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LINGUIST List 17.2074

Mon Jul 17 2006

Review: Discourse Analysis, Sociolinguistics: Xu, Shi et al. (2006)

Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher <lauralinguistlist.org>


This LINGUIST List issue is a review of a book published by one of our supporting publishers, commissioned by our book review editorial staff. We welcome discussion of this book review on the list, and particularly invite the author(s) or editor(s) of this book to join in. To start a discussion of this book, you can use the Discussion form on the LINGUIST List website. For the subject of the discussion, specify "Book Review" and the issue number of this review. If you are interested in reviewing a book for LINGUIST, look for the most recent posting with the subject "Reviews: AVAILABLE FOR REVIEW", and follow the instructions at the top of the message. You can also contact the book review staff directly.
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        1.    Ania Renz, Read the Cultural Other


Message 1: Read the Cultural Other
Date: 17-Jul-2006
From: Ania Renz <aniarafeldo2.pl>
Subject: Read the Cultural Other


Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-2472.html

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)

SUMMARY

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, p. 7). 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, p. 34). 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, p. 168), 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, p. 173).

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.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

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, p. 10), 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, p. 223). 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, p. 7), 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, p.
121). 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, p. 191).

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, p. 63). 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,
p. 25). 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, pp.
35-37).

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.

REFERENCES:

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

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.
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