy brokering is not a neutral activity, it “involves participants of unequal status and power” (p. 88). Based on the analysis of 284 Text Histories the authors identified two main categories of literacy brokers: language and academic brokers. Language brokers are defined as professional and informal language brokers who assist the text production process by their expertise in the English language. Professional language brokers include proofreaders, English-language specialists and translators who are paid for their work. In contrast, friends, spouses or other family members and personal relations, who offer unpaid help with the text production, are considered informal language brokers. The study reported that 17% of literacy brokers fell into this category. In general, multilingual scholars are satisfied with the sentence-level corrections language brokers made to their texts. However, scholars often expressed concerns about the work of translators for two main reasons: cost and accuracy. Scholars tend to avoid using professional translators, who are usually not members of their specific academic discourse community, and as a consequence, find it very difficult to achieve accuracy at content and discourse levels.
Academic brokers are “academics who work in universities or research institutes, often from Anglophone-centre contexts” (p. 93). The authors classified academic brokers into three subcategories: general academic, disciplinary experts and subdisciplinary specialists. The majority, 83% of all literacy brokers were academic brokers. Academic brokers intervene in text production in various ways, including beyond sentence level. Although scholars appreciated such support and such interventions were found to be successful -- that is, these texts were published in English-medium journals -- they also expressed misgivings about the process and/or changes to their texts. Lillis and Curry also note that reports of the non-Anglophone scholars in the study foreground two additional dimensions to global academic writing: the primacy of English-centre rhetorical practices and the unequal power relations between centre and periphery around constructing knowledge. These are illustrated by powerful Text Histories in this chapter.
Chapter 5 explores multilingual scholars’ dilemma of ‘staying local or going global’. Based on scholars’ reports the authors distinguish two core aspects of locality: immediate locality and imagined locality. Immediate locality refers to “the material locality where people live and work, who they work and communicate with […], which language(s) and cultural identities they daily experience and espouse, and the kind of resources they have access to […]” (p. 116). By imagined locality, the authors mean “the meanings attached to a specific locality by scholars” (p. 116). Although geographically most scholars stay local for various reasons, they wish to be part of and communicate to the global imagined research community. According to Lillis and Curry, this reflects the still powerful Enlightenment ideology of science, which considers knowledge as something universal that should be constructed collectively and should be shared across the world. At the same time, non-Anglophone scholars’ accounts indicate prejudice and lack of equality in research opportunities and evaluation practices. The authors also discovered a clear functionalist distinction scholars make between what they publish where. Such decisions are usually made by distinguishing new, innovative knowledge and overview of existing knowledge; academic and applied knowledge; English and national language. Some scholars, however, strive to publish their research both in English and in national languages making similar knowledge available in national and international contexts, rather than sustaining a functionalist distinction.
Chapter 6 discusses the politics of knowledge construction highlighting the more dystopic aspects of publishing internationally. These aspects also emerge from the non-Anglophone scholars’ reports and practices. In contrast to the focus of Chapter 5 where the decision of what to publish locally and globally is presented as a decision within the scholars’ control, Chapter 6 shifts the emphasis to the obstacles scholars face when attempting to publish internationally, focusing on gatekeeping practices in getting published and textual ideologies at work in evaluation practices. The authors start by describing the relationship between local and global publications as rather hierarchical where the terms ‘global’ and ‘international’ are almost synonyms of Anglophone centre or the United States as a prototype. Scholars’ accounts of their struggle to publish in high status English-medium journals illustrate the boundaries that exist between what counts as relevant contribution to knowledge-making locally and globally. In order to pinpoint the significance of locality in the publication process, Lillis and Curry introduce the concepts of ‘marked’ and ‘unmarked’ locality. Marked locality refers to non-Anglophone centres, whereas unmarked locality refers to Anglophone centre localities. Marked locality is present in various ways in the publication process: in cover letters, reference to authors’ national contexts, and in the texts submitted for publication by explicitly mentioning the national context or research site. Unmarked locality, for example, textual reference to New York as the research site, is valued more in gatekeeping practices. In general, non-Anglophone scholars perceive a lack of interest in research outside the Anglophone centre. This lack of interest is expressed, for example, in reviewers’ comments and requests for justification of the specific location of the research if it was a non-Anglophone site such as Spain or Hungary. Furthermore, marked locality is found to be valued as a confirmation of existing knowledge through the process of exoticization. Exoticization is present in texts as frequent reference to the local context as ‘a different linguistic and cultural setting’ or ‘a different linguistic and cultural background’. This way the local context becomes a counterpoint or contrast to Anglophone centre contexts where Anglophone-centre findings can be replicated and confirmed.
Textual ideologies are mainly present in the review process of high status Anglophone journals. Anonymous or ‘blind’ reviewing is seen as a way to provide fair evaluation of texts. Lillis and Curry, however, question the objectivity of such practices on two grounds. First, reviewers might recognize the author despite author anonymity as in specialist fields scholars usually know each other’s work. Second, reviewers imagine the nationality, language background and ethnicity of authors (Tardy & Matsuda, 2009) which has an impact on how they evaluate their contribution to knowledge construction. The authors conclude by formulating the dilemma relating to the publication process of non-Anglophone scholars in the following way:
“Periphery and non-Anglophone-centre scholars may get caught in a double bind here: if they foreground the local, they may be accused of being parochial; if they background the local they may be denied claims to universal relevance or status because of their peripheral position in global relations of knowledge production” (p. 154).
Chapter 7 summarizes key issues that emerged from the experiences and practices of non-Anglophone-centre scholars relating to their academic text production and publication activities and how the privileged status of English in academic writing and systems of evaluation impacts these activities. In addition to recapitulating the obstacles non-Anglophone scholars face in getting published, the authors also make some recommendations and note existing initiatives (e.g. AuthorAID, pre-review support of the Croatian Medical Journal, Mentoring Program of TESOL Quarterly and of the journal COMPARE) to better support scholars in academic writing and in the publication process. They suggest that the first step be to make brokering activities visible, which would help pinpoint the kinds of brokering scholars need and identify who is best placed to offer guidance and how. Furthermore, the authors propose a set of questions to make visible the textual ideologies and their orientations in academic text production and evaluation. They argue that by asking these questions the emphasis can be shifted from a straightforward division between Anglophone centre and non-Anglophone centre, and it can help identify the choices that can be made in the processes of academic writing and evaluation. The authors also mention initiatives, for example, the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge, which emphasize the importance of conducting research and publishing in local national languages. Moreover, they call for a shift from a knowledge economy based on market economic principles, where knowledge is converted into goods, to knowledge as a gift economy (Kenway, 2006) where knowledge is shared between people. Digital technology offers potential ways to freely disseminate knowledge and there are already examples of using this technology to create and sustain free access local journals, wikispaces or public repositories following the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002). This kind of approach to knowledge production and dissemination was also regarded as an ideal by many scholars in the study.
EVALUATION “Academic writing in a global context” is a formidable work, exploring academic text production from a hitherto rather neglected perspective, focusing on the politics of location and the politics of English in academic text production and publication. The perspective adopted here is that of the non-Anglophone-centre scholar. It is, however, not only this particular perspective that is introduced to the study of academic writing by this volume, but it is also the innovative social practice approach taken here. By applying this kind of approach the book provides a fertile source for finding ways to shed light on and describe in detail the textual ideologies that govern publication and evaluation practices in different locations and across the world. Furthermore, this is a book for those with some knowledge of academic text production and it is written in a very accessible style. It is clearly structured with the aims of each chapter precisely formulated in its introduction part and suggestions for further reading provided at the end, thus giving guidance for readers who are interested in related issues.
The research project reported in this volume supplements earlier research on text production practices and descriptive studies of characteristics of academic texts across cultures and disciplines. The authors apply a complex and well-designed research methodology with an array of innovative methodological tools such as Text Histories, which provide insights into how academic texts are shaped and who is involved in the text production and publication process. Thus it presents a fresh look at issues relating to publishing and knowledge-making in different geographical and geopolitical academic settings.
Future work, however, could benefit from additional perspectives, for example, that of the editors and reviewers of high-status English-medium journals. Although the study provides examples of their views and comments on submissions by non-Anglophone scholars, a more systematic approach could result in a clearer picture of gatekeeping practices from the point of view of the ‘insiders’. Such insights would be instructive for scholars and academic writing instructors alike. Furthermore, extending the research focus to other non-Anglophone geographical locations such as Western Europe, South America or Asia would provide an understanding of the politics of English in further academic contexts where current findings could be tested and global tendencies, if there are any, could be identified.
This book is a must-read for all who are engaged in preparing students and scholars in non-Anglophone contexts for academic writing and publication for the global research community. On the whole, the findings and conclusions enrich our current knowledge of academic text production in various contexts and it will surely transform understandings about English as a lingua franca in academic contexts.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Réka Jablonkai is a senior lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest
where she teaches English for Specific Purposes, Academic Writing and
Intercultural Communication. Her research interests lie in corpus
linguistics, professional communication, English as a lingua franca in
European Union institutions, discourse analysis and intercultural