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Review of  Discourse In and Through the Media: Recontextualizing and Reconceptualizing Expert Discourse

Reviewer: Kelly E Wright
Book Title: Discourse In and Through the Media: Recontextualizing and Reconceptualizing Expert Discourse
Book Author: Marina Bondi Silvia Cacchiani Davide Mazzi
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.4342

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote

This edited collection entitled “Review of Discourse In and Through the Media: Recontextualizing and Reconceptualizing Expert Discourse” by Marina Bondi, Silvia Cacchiani, and Davide Mazzi. is a result of extensive collaboration between Italian universities and the CLAVIER center. The works collected here were selected because of their specific treatment of the avenues through which expert discourse is packaged and disseminated through popular media. These works approach the following arching research questions from various perspectives: How is knowledge communicated to a wider audience? How is expert knowledge expressed in a way which conveys its relevance to the lay listener? “How far do the media actually mediate” (vi)? The 2013 conference these papers rose from focused on recontextualization and reconceptualization and explored these questions through participant structures, cross-cultural commonalities, point of view, multimodality, and topic popularization.

Section 1: New Media and New Multidimensional Environments for Knowledge Dissemination sets the stage of this conversation by taking on scholarly communication in and through the digital media and interactive environments and outlining the stakes of navigating these spaces. Here, Cornelius Puschmann in “A Digital Mob in the Ivory Tower? Context Collapse in Scholarly Communication Online” treats the ways in which experts react to content collapse, citing heated debate over research that had been “poorly reported” (23). This debate is highlighted in the chapter through several case studies, most recognizable among them being the 2014 Facebook study, which created a surging backlash against open access to metadata and created a subsequent a subsequent public conversation about online privacy. Puschmann charts the evolution of “science communication,” focusing on the historical development of a scientist’s accountability to the public which came to the fore in the early 20th century (24). The digital world has reshaped and broadened this accountability. Puschmann holds that current scholars interested in disseminating their findings—and warnings—to the public will participate in the creation of a new, “diversif[ied] and consolidate[d]” genre (25).

Jan Engberg and Carmen Daniela Maier in “Exploring the Hypermodal Communication of Academic Knowledge Beyond Generic Structure” go on to conceptualize the development of this genre using one article from the Article of the Future Project (AotFP) as a case study to highlight the literacies surrounding this new mode. The AotFP is an archive of the possible, set up “to revolutionize the traditional format of the research article” in new, digital spaces (46). The authors advocate bringing fluency to the fore as the field works towards seamless and efficient scientific communication across all domains. In the AotFP’s view, understanding “multimodal literacy” is the way forward for researchers hoping to bridge the communications gap between well-intentioned research and well-intentioned reporting (48). Multimodal literacy takes the average viewer’s interactive space into account from a project’s inception, making presentation and reception as essential as efficacy and rational application in methodology. Engberg and Maier hold that this new genre is one which stands astride pop science and scholarly publication. Developing the characteristics of this genre will fertilize this literacy, enabling the AofFP’s stated goals (54).

Section 2: Disseminating Scholarly Knowledge observes how the experts who created the experiments can utilize this new space to emphasize the dissemination of scholarly knowledge. In this vein, Susan Hunston reviews 18 BBC radio broadcasts looking for successful patterns of persuasion techniques and balance in scientific communication in “Talking Science: Science in the News on BBC Radio.” Specifically, she looked for researchers who were able to “manipulate the concept of status to stress their roles as interpreters of evidence” (66). This strategy allows the researcher to avoid their presentation being viewed as talking down to the listener, while also strengthening their personal ethos in reporting and stressing the validity and importance of the results themselves. Hunston presents a pilot study using a participant structure strategy looking for “evidentials and status markers” through the role of interviewer, programme maker, researcher, and listener (89). She suggests a deliberate move away from implication and councils researchers to state results clearly from a reporter’s perspective.

Elsa Pic and Gregory Furmaniak in “Comparison as a Mode of Re-Conceptualization in Popularization: Focus on Expressions of Similarity” present part of a larger project that compares research articles with popular science writing. Here, the authors present findings of different patterns of similarity expression between the two modes. The authors compiled a 1,000,000-word corpus of British English from 2000-2012 for this study (99). Similarity is an ideal subject of study in a corpus of this type because, “with comparisons, there is always a marker of comparison” (95). Pic and Furmaniak are looking at inter-domain comparison (similes) versus intra-domain comparison, which necessitates sophisticated syntactic and semantic analysis (116). Intra-domain comparison is stated to be entirely grammatical and rests on a “Figure/Ground” structure (96), which the authors hone in on by using specific discursive adjectives often employed in explication or metadiscourse. They find that while comparison is often used to aid the lay audience, it is not the most common use of comparison structures (simile or figure/ground). They suggest an expansion of this research with a larger number of comparative markers.

Stefania Maci also presents an analysis of grammatical difference, looking at that-structures on medical posters to investigate the types of verbs used in this medium in “‘These Data Supported the Provocative View That…’:Evaluation in Medical Academic Posters.” This poster genre is “highly prized” was a medium for a “transfer” of academic discourse (119). To facilitate this analysis, Maci compiled a corpus of poster abstracts from recognizable databases, such as PUBMED. Maci looks at how verb choice conveys reliability and concludes that the most successful “evaluative stance in all posters is realized as offering the highest degree of certainty and objectivity, regardless of the source of evaluation or evaluative entity.” Put differently, “there seems to be no need for persuasion when the facts speak for themselves,” an assertion which Maci supports with negative evidence (140).

Sections 3: Knowledge Dissemination from Institution to Lay Audience and 4: New Media in Corporate Communication focus on knowledge transmission and opinion formation in institutional and corporate interactions with lay audiences. In view of this domain, Alison Duguid in “Public Apologies and Media Evaluations” employed multiple, massive corpora to evaluate how the media judges the effectivity of apology by creating a “mediated channel” unlike any other for such utterances (146). Public apology is the epitome of performative public and general discourse, and journalists latch on to such utterances from start to finish—calling for them to occur, creating space for them the resound, assessing their worth, and informing the (present and future) public’s interpretation of them. This is a phenomenon unlike any other.

While Duguid’s assessments stand somewhat aside the tenor the rest of this volume holds, her elucidations of the very real and increasingly forceful ability of the media to orchestrate public opinion of the information it shares is highly illustrative. Her results show surprisingly little change over time in “apology-related lexis,” from popular to academic print, from recorded speech to digital publication; all forms of public apology seem to fit a general pattern, one designed and controlled by the media itself (146). This is essential knowledge for any researcher hoping to successfully negotiate this “mediated space” and explicate the true nature of their findings in a way which fosters lay understanding and acceptance.

Ilaria Moschini sites another institutional-to-lay discourse phenomenon in the White House Facebook page. In “ A Multimodal Analysis of the Social Media Recontextualization of the Institutional Encoder” she argues that the White House Facebook pages creates “a form of hybridized textuality” by looking at how official language has been recontextualized in this digital, personal space (170). This institution has a voice now, one which expresses itself without the characteristic midwifery of the traditional media outlet and does so with (arguably) overall success. Moschini claims that the shift between these two forms of dialogue (institutional and lay), intertwined with the daily use of social media, has produced a new set of semiotic patterns that have “materialized postmodernism” and “the new cultural logic of modern society” (176). This observation delimits an interesting approach for the scholar interested in reaching the lay audience directly, with control of message, from a legitimate platform.

Further chapters cite other examples of this new materialized postmodernism. Carmen Sancho Guinda in “Digital Vividness” Reporting Aviation Disasters Online” uses US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) annual reports to illustrate an effective blend of technical reporting and storytelling (187) and claims that the vividness used in description of catastrophes is an excellent “instructional tool.” Giuliana Elena Garzone in “Social Media in Corporate Communication: Focus on Text and Discourse” addresses how business communication is constructed differently across various platforms and media (214). She discusses how the introduction of tools for website design have fragmented the social feedback cycle. In “From Corporate Websites to Consumer Blogs: A Corpus-Driven Analysis of the Recontextualization of Brand Identity in Fashion Discourse” Belinda Crawford Camiciottoli endeavors to reveal “the linguistic expression of brand identity” and its subsequent recontextualization as popular expressions of brand loyalty (242). This study was far reaching, capturing a wide literature review, and applying these theoretical bases to a corpus study. Camiciottoli chose to focus on fashion blogs, which represent “online communities of consumers” from three separate Italian fashion houses. The adjectives used in these blogs provide a targeted catalogue of the evaluative behavior of interest. The author sites many markers of successful branding gleaned from this corpus study, one example providing an ability to track when the same adjectives used in advertising are repeated in the blogosphere. She concludes by claiming that these “user-friendly corpus techniques” may be useful for marketing firms to apply in the future (259).

This volume concludes in Section 5: Empowering the Audience with the discussion on recontextualization and a focus on audience empowerment. In “‘I’m Not an Expert’: Lay Knowledge, its Construction and Dissemination in Personal Weblogs” Peter Schildhauer looks at lay knowledge directly, underscoring the processes the lay community uses to disseminate its beliefs and experiences throughout its own networks. To do this, he created a diachronic blog corpus (DIABLOC) and proceeded with a qualitative assessment of dual narration-reflection structure (269). Schildhauer is most interested in determining whether or not we can characterize the communicative purpose of this everyday genre as knowledge dissemination (266). After presenting an accounting of the methodological background and some preliminary corpus findings, the author relates an illustrative case study in which he assesses the macro- and micro-linguistics structures of narrative-reflection and if-then clauses, lexemes marking intentionality and relevance, the presence of “lay theories” relaying purpose, and gender perspective (284). Schildhauer holds that these “lay theories” arise from personal experience, and that they indeed represent knowledge dissemination (279).

Judith Turnbull looks at lay in “Knowledge Dissemination online: The Case for health Information”. This volume is interested overall in communication between experts and lay people, but health communication is a specialized type because it has a different, and important, purpose of immediate interest, occurring in the context of necessity. Because of this, much of the health information from experts on the internet takes on a shade of “info-suasion” (299), which provides accurate information aimed at shaping the behavior of individuals. Turnbull argues that lay communication of health information takes a similar form, and to support this claim she has analyzed three diabetes websites to determine the linguistic features of this specialized discourse. She concludes that much use is made of the “multimodal affordances” the digital platform brings to convey empathy and relevance of individual experience to a mass, diverse public (310). By comparing the lay and expert discourses on these sites over time, Turnbull is able to show that “the expert system of knowledge [increasingly] exploits lay knowledge” dissemination tactics.

In the final chapter, “From Usage Guides to Wikipedia: Re-Contextualizing the Discourse of Language Use”, Morana Lukač and Robert Gutounig address the differences in conversation around correct language use over time, particularly in the distances between prescriptive rules and general conversation. To further this comparison in a contemporary vein, the authors analyze Wikipedia articles and Talk pages in comparison to current usage guides in the extensive database. These assessments were made based on several general topics of English usage discussion which lend themselves to a diachronic study, namely split infinitives and preposition stranding. Their results show that usage articles are among those with the highest traffic on Wikipedia, and that because of the site’s principles of operation, they have a more reference-genre tone; user guides are more conversational and often present individual opinion (339). The authors conclude that the Wikipedia data shows that fluid communication is possible between the expert and lay sphere, but outside the conversational domain of language use, the space may not be as welcoming; they suggest that expansion of the domain of comparison is called for.


The challenges that this volume addresses are age-old but are recently beginning to reach an observable definition. It is difficult to assess whether the rise of digital multimodality has aided or injured the processes of knowledge dissemination through recontextualization. The message here seems to be that the expert has been aided by the digital platform, but that rising to this rostrum is not done without peril. Bondi et al posit a “third space” between the expert and the lay audience wherein the media is active (2). This space has not been eroded, and Hunston’s, Duguid’s, and Camiciottoli’s chapters reveal where these traditional structures are best capitalized upon. However, as Puschmann and Engberg and Maier argue, a new genre is being created, one which necessitates a new professional literacy, as does all technological advancement. This realization is important for researchers going forward as mastery of this growing genre will allow for communication in a variety of venues previously inaccessible to scholarly discourse—however a shift in presentation method is essential. A full-fledged understanding of how the lay audience disseminates its own information will direct these shifts. The inclusion of the final chapters which provide new methodology for this process and massive data resources for further study are invaluable for the new researcher hoping to build multimodal literacy or for the seasoned researcher hoping to recontexualize their work to new venues, either in response to or for prevention of content collapse.

This volume and its parent conference expertly engage a topic from a linguistic perspective which reaches beyond the bounds of our field, making the work catalogued here valuable to a variety of disciplines and professions. This furthers the perception of our discipline as a science—it recontextualizes our internal discourse in a way which highlights its inherent, external value. The essays in this volume also present an example of the diverse, yet cooperative nature of linguistics by showcasing complex syntactic data next to qualitative data bookended by theory. The resulting material is not discordant or disingenuous, and its organic nature is bolstered by the fact that these thoughts grew out of a supporting academic community’s event. I recommend this volume not only to any linguist, but also to anyone studying marketing, interpersonal communication, cognitive science, social networks (or social networking), genre studies, or broadcasting. One area to note is that this volume is English translated from Italian; therefore, a small number of essays herein read a bit stilted and may be best approached in their original preparation.
Kelly Wright is a graduate student and instructor at the University of Kentucky. She is currently researching racial discrimination from various standpoints, utilizing sociophonetic and corpus methodologies. Her previous work address language planning efforts related to pan-African nationalism and current applications of language policy.

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