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Review of  Academic Writing in a Global Context

Reviewer: Reka Jablonkai
Book Title: Academic Writing in a Global Context
Book Author: Theresa Lillis Mary Jane Curry
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.4695

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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

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

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.

“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

Hartley, J. (2008). Academic writing and publishing. London and New York: Routledge.

Heath, S.B. & Street, B. V. (2008). On ethnography: approaches to language and
literacy research. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2006). English for academic purposes: an advanced resource book.
London: Routledge.

Kachru, B. (2001). World Englishes. In R. Mesthrie (Ed.), Concise encyclopedia
of sociolinguistics (pp. 519-524). New York: Elsevier.

Károly, K. (2009). Author identity in English academic discourse: A comparison
of expert and Hungarian EFL student writing. Acta Linguistica Hungarica, 56(1),

Louhiala-Salminen, L., Charles, M., & Kankaaranta, A. (2005). English as a
lingua franca in Nordic corporate mergers: Two case companies. English for
Specific Purposes, 24(4), 401-421.

Medgyes, P. & Laszlo, M. (2001). The foreign language competence of Hungarian
scholars: ten years later. In U. Ammon (Ed.), The dominance of English as a
language of science (pp. 67-100). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Nickerson, C. (2005). English as a lingua franca in international business
contexts. English for Specific Purposes, 24(4), 367-380.

Norton, B. & Starfield, S. (1997). Covert language assessment in academic
writing. Language Testing, 4(3), 278-294.

Open Society Institute. (2002). Budapest Open Access Initiative, available at

St John, M.J. (1996). Business is booming: Business English in the 1990s.
English for Specific Purposes, 15(1), 3-18.

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Street, B. (2004). Academic literacies and the new orders: implications for
research and practice in student writing in higher education. Learning and
Teaching in the Social Sciences, 11, 9-20.

Wallerstein, I. (1991). Geopolitics and geoculture. Cambridge: Cambridge
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Widdowson, H.G. (1983). Learning purpose and language use. Oxford: Oxford
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Tardy, C. & Matsuda, P. (2009). The construction of author voice by editorial
board members. Written Communication, 26(1), 32-52.

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 communication.

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