Friday, February 11, 2005

International publishing and local academic discourse

I was working on another post re: the SSCI discussion(s) from here and Scott's blog, but the discussion that has gone on in my absence has made my comments sort of irrelevant. (Don't you guys go anywhere for Lunar New Year? ;-) )

It seems that the discussion has moved from how much we should push individual professors to try to publish in SSCI (or A&HCI) journals to the (possible) effects of SSCI-type criteria on publishing within Taiwan. I think Michael and Clyde are correct that the long-term effects of this new emphasis could be positive if the system leads to a careful reevaluation of what consitutes good research, rather than simple mimicry (or worship) of the Western system. I still share Chu's concern about a "blind following of Western theory"--particularly Western theories of what constitutes "knowledge."

To give an example: Suresh Canagarajah (who grew up and taught in Sri Lanka until 1994) writes about how an article of his was rejected by an American journal partly because of the article's "'unnecessarily hostile tone ... towards western society and values in general'" (this is quoted from a referee's comments). Let me quote from his book, A Geopolitics of Academic Writing:
Consider the many ironies behind my own experience of writing a paper on the social and cultural conflicts for local students in using an American textbook in ESL classrooms. I sent the paper to an American journal after considerable revision, well aware of the need to restrain the expression of feelings in my writing. However, no amount of postgraduate training in the West and further efforts helped to efface all direct indexes of affect (some of which were necessary to carry out my purposes in that paper). The paper was subsequently rejected, primarily on the findings of the referees that a demonstration of excessive feelings betrayed my ideological biases. This is how one referee stated his or her judgment:
Certainly, impassioned writing is to be admired, especially if it is grounded in theoretical writings, as much of this article is. ... Despite these valid aspects of the article, the unnecessarily hostile tone of the writer towards the specific materials used and towards western society and values in general undermines the logic of this argument. ... While I will always support provocative articles which enable readers to re-examine long-held beliefs, articles whose logic is obscured by hostility are counterproductive. Rather than open dialog, they preclude it. For this reason, I am not recommending publication.
It is interesting how in such an important gatekeeping context this reviewer adheres to the classic Western stereotype that feelings are automatically opposed to logic. Feelings are translated as "hostility," which is then rules as "unnecessary" and turns out to be a reason to bar the paper from publication. It is significant how easily something "critical" becomes something that is "hostile." It is in this sense that writing conventions can become a weapon for suppressing positions oppositional to the dominant discourse. Style colonizes! (153-4)
Note also that this article was rejected despite the admission by the referee that it was well-grounded in theory. But the theory upon which rejection was based was the "classic Western stereotype" regarding what constituted acceptable expression of emotion (coming out of the mind/body logic/feeling divisions that still have a great deal of influence in Western academia, despite postmodernist and feminist critiques of these divisions).

This kind of example indicates to me that Western academia has some way to go in opening up to the concerns and ways of knowing of non-Western thinkers. I hope that what happens as a result of local adoption of SSCI/A&HCI is not a one-way transfer of a system of evaluation. In terms of Taiwan, what I hope will come out of these experiments by the MOE in the long run is some kind of understanding of academic discourse that irons out some of the practical problems that Clyde, Michael, and others see with the local academic scene and usefully complicates the standards handed "down" from the West so that we can address the legitimate concerns of people like Chu.


Anonymous said...

Clyde said:

I too know just what this example means. Business research outside the US is not well accepted by journals in America where a majority of the population doesn’t even have a passport and where general business attitudes tend toward seeing the world in a very American suburban light!

I’ve been working for five years on a paper dealing with the assumptions of student language learners’ motivation and faced many strange publishing problems and clear cultural biases, but after many attempts Dr. Canagarajah (, as the new editor at TESOL Q. gave our paper the final push to make it. America itself is more multicultural these days, and that helps a lot, not to mention fewer white males are taking Ph.D.s in the US where the higher education market is quickly being dominated by females and immigrants (I love it).

In your example, however, Dr. Canagarajah seems to make the assumption that his voice should be heard. This is the basic problem of the scientific method, which Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) points out very well. Look, the very act of publishing and peer review is exclusive in nature, it seeks a “correct” answer and that makes it positivistic by nature. If we move too far from this, then we quickly get people saying things like:

“Well, my research quality may have problems, (I don’t really know how to collect data), but I still have a point and you MUST give me a chance to be heard!”

This kind of strong arm tactics quickly leads to the strong ruling the weak, and most real researchers are weak, in the sense that they spend all their energy on long-term research projects, not politics and power (researchers are observers not actors). Without a positivistic orientation, the scientific method is impossible to implement in a meaningful way.

Now, to my main point, while I see what you are saying, my experience in Taiwan (especially the last five years) tells me that many people would just love to use the entitlement argument to squash me and other serious researchers! And when I hear local researchers talking about the imperial running dogs that oppress them, I get a chill down my spine.

Jonathan Benda said...

A few disconnected comments in response:

I'm glad to hear Dr. Canagarajah is the editor now at TESOL Quarterly, and to see that he is going to make efforts to bring more "atypical forms of scholarly rhetoric" into the journal and make the scholarly conversation more international and inclusive.

Well, in some senses we're coming from different discourse communities here, Clyde. I do agree that research should be rigorous. I'm not sure I'd say that it needs to be positivistic to do that, though (ethnography, for instance, can be rigorous without being positivistic), nor would I say that the writing of research results should be devoid of emotion, which is what got Canagarajah's article shot down, if I'm reading him correctly. (Incidentally, the same article was later accepted by Language, Culture and Curriculum without any major revisions).

As far as people trying to use identity politics to "squash" serious researchers, I think what you're talking about is linked to what Michael was saying about the lack of a "civil society" in the academy here. I haven't (yet) personally seen all the problems you're alluding to, but I won't argue about their existence. I've certainly seen enough in U.S. universities to know that scholarship cannot be easily separated from academic politics and I'm sure it's not different here. I'm sure I'll see more problems the longer I live here and the more involved I get in doing research.