Was ist eigentlich (alles) Eristik? oder: Weblogs as Academic Communication Practices

Hier ist die Präsentation zum Vortrag einsehbar. Folgend der Vortragstext:

Weblogs as Academic Communication Practice

Academic communication is changing – all the time. The development of media and the communication practices it leads to have always reshaped academic communication and research. Increasing international mobility, increasing Anglo-Americanization, and increasing digitalization raises recently several questions for science studies. On the one hand, research on academic language and communication uses that as an opportunity to ask for instance for the epistemological qualities of several scientific languages and not least for the epistemological qualities of a multilingual science in general. On the other hand, the developing Forms of Communication in academics using the internet have been studied increasingly for only a few years. Hence the research on academic communication practices on the World Wide Web in the context of German linguistics and in the context of research on the German scientific language is just beginning. Weblogs are only one possible and important Form of Communication that has to be inquired into as an academic practice.

In contrast to journals which started as an academic medium, weblogs seem to have first been stabilized through other realms of communication before the academic communities discovered the potentials of weblogs for their aims and purposes. What aims and purposes these are is one of the questions my PhD project seeks to answer for weblog communication among scholars, but not for weblog communication between scholars and the internet public in a popular scientific way.

I would like to give an insight into my project based on the three words in the title characterizing weblogs ‘as’: Academic, Communication, and Practice.

But before I start I should say a word about the terms ‘academic’, ‘scholar’, and ‘science’. It is difficult to decide which of these should be used when the German notion of “Wissenschaft” is meant. ‘Science’ is always distinguished from ‘humanities’. ‘Academic’ seems to stress institutional aspects. And ‘scholar’ is a high-value word. So excuse me if I should not always find the best expression for what I like to say when I use these words and their derivations.

Academic

One of the central characteristics of scholarly communication is the “polemical exchange”. The philosopher and linguist Marcelo Dascal uses the word ‘polemical’ in a basal, non-judgmental way and stresses the critical, conflicting, quarreling, confrontational, not consensual aspect of exchange. He hence emphasizes these forms of activities as cross-cultural:  “It would seem, then, that in one way or another people everywhere are constantly engaged in either defending themselves, attacking somebody else, or avoiding open confrontation.” (Dascal 1998) He then pointed out the importance of polemical exchange for science and humanities: “[…] knowledge is achieved through the exercise of critical reason. […], criticism is primarily a form of dialogical activity, which manifests itself most naturally in polemical exchanges of various sorts.” and he characterizes this activity as dealing with “uncertainty regarding the opponent’s reactions” “Although we may anticipate [these reactions] to some extent” (ibid.). And in the most cases of scholarly communication it is necessary to anticipate reader’s reactions. So that scholarly controversies, disputes, or discussions are “usually quite elaborate pieces of discourse, departing sharply from spontaneous exchanges”. They are “(protracted) dialogues”, or “quasi-dialogues” (Dascal 1989).

Dascal – from the epistemologist’s perspective – frequently prompts linguists to do research on such polemical exchanges. German linguists answered primarily from the speech educationalist’s perspective.

It was Konrad Ehlich (1993) who drew attention to the linguistic basis of doing polemical exchanges and the difficulties of learning to understand and to produce this rather subtle linguistic phenomenon. He named it “Eristic Structures” referring to the Greek goddess of strife and discord: Eris. He observes that scholarly communication is not at all characterized by only asserting knowledge, but rather is characterized by inconspicuous linguistic means that modify the assertive speech acts and give them a polemical quality.

Communication

This phenomenon is related with media aspects which provide the possibility conditions for communicational acts in general. A question associated with this is how different Forms of Communication shape – to speak with Dascal – the “polemical exchange” or – to speak with Ehlich – shape the “Eristic Structures” in Academic Weblogs and in Academic Journals. Weblogs and Journals seem to be comparable in a fruitful way because both are periodical Forms of Communication. Furthermore, a pilot study showed that Academic Weblogs are a possibility space for genres typically found in Journals, like for instance papers, essays, reviews, and announcements of new publications. Of course there are also quite new genres which were not found publicly or which seem to be new.

So you see, Weblogs grant the possibility to deal with many different communicative tasks, which means they have to be classified on another categorial level than the above mentioned genres.

The term “Forms of Communication” that I already used before was developed in the context of Textual Linguistics. It make describable what kind of conditions have to be given so that communication can take place, and how these conditions shape communication taking place under these circumstances. Aspects that are conceptually relevant on this level of description are shown in this list.

With this list one can work out specifics of different Forms of Communication like for instance different kinds of conversations, books, letters, journals, e-mails, chats, and weblogs. What one cannot do with this conceptualization is to pay attention on the practices that constitute things such as journals or weblogs.

Practice

So we are getting to the last word in the title: practice. Both Dascal and Ehlich (and good many others) treat language and communication as activity, action, or practice. Consequently the notion of “Forms of Communication” has to be reconsidered and reconceptualized in the context of media praxeology, in order to get a coherent approach that fits together with linguistic pragmatics.

Remembering the aspects that specify Forms of Communication listed just a few minutes ago, the question has to be raised how actants assemble these different aspects to form and stabilize a mediating connection to each other that makes communication possible. This Latourian question will decompound the static notion of Forms of Communication in a more dynamic and heterogeneous gathering of practices that combined form a weblog or a journal. Forms of Communication can hence be understood as a practice of people, things, and signs as Erhard Schüttpelz (2006) considers medialization as practice.

These practices are not very well accessed to the full extent by hermeneutic methods linguists commonly use, which is why I will probably have to do some interviews with actants involved in weblog and journal practices like publishers, editors, bloggers, and librarians. In addition to that, I am undertaking an auto-ethnographic experiment with an own weblog since a few days ago now which grants some more insights in the media practices influencing academic writing.

With these methods, the situated practices in production and reception of weblogs and journals can be explored. Insights acquired in this way can then be combined with the hermeneutic insights into the linguistic and communicational practices of eristic exchange. I will therefor inquire into five humanistic weblogs which I will compare with journals of the same discipline through a parallel text analysis.

The praxeological reconstruction of journals and weblogs in its part also has to ask for their institutional specifics. The history of both Forms of Communication and the academic shaping of them during their history have thus to be explored.

For scholarly journals that means to take a look at the history of German Academies of Sciences which play an important role in establishing the early scientific community and scientific public sphere in the German-speaking world. As for that matter, these Academies are comparable with the Royal Society of London.

* * *

All in all, my PhD project is a qualitative, multi-methodical, interdisciplinary endeavor in academic communication interested in a fruitful combination of media and language research approaches.


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