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Dominique Maingueneau

Discourse analysis, Globalisation and Scientific Creativity

Globalisation raises new questions in a wide range of fields, scientific activity included. The recent evolution of discourse analysis highlights some of them. The development of a worldwide field of “discourse studies”, which results from the progressive convergence of trends which have appeared in various countries and in different theoretical contexts, places the scholars in a new situation: how can one practise discourse analysis in a field which is not structured by traditional boundaries? 

I paid special attention to this problem when I was invited to edit a special issue of Discourse studies about French Discourse Analysis. Before, I was not conscious enough of the tight relationship between the structure of the market of scientific production and the nature of its ‘contents’. Honestly, I must confess that as an editor I chose to give preference to articles which were likely to be read by a worldwide audience over articles which were really indicative of the intellectual area that I was supposed to characterize…

In the sixties the various trends of discourse analysis were taking place with fairly protected national frontiers, such as the case of Great-Britain (Halliday), France (the “French School” with its two outstanding figures: Althusser and Foucault), the USA (ethnomethodology, ethnography of communication). Although these trends spread out to many countries, they were deeply rooted in national intellectual traditions. Since the eighties, discourse analysis has been subject to a process of globalisation: nowadays more and more researchers throughout the world are exchanging ideas about discourse, and, thanks to modern information technologies, more and more quickly. Trends are defined more by international networks than by countries.

However, this globalisation process is far from being achieved. For example, while one can no longer speak of a “French school”, it can be still spoken of “French tendencies” (even though many discourse analysts outside France share basic assumptions of the “French tendencies” and many analysts within France work with quite different assumptions). Such « tendencies » have their roots in the philology of the 19th century, in various practices (particularly the stylistic analysis of literary texts) and « continental » philosophical traditions. This strand of discourse analysis is generally characterized by - the reference to « enunciation » theories, developed by linguists such as C. Bally, E. Benveniste, R. Jakobson or A. Culioli. These theories may be considered as a component of pragmatic trends, but they are above all an analysis of language, not a theory of communication. They are deeply concerned with subjectivity : the enunciation subject, who articulates text and communication setting, cannot be reduced to a social subject nor to linguistic forms (‘I’, ‘we’…), which are only traces of it. A reflection on enunciation is therefore precious to discourse analysis, which should be anxious to avoid opposing social and linguistic dimensions of subjectivity.

- The interest in « constrained » discourses : it contrasts with the preference systematically given to conversation analysis. 

- The emphasis put on linguistic « materiality ». Putting emphasis on language ‘materiality’ means turning one’s attention to linguistic forms. From that viewpoint, language is not a mere instrument for speakers: they have to negotiate with what language materiality imposes to them. Discourse tries to resolve conflicts, but across a language that limits movements triggers uncontrolled effects.

- The assertion of the primacy of interdiscourse. Such a principle does not only mean that discourse analysts ought to compare texts with each other, instead of studying isolated texts ; it means more : the identity of discourse is constituted and maintained through other discourses, the relation of a text to itself and its relation to others, ‘intradiscourse’ and ‘interdiscourse’, cannot be dissociated.

But globalization is progressively reducing the differences between these “French tendencies” and the other trends. Critical discourse analysis, for example, tries to integrate some aspects of French discourse analysis (cf. N. Fairclough).

Anyhow, discourse analysis – situated at the crossroad of human and social sciences - cannot appear at all as a homogeneous field of investigation. Various factors contribute to its diversification: to a diversity of reference disciplines (sociology, psychology, anthropology, history…), to a diversity of schools, to a diversity of data, the facet of discourse activity taken into account (discourse production, discourse circulation, reception…), the applied or not applied purpose of the analysis… Such diversity may trigger local conflicts, but does not necessarily call into question the existence and the legitimacy of a “globalised” field of scientific and intellectual production. 

If we consider the consequences of a global market of production and evaluation for the field of “discourse studies”, special attention should be paid to the scientific communities associated with the production and the evaluation of academic texts, particularly to the journals which publish the greater part of scientific production. Scientific discourse genres are closed genres: as a rule the producers of these journals tend to coincide with their consumers. 

In a global market the articles of international journals, especially of the most prestigious, are published in English by “globalised” boards and editors. For most scholars using the same language for communication is definitely an advantage, but only if its use is controlled by the members of the community, who must keep an eye on the clarity of expression, the coherence of methodology, the conformity of book references to scientific norms, and so on. In international journals – those which are the source of considerable authority and prestige - collective control is especially strong and The authors, who cannot transgress the norms of the journal, are in a “low position”. On the one hand, in order to have their texts published, the authors must build the representation of a « global » model reader, assuming that the scholars in charge of the evaluation of the texts to be published (the editor and the advisory board) refer to the same representation; on the other hand, the members of these boards tend to legitimate their own position by identifying themselves with that « superaddressee » (Bakhtin), supposed to be in conformity with the norms of the group. Those who write in “global” journals must comply in advance with its prevailing habits by imitating its previous issues. No one can impose his/her will on a global journal, particularly when the authors do not belong to Anglo-Saxon culture: as a non-native you cannot take risks if you want to be accepted by the “global” community .

Such a situation leads more easily to the « impoverishment » of scientific creation than to originality, more easily to consensus than to debate and critical exchange : while conflict is an essential dimension of intellectual creation, articles that do not produce « rich » knowledge are more likely to be accepted. Moreover, if the main producers of a discipline belong to the same space (write in the same journals, are members of the same « honorary » or « advisory boards », invite each other to participate to the same congresses or seminars…), it is in their interest to avoid or minimize hard theoretical conflicts. Logically, the integration to the community overrides any other consideration. 

Publications that one could call « local» (associated with an idiom or a group of neighbouring idioms (Scandinavian, Romanic languages…, or a specific cultural area) require a greater shared knowledge. The authors write to readers supposed to share a common scientific and also non-scientific background. In smaller spaces an author may impose his/herself more easily. The possibility of writing in a familiar language favours a deeper relationship with one’s language, which is especially important for conceptual work in the humanities and social sciences. If a community is made up of individuals who belong to extremely varied linguistic, ethnic, religious, intellectual…areas, its members tend to share no other background than the knowledge of the text productions and of the activities of the very discipline they belong to.

If some diversity in production and circulation of knowledge is not somehow preserved, a situation of academic « diglossy » may emerge: on one hand there will be « globalised » - very prestigious but highly conformist- production, on the other hand there will be local texts published in a wide range of vernacular languages, deprived of any authority. Paradoxically, in “globalized” publications conformism prevails, despite the intentions of the actors of the system, who, of course, claim to privilege originality. 

This conformism is a consequence of the logic of discourse production institutions. “Global” academic institutions tend to impose a certain representation of scientific activity, which could be compared to sports. All researchers, considered as equal, accept to play on the same field the same game with the same rules. In such a competition they choose strategies that they believe to be appropriate both for their own sake professional success, and for the sake of science too. Such a representation implicitly conveys basic assumptions about the nature of social sciences that discourse analysts can easily question.

In fact, intellectual creation is generally a matter of questioning frontiers, of being confronted with the « outside ». Thus research may be threatened by two symmetrical dangers: by sectarianism, of course, but also by « soft » eclecticism in which methodological routines prevail and the authors avoid highlighting what may trigger debates on basic assumptions and concepts. Research in discourse analysis, like in other domains of social sciences and of humanities, wants strong divergences to preserve its critical power. As any discipline needs an imaginary Other to build its own identity, the Other that is denied inside discourse analysis, i.e. between researchers of the field, may be replaced by a “weak” Other, outside discourse analysis: for example, if discourse analysts bring to the fore an opposition between the world of prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, etc. and the world of discourse analysts, and legitimate themselves by criticising texts and talks that are supposed to favour prejudices, injustice etc. But such a “weak” Other does not give room to true alternatives, to different ways of thinking. 

In summary, I would like to cast some doubt upon the capability of a global « free » market (tightly bound to a generalized monolinguism) to automatically favour scientific creativity. Oftentimes creativity needs opacity, limitations imposed by local constraints; their denial may be deeply prejudicial to it. As we are entering a new situation, we must become more vigilant: scientific communities must not forget to care about the preservation of the conditions required to favour the quality and the critical power of their production.