Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Starring the Text by Alan G. Gross

In Starring the Text: The Place of Rhetoric in Science Studies, Alan G. Gross examines the role of science texts as persuasive communication by applying the traditions of rhetorical analysis to the writings of science greats such as Copernicus, Darwin, and Newton. Scientific advancement is expressed through written communication including texts, tables, and visual representations of explanation and argument. Gross asserts that “the texts of science are not just texts; they are what the Bible once was: revealed truth about the causal structure of the universe” (p. ix).

To accomplish his analysis of scientific communication, Gross conducts a series of case studies centered on specific scientific texts to demonstrate the use of rhetorical conventions, by the authors, to argue for their findings and persuade their peers to accept their positions. In doing so, Gross implements rigorous rhetorical analysis to illuminate how the writers of scientific texts discovered, presented, and contested the results of their search for understanding. In this book, Gross presents his findings in four major sections.

In Part One, Gross defends the necessity for a rhetorical analysis of science writing. He explores the history of rhetoric of science and exposes how rhetoric is used to promote scientific writing and the techniques of persuasion used to sway audiences to accept findings and theories. Specifically, Gross provides an excellent brief history of rhetoric of science in Chapter 1 that demonstrates a personal knowledge of how this valuable academic discipline developed a critical voice within scientific writing.

Gross then turns his attention to explore the limits of rhetorical analysis of science. In Part Two, he explores the rhetorical construct of taxonomy as persuasion to accept evolutionary theory and how both Newton and Descartes used rhetoric to each promote their own theories of optics. Although Gross does not assert that a full rhetorical description of scientific texts is possible, he does use these case studies to suggest that “rhetoric is a discipline; moreover, its disciplinary status entitles us to speak of all written and visual records of the scientific from a rhetorical perspective” (p. 78).

In Part Three, Gross explores the range of rhetorical analysis of science by examining how evolution evolved in Darwin’s notebooks, articulating the importance of peer-review in certifying consensus within a scientific community, and tracing heliocentricity as the origin of rational conversation which Gross asserts was an essential ingredient to the spread of Copernicanism in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In all, Gross conducts five case studies in this section not to demonstrate that science is rhetoric but that no one discipline “can be relied on to provide a fully adequate explanation of what science is and how it works” (p. 141).

Finally, Gross attempts to place rhetoric within scientific inquiry by exploring the compatibility of rhetoric and sociology as well as psychology and the history of science. Of particular value in Part Four is Chapter 11 where Gross analyzes the Newton-Leibniz debate to demonstrate the role of priority in the social invention of scientific history. Because scientific advancements may happen nearly simultaneously, “the actual effect of an emphasis on priority may undermine its intended effect, the encouragement of scientific advance. Every scientific paper instantiates the tension created by these opposing tendencies” (p. 178).

Starring The Text represents a major re-tooling of Gross’ earlier book, The Rhetoric of Science and constitutes a shift from arguments anchored in the rhetorical to the philosophical. This book offers a major contribution to the field of rhetoric of science and is a must read for both students and scholars of this field as well as technical communicators who specialize within this context. In addition, this book offers and excellent history of rhetorical scientific criticism and should be considered as a text for the classroom.

-Safari Bob

Gross, A. G. (2006). Starring the Text: The Place of Rhetoric in Science Studies. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 216 pp.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

2011 Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference

On 8 October 2011, I was fortunate enough to present a paper at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Modern Languages Association in Scottsdale Arizona. I had never been to Scottsdale but I found it beautiful. The weather was perfect and I had a great time wondering around the Old Town district. Unfortunately, I did not get to visit The Poisoned Pen; an independent bookstore that specializes in crime fiction, carrying British and Canadian as well as American titles. I love mysteries and I would have spent way too much time and money there. Still, I would that I could have visited; next time!

At least the conference was great! Here is my proposal:

Mining YouTube to Research “Real-World” Intercultural Communication Contexts for the Service-Level Technical Writing Classroom


Analyzing and articulating different audiences is a significant challenge for students of technical communication. Teaching intercultural writing to beginning technical communication students can often seem manufactured and artificial. By exploring cultural expectations in “real-world” contexts, instructors of technical communication can provide these future practitioners of technical writing the tools necessary to identify and articulate specific targeted audiences within a global environment.

This paper/presentation examines how to best use YouTube, a popular video sharing website on which both companies and consumers can upload and view videos, to study and identify differing intercultural “real-world” communication contexts. To do so, I will first explore Edward Hall’s heuristic of High- and Low-context cultures and how culture is manifested in his “situation frame”, the smallest identifiable unit of culture. Next, I will demonstrate where to find and how to use videos posted on YouTube to provide insight to technical writing students into the cultural norms and expectations of a given, targeted, cross-cultural audience. Finally, I will explore how to synthesize the cultural research conducted by students on YouTube with Hall’s heuristic of High- and Low-context into explicit writing strategies to a targeted, “real-world” audience.

Essentially, I introduce Edward T. Hall's heuristic of High/Low Context and demonstrate how students can collect data from cultures by analyzing primary sources: TV commercials. Using Hall's model, students can conduct analysis on these commercials and construct rhetorical strategies--based on Hall's model--to reach their targeted audience. For instance, this commercial is targeted to Americans:

Here you can see how the authors demonstrate the features, explain the rationale behind everything, and privilege the technology--all signs of a Low Context culture. Now look at this commercial for French consumers:

This commercial is different in that it focuses on human relations, unspoken rules of behavior, and the technology is not privileged--all signs of a High Context culture. Although this is a simplistic example, students can learn more by searching more commercials or focusing on one product and researching how this product is marketed to different cultures.

Here are my slides:

If you are so inclined, or if you suffer from insomnia, you can read more about my conference presentations at Academia.edu.

-Safari Bob