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Canagarajah, A. Suresh. A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture;. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. Print.

The Problem

  • C. begins by telling a story about the politics of intellectual discovery and knowledge creation – highlighting the role of Western academics in claiming indigenous knowledge and non-Western world discoveries to their own glory (and for the constitution of facts and ownership of knowledge).  As C. notes, “This displays a common Western assumption that though the 3rd World may have the data, it takes Western academics to theorize about it” (3).
  • C. contends that Western academics’ access to technology, marketing structures and communication networks makes their validation and ownership of knowledge easier to claim. . . much to the detriment of those in the developing world.  When twinned with Western academics ability to find funding and organize conferences/research enterprises it is little surprise that the Western academy’s discoveries favor “their community’s interests, knowledge, and values” (5).
  • Focus of the book:  “The appropriation of Third World knowledge by Western academic institutions in the name of international scientific enterprise, the ways in which any raw data that might be found in the Third World have to undergo theorization/interpretation by the West to pass into the accepted stock of knowledge, the role of written communication in defining knowledge in public and transnational terms, the place of publishing/academic networks in serving the Western hegemony of knowledge, and how through all this the local knowledge of the Third World is marginalized – these form the nexus of issues that will be discussed in the chapters that follow” (5-6).
  • Method:  C. will explore the aforementioned themes by analyzing the “specialized domain of academic writing in research journals” in order to argue that “academic writing holds a central place in the process of constructing, disseminating, and legitimizing knowledge; however, for discursive and material reasons, Third World scholars experience exclusion from academic publishing and communication; therefore, the knowledge of Third World communities is marginalized or appropriated by the West, while the knowledge of Western communities is legitimated and reproduced; and as part of this process, academic writing/publishing plays a role in the material and ideological hegemony of the West” (6).
  • C. differentiates between “communicative conventions” (textual and publishing conventions that relate to the formal elements of academic texts and the procedural requirements for publication) and “social conventions” (rituals, regulations, and relationships that govern interaction of the academic community as they produce and negotiate knowledge) (6).
  • C.’s definition of discourse:  “refers to genres of thinking/communicating/interacting that are influenced by concomitant forms of sociolinguistic conventions, ideological complexes, and knowledge paradigms” (7).
  • Chapter Overview:
    • Chapter 1 – Widen the context of what constitutes academic literacy by locating academic publication as a material inequity between the center and the periphery.
    • Chapters 2 & 3 – Introduce the theory that moves things forward.
    • Chapter 4 – Describes the textual conventions of writing in the center and the periphery.
    • Chapter 5 – Explores the publishing conventions of the center and how peripheral academics attempt to understand and meet those conventions.
    • Chapter 6 – explores the social conventions of disciplinary communities in the periphery in order to understand Third World academic culture from the “inside”
    • Chapter 7 – considers the implications of publishing inequality between the center and periphery as a way to get at the construction of knowledge at the global level.
    • Chapter 8 – Provides a plan for how to reshape publishing relations between center and periphery in order to accommodate multiple forms of literacy and textual relationships.  This will respect local knowledge and democratize academic publishing, communication, and knowledge construction (7).

The Project

  • C. notes that the work of this book is really an exploration of the experiences he and his colleagues had in getting their work published in mainstream journals while living in an “underdeveloped region.”  But C. acknowledges that his position – as one in both the Western and non-Western academy – provides a “double vision” that informs the work of this book.  He acknowledges that his position in the Western academy does – in some senses – inhibit his ability to really represent his colleagues in the periphery.
  • Method:

  • Despite this elegant and complex research design, C. realized that the conduct of research was to be quite difficult in an area (Sri Lanka) where even basic needs and necessities weren’t met.
  • C. acknowledges that composition was a field wherein the “politics of academic literacy” and the “sociology of knowledge” could be engaged in order to advocate for his periphery colleagues.  To do so he used all the textual evidence he collected in Sri Lanka (interviews, texts, publications, experiences, etc. – qualitative data) in order to conduct a linguistic investigation of the social and rhetorical constructions of periphery scholars.  This would allow him to merge the “microlevel textual issues and macrolevel geopolitical interests” in interesting ways (18).
  • C. is practicing textography or “something more than a disembodied textual or discourse analysis, but something less than a full ethnographic account” (Swales 1998, 1 – C. 19) in order to consider the cultural and material influences that shaped literacy in his own Sri Lankan context (18-9).  He also calls this a form of rhetorical analysis (from Dwight Atkinson & Chuck Bazerman) that “situates texts in sociohistorical context and uses interpretive frameworks from different disciplines” (19).  This method is characterized as “eclectic, contextual, bottom-up, and genre sensitive.”
  • Some of the center-periphery binaries that C. considered using were softened through the process of research and through his exposure to theories of cultural hybridity (Kraidy), rhetorical borrowing, and ideological negotiation among different communities (19).  C. acknowledges the lack of empiricism (in the traditional sense) and highlights how some publishers balked at his mixed method, flexible approach to research writing.
  • C. recognizes that the work of this book is fighting the master in his own house, using his own rules.  He uses the term “resistance” as a “constructive and creative notion that theorizes how the disempowered may reconstruct discourses and structures for fairer representation” (30).

Chapter 1:  Contextualizing Academic Writing

  • C. acknowledges that he will work with the academic article in this book as it is the most common scholarly form that allows researchers to work out their ideas before submitting to book-length research.  Also, the journal article is the primary forum for knowledge construction in the academy (roughly 5,000,000 are produced each year by the global academy – in 2002).
  • The academic journal is a legitimation machine.  They “solidify the emerging disciplinary community and provide it with cohesion, identity, and status, apart from serving to gatekeep membership and knowledge” (33).
  • C. highlights how the English language serves as the lingua franca of publication across disciplines. . . even in areas like “tropical agriculture” where one would assume publication isn’t strictly Anglophone [1. I wonder if anyone has revisited the stats in this chapter now in the age of electronic journals.  Is there a way to trace this in any meaningful manner?  Have e-journals allowed for publication in non-English?].  C. also highlights how non-Western scholars are significantly underrepresented in journal publication (and those that do publish non-Western academics on a regular basis and are geolocated outside the West often lack the kind of ethos and respectability to get them far in Western academic circles.  As C. notes, “The hegemony of Western academic journals is so complete that they superiority ascribed to them has been somewhat internalized by periphery scholars themselves” (37).
  • C. relies on Wallerstein’s world systems perspective that argues that capital and market-based global social systems provide an edge for the center and not the periphery because of technological and economic resources that the center maintains (38).  Because of these advantages, the capitalist world economy extends the influence of the West over the rest beyond the expansion of national borders.  W.’s thesis allows the connection of the local in non-Western struggle to the contemporary macro scene of capitalism and Western hegemony.  C. then relies on Galtung (whose work sounds a lot like Appadurai’s) to extend Western influences through channels of mass media, information, popular culture, and education.  These mass communication technologies also spread their “values and ideologies to the periphery communities” through mediated communicational means (39).  This allows for center domination without an expansion of the center’s nation-state borders.  Wallerstein + Galtung/Appadurai = Western capitalist hegemony through economics, politics, and mass mediated communication.
  • C. relies on Phillipson and Pennycook to argue that linguicism or the attitudes toward preferring English through language-based discrimination allows the West to exert control through linguistic domination.  As C. notes, “The English language thus becomes a very effective vehicle for spreading center values globally and for providing Western institutions access to the periphery” (40).
  • C. relies on Appadurai to complicate the center/periphery binary by highlighting how power doesn’t operate equally in different domains (economic superiority doesn’t mean cultural superiority or political superiority) (41).  This means that disjuncture is the constitutive principle of the world system.  By turning to context-specific inquiries, we can trace the overlaps and linkages between the different “flows” he outlines in his work.  As such, C. will study specific contexts; however, the “patters of relationship” that he discovers can be extrapolated to understand the “structuration of Western hegemony” (43).
  • C. claims that a consideration of academic literacy from the indigenized periphery will challenge postmodern/postructuralist “ludic” approaches to composition.  These approaches adopt a playful attitude toward the polyphony of meaning at the expense of material realities and oppressions (45).  C. also considers “knowledge production” a central tenant in his work.  Because knowledge as liberal humanist discovery of transcendence has been challenged by the social-constructionist paradigm, C. is interested in discovering and articulating how the communal validation of knowledge – influenced by material/historical realities – shapes and marginalizes periphery academic work.  As he notes, “A troubling outcome of this epistemological critique is the realization that the dominant methods and practices of knowledge construction are partisan and partial to certain social groups” (46).  In this sense, C. is applying the work of Said, Spivak, and Bhabha to the academic publishing communities of Western knowledge production industry.
  • What is C. doing here?  “a close analysis of texts and events in the practice of periphery knowledge construction with ethnographic sensitivity to the perspectives of local communities” (49).

Chapter 2 – Communities of Knowledge Construction

  • Perspectives on knowledge:
    • Knowledge is constructed – knowledge is put together by members of a community whose interests and values are embodied by the knowledge.
    • Knowledge is collaborative – knowledge construction is a social activity that is done through collaboration with others who interact with the subject of the knowledge.
    • Knowledge is contextual – the construction of knowledge occurs in material, historical, and social conditions that are inflected in the knowledge itself.  This results in knowledge as
    • Knowledge as value-ridden – cultural traditions and the interpretation of natural and social phenomena inflect knowledge based on the contexts where these values circulate.
    • Knowledge is discursive – the construction of knowledge occurs in language . . so language is the medium of construction for knowledge but it is also a shaper of knowledge in that language is inflected with values (54-6).
  • C. draws attention to how the Enlightenment-inspired, positivist “science” is a constructed tradition like any other . . . imbued with the values of imperialism and Western hegemony.  The Enlightenment project was putatively “a universally applicable project, not a cultural product of the West – one produced by a Judeo-Christian worldview based on individualism, detachment from and control over nature, a teleological view of time, and the celebration of reason” (58).  This view also held that knowledge came before text . . . instead of being constructed by it.
  • Discourse communities are the social relations that mediate and constitute localized knowledges (61).  DC are scalable and allow us to connect the practices on the local level of scholarship to disciplinary paradigms.  DC are different from speech communities because they consider the context – historical/cultural/political – of any symbol system/language system.  Swales’s definition of the discourse community:

  • C. notes that disciplines and disciplinary groups are actually communities constituted by conflict (67).  Their “unity” is “based on their shared antagonism derived from the common desire to dominate material and intellectual resources” (67).  So there aren’t merely conflicts among discourse communities but conflicts in the constitution of the discourse community itself.  The material-political realities existing at any moment in these communities has a profound effect on the hegemony of any one DC.  C. is sketching this all out to draw attention to the inequality among Western and non-Western academic DCs on a broad scale.
  • As Prior notes, we shouldn’t think of DCs as coming together over common values or discourses but instead should think of their existence as coordinated activity toward further particular interests (69).  This emphasizes knowledge creation as practice.
  • How is C. using DC?

  • In considering DCs, C. asks a couple of key questions:

  • C. cites numerous examples in this chapter how the production of knowledge for Western academics working in the periphery often – and almost always – benefited the imperialist project.  He notes that the “material and political hegemony of center communities” have long been in complicity with Western academic research paradigms.  This trend is also present in pedagogical orientations imposed by Western academics/agencies that boost material resources to Western language schools but assume that their ELT approach is superior to other ways of language learning that are contextually relevant and often indigenous (73).  This results in a situation wherein 80% of ELT teachers are non-native speakers of English but heavily, heavily depend on the center for their pedagogy, expertise, and professionalization.
  • C. does the work of this chapter to demonstrate that there are inequalities in knowledge production.  Next he will turn to publishing as a way to demonstrate how it is complicit in maintaining and extending these unequal power relationships and knowledge organization.

Chapter 3:  Conventions in Knowledge Construction

  • C. notes that conventions are the informal rules and regulations that unconsciously shape the process of social interaction in any DC.  Because they come to constitute a DC they must be considered in order to understand any DC function and structure (79).  Because communities stand behind conventions, C. wonders aloud “how is change possible?” in DC?  Well, social and cultural change can affect community in ways that create pressure on convention.
  • C. notes that discourse conventions “assume specific ways of perceiving and representing reality” (83).  As such, conventions are the ways that particular DCs orient themselves toward the realities of social and material life.  As such, conventions are often suppressive because, in Foucault’s words, “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality” (Foucault 1972, 216 – C. 84).  In this way members of a DC protect their internal cohesion and solidarity by excluding those who deviate from convention.  In this way conventions exist and are necessary but they function as a gatekeeping mechanism that ensures a harmonious communication.  They are not just the medium of expression but often they embody the message (84-5).
  • C. argues that the contextualization of convention will allow center scholars to see how globalization is changing the conditions of academic discourse. . . and allow for a more comprehensive inclusion of the different, diverse modes of communication.
  • C. combs through the history of publication practices from the Enlightenment to the present to demonstrate how conventions were negotiated, concretized, and renegotiated to serve the needs and interests of the DCs that propagated them.  C. relates this to academic publishing to argue that “RA conventions are context bound.  They are shaped by a variety of contingent factors.  Some are discipline-internal factors:  the state of professionalization, the status of the discipline, and the identity of scholars in the field.  Others are extra-academic:  the availability of material resources, dominant cultural values in the community, and patterns of social relations in the larger society. . . . and these conventions are often implicated in social conflict” (93).  So, C. argues that conventions in publishing are the primary reason why scholars from the periphery are rejected from publication.  These editors who reject are “unwittingly fetishizing these genres or, at worst, colonizing others with their community’s rhetorical and intellectual traditions” (93).
  • C. notes that literacy is something that belongs to the “haves” because it relies on particular materialities to exist. . . and periphery DCs may want to cultivate literate modes of communicating but cannot because they don’t have the resources to develop the uses of literacy.  Even if the periphery gains access to different technologies they may not use them in the way that the center accords. . . as such, they will continue to be ostracized from the literacies of materiality (96-7).
  • Academic culture is a collection of DC that use writing as the knowledge-verification/legitimation mechanism in order to make available work to the larger DCs.  In other words, “a culture based on literate interactions and practices is treated by many scholars as the defining feature of academic life in the center” (97).
  • Takeaway:
    • Knowledge is writing
    • Knowledge is conventional
    • Knowledge is contingent

Chapter 4: Textual Conventions in Conflict

  • In this chapter C. wants to “widen the writing context so that we can see how the writer has to switch radically between texts and contexts” (105).  These are unveven composing practices that characterize the negotiation of written conventions and lived, material realities of existence.
  • The material impediments to written production that C. faced in Sri Lanka are a real challenge to the culturalist and linguistic explanations of periphery scholar inadequacy (107).  As C. notes, “the linguistic explanation smacks of blaming the writers for a deficiency, and the culturalist paradigm benignly ghettoizes them under the guise of tolerating their differences” (107).  Instead, C. argues that we must pay special attention to “geopolitical inequalities” in order to account for a lack of conventional adherence.  This isn’t the only reason for deviation from convention though – a lack of integration into “the relevant disciplinary discourses, peculiarities in epistemological traditions, and the sociolinguistic competence in modes of orality and literacy” are also to be taken into consideration (108).
  • Textual conventions of the RA (from Swales):

Chapter 5:  Publishing Requirements and Material Constraints

  • In this chapter C. considers the para-textual conventions and requirements (as well as extending the material constraints consideration from the last chapter) in order to demonstrate how the “occluded genres” (Swales) that accompany publication (like cover letters, correspondence with editors, bibliographies, etc.) pose problems for periphery scholars.  In so doing he hopes to reveal the “hidden assumptions” that these para-texts embody in order to draw attention to the exclusionary practices of the center academy (158).
  • C. calls these other para-texts the “nondiscursive” meta-textual elements that accompany submissions for publication (158).
  • Summary of chapter argument:

Chapter 6:  Literacy Practices and Academic Culture

  • C. notes that there is power and creativity embodied in the non-mainstream academic practices of the periphery as they push peripheral study into different cultural directions (187).
  • In this chapter C. is situating the textual and publishing conventions of the previous chapters in the broader cultural and communicative practices of the local community (ibid).
  • C. highlights that the university in the periphery often serves intense community/civic needs by providing education and service to the local populations.  This is reflected in tenure and promotion processes for academics at these locations; however, many local academics want to preserve the elite mission of the university and fear service to the community as a cheapening of the degree.
  • One side effect of the marginalization of periphery academics from publishing is the “lobbying” that junior faculty at periphery institutions must do in order to politick their way into safe job posts.  This means the primary way to advance through the ranks isn’t the production of knowledge but the forming of allegiances for political motives.
  • C. highlights that professors – because of their lack of access to international publishing in the center – often find their way in the production of literature, news commentary, and public writing (201-2).  Yet, these practices sometime reify the theoretical insights gained from the center.  In C.s words, “these publications serve to widen local communication on scholarly matters and help keep communal literacy alive” (203).
  • C. outlines all these literate practices in the Sri Lankan context in order to demonstrate how social and material realities put pressure on academic publishing practices and the life of academics in the periphery.  He goes on to demonstrate how writing takes a back seat to reading in his context; however, talk is the most important form of knowledge construction (in many cases because of the material challenges of reading and writing) (216-7).  It operates to embed, reconstruct, and interpret written texts and resituates a text into a clear social context.
  • Significant features of the periphery academic context:

Chapter 7:  Poverty and Power in Knowledge Production

  • C. notes that because many periphery scholars are relatively unknown center academics take credit and poach their work (235).  When contributions from the periphery do make it in it is on account of that particular topic/subject becoming fashionable . . . but the periphery might have moved on to new conversations.  In this way the center and periphery tend to orbit one another and don’t find common ground contemporaneously (and can be traced to publishing inequalities) (236).
  • Because center academics often lack on-the-ground experience with periphery communities they make claims that lack rigor; however, they are the only ones allowed to speak so they become experts in the field despite having only a limited knowledge of the subject.  This results in periphery scholars becoming consumers of center knowledge about themselves. . . what a sad irony.
  • C. recognizes that this irony is rendered material when the center scholar claims IP over the work of periphery (240).
  • C. highlights how Western academics often cull data and findings from unpublished dissertations, manuscripts and other non-official periphery writings in order to use as their own (244-5) thereby further widening the gap between periphery and center (while the center speaks of the periphery).  This often comes through the observations and theorizations of oral knowledge through ethnographic fieldwork.
  • C. likens this exploitative practice (the political economy of knowledge production) to the industrial processes of exploitation.  Raw materials are taken from the periphery and used at the center by Western academics/entrepreneurs.  Then that center academic/manufactured product is sold back to the periphery for economic/academic profit (246).  This commoditization process is most pronounced when considering how market demands and market logic dictate the publication of particular publications that, in turn, tame and distort the power of the postcolonial resistance discourse (247).
  • C. also notes how the incestuousness of the center publishing industry results in a narcissistic production of knowledge that allows the center to nurture and produce self-confirming, self-congratulating discourses that reflect exactly what they produce (254).
  • Chapter 7 conclusion:

Chapter 8: Reform, Resistance, Reconstruction

  • C. points out the potentials that electronic journals have for democratizing the field of knowledge for peripheral scholars (270) through e-publication, mixed-method/genre journals, and interdisciplinary journals.  But these journals are under attack from center academics who fear a change in the academic publishing status quo.
  • C. recommends reworking citation standards, editorial boards, and formal language requirements for journal submissions in order to better accommodate peripheral scholars (274).  C. also recommends a new system of editorial correspondence to more clearly articulate editorial decisions to peripheral scholars.
  • C. recommends a sharing of IP among the center and periphery to allow for a democratization of knowledge production due to greater access to resources for the creation of new scholarship (277).  This would also take the form of new academic exchanges on an international/global scale (279).
  • C. also recommends that periphery scholars establish new networks of research and that these networks should be supported by Third World governments (289).
  • C. notes that a textual shift in knowledge production should accompany social/cultural/institutional transformations in order to reshape the research article from within.
  • This chapter captures the entire work.  Revisit if needed for summary of C.’s argument.

One Response to “Canagarajah – A Geopolitics of Academic Writing”

  1. Canagarajah – A Geopolitics of Academic Writing | epiphonema | World Media Information

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