Experience from ENIEDA conference on linguistic and intercultural education

The 4th ENIEDA conference on Linguistic and Intercultural Education took place in Vrshac, Serbia, 29 Sept-  , 2011.

The focus was placed on negotiating and constructing European identities across language and cultures.

It was a small scale conference, a combination of plenary speakers (Cornelia Ilie,  Maguelonne Dejant-Pons and Srikant Saranji), workshops and paper presentations. I personally, expected more interactivity both during workshops and discussions. And the fact that there were no students present (at least I didn’t meet any at the sessions I attended) was confusing. In my opinion, these conferences should be aimed at helping our students become better communicators in a variety of professional settings by acquiring skills for multicultural cooperation.

My colleague, Bela Gligorova, and I gave a workshop entitled “Multicultural Literacy as Learning Outcome (in/through academic writing) – to what Extent?

Our leading motivation for this workshop was trying to answer the burning question: How can we, as ESL/EFL/L1/L2 teachers, in our respective academic settings (high-school and universities in Macedonian ans Serbia) and sub-disciplines, be prepared to control the extent to which our students are to showcase their self-confidence when presenting their research in a written format, especially when working with/through language (L1 and L2)? What are own limitations and strengths?

My exploratory study tried to measure and describe “self-presentation” by genre analysis (rhetorical moves) and lexico-grammatical analysis of research articles written by Macedonian scholars and published in the Annual collected works of the Faculty of Philology in Skopje, R. Macedonia.

The results showed that my participants do not follow the rules present in the majority of foreign journals. They position themselves interpersonally, always suggesting what should be done, but it does not seem that they are doing that consistently. Do they wish to do so? or they are limited by some norms of publishing in a certain environment?

Then, the way abstracts were written by these scholars lacked informational value and often it is not clear what to expect in the rest of the article.

My biggest dilemma, and a question I pose to all of you in this doctoral community is: How should our students express themselves in reaserach articles in their future academic careers ? How much should they stick to the norms constructed by journal editors or some influential scholars? can they negotiate their self-presentation?

Professor Fay and I saw each other at this conference and shared our views on this topic. I do feel that when you are at the beginning of your academic and publishing career you need to follow the norms; however, professor Fay is more liberal; he emphasized the idea of genesis instead of filling-the-gap/niche standardized norms.

Mira Bekar


  • A couple of years ago, I came across a book, The Authentic Dissertation by Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs) (2008). It taps into diverse perspectives on doing research and representing oneself as researcher. I am still inspired by the ideas in this book, most of all because it challenges the solidity of the tower of formal education and its ‘rules’. Mira, you might find it a useful resource for what you are doing.

  • Thanks for these thoughts, Mira. I should make it clear that I am not challenging the validity of the point you are raising (i.e. that there is good scholarship out there, which is under-represented). The question I asked -putting on my positivist hat- was how can you be confident that the work in your sample contained examples of such good research, which was disadvantaged on linguistic grounds alone. I am not looking for an answer here (I trust you have one); I’m just saying it is an objection that you need to anticipate, if you’re taking this particular epistemological stance.

    Moving on to that other question of mine that wasn’t so clear, let me try to make my thinking a little more explicit: What I meant was that in many domains that come to my mind (e.g. story-telling, drama), it does not seem necessary to follow structural rules. This is not to say that rules do not exist, but -if anything- we as teachers strive to foster originality wherever possible and welcome it wherever found. On the other hand, you claim that when it comes to academic publishing ‘we need to know about … existing patterns, try them out and only after experiencing/proving what limitations/constraints that structure resembles, we can be more “non-standard.” ‘

    It seems to me that if such a different attitude is demonstarbly true (I’m not suggesting that it isn’t), then there must be something qualitatively different in the domain of academic publishing. Some people would argue that this difference is related to power imbalances that arguably exist in the academic world. Crudely put, the argument goes that western academia are projecting their language expectations onto the academic production of the periphery, and in doing so, they maintain their position of authority. If you find that this is a helpful perspective, then perhaps your argument could be further alaborated by being grounded on Critical Theory.

  • Thank you for the comments which make me develop my ideas further, Achilleas.

    First comes a disclaimer: I feel that we have different approaches to doing research. I feel I am more practical and just want to help my colleagues publish articles with higher quality by informing them what is valued abroad especially in the US since as you have assumed they don’t have access to best journals not have financial opportunities to go to relevant and important conferences (some of them have never been to a conference where big names in the field talk about cutting edge research). Then they can choose whether to follow the “norms” or not.

    My aim is not to analyze how persuasive they are since persuasiveness, in my opinion, is very individualistic and culture-sensitive/culture-related. As you may know, especially on the Balkans you are more persuasive if you are louder and more aggressive in your expression. For some cultures you are more persuasive if you are cynical, in third if you are “balanced” in you viewpoints that is what is valued, while for others” balance” is considered to be a weak argument. That’s a never ending discussion. I know that it is important to measure the relationship between text, context, reader and writer but again there are tons of variables to be taken into consideration, right? What in you opinion are the best ways ways to measure the effectiveness of a text?

    I also admit that I am not sure I unederstand what you mean by
    “If familiarity with, and adherence to, the norms is such an important pre-requisite to academics, what is it that differentiates academic publishing from the previous examples?”
    Did I answer it a bit by what I stated above?

    As for the other question:
    1. Yes, I agree that it is hard to control all the variables you mentioned such as “poor funding, lack of access to literature etc), or perhaps other imbalances in the academic world (e.g. poor networking, low status of the researcher). But what about the cases when scholars in financially deprived countries with limited research opportunities for professional development produce excellent work? I am refereeing to some professors from India, ex-Yugoslavia and the poorer part of Hong Kong or Sri Lanka.
    But we can’t hear about them from journals but from their students or younger colleagues who managed to educated themselves abroad and spread the information about their former-professors.

    Yes, discussions are always good and useful.

  • I fully understand the need for aspiring academics to be aware of the most prevalent forms of structuring a text (i.e. IMRAD), and to demonstrate competence in using it effectively. I also see your point about avoiding risk while one’s academic writing skills are still developing. Finally, it is not my intention to dispute how effective IMRAD is in conveying the results of research that is informed by science, although I maintain some reservations about its fit with the humanities and social sciences (e.g. is it the optimal choice for presenting a multi-cycle action-research project?)

    What I want to do in this post is challenge your premises, not with the intention of refuting your argument, but rather in order to better understand what you are saying and perhaps help you refine your thinking at points. To do so, I will take three approaches: critical, positivist and constructivist. Depending on how you position yourself epistemologically, some of these points may seem less useful to you – if that is the case, feel free to ingore them.

    You claim that it is important for aspiring academics to demonstrate competence with the norms before venturing into self-expression. But why is that? Personally, I would hesitate to extend this line of reasoning to other forms of discourse: Surely, a pupil need not demonstrate familiarity with Hoey’s Situation-Problem-Resolution-Evaluation pattern before writing a story. I can think of people who can write and speak more persuasively than I can, even though they are not familiar with Aristotle’s or Cicero’s rhetorical templates. Shakespeare himself, it is thought, did not have the opportunity to formally study the classics, and was certainly happy to violate the dramatic ‘unities’. If familiarity with, and adherence to, the norms is such an important pre-requisite to academics, what is it that differentiates academic publishing from the previous examples?

    You also argue that the scholarship produced locally is ‘less competitive’. I think that this statement could be usefully supplemented with some measure of ‘competitiveness’. Moreover, if the ‘low competitiveness’ of the papers is empirically demonstrated, one might attempt to explain it away as a product of poor research (in turn caused by poor funding, lack of access to literature etc), or perhaps other imbalances in the academic world (e.g. poor networking, low status of the researcher). How would one control for all these confounding variables, before ascribing the problem to rhetorical choices?

    Lastly, from a constructivist perspective, I would argue that the ‘informational opacity’ you have come across is a product of the interplay between readership, author and text, rather than an inherent quality of the text itself. If that is the case, how does your research design account for possibly different reactions by different readerships?

    It is hard to raise such points without sounding critical. So let me restate this: it is not my intention to challenge the validity of what you are saying. I think it is very interesting work, with profound social and personal significance. This is why I think that more discussion about it is to everyone’s benefit.

  • Thank you for your good insights Achilleas and Mariam.
    I’ll try to clarify some of the issues I mentioned earlier. I am aware I didn’t provide enough info about my research.

    Achilleas, you got my point right that there is a certain set of ‘rules’ which major international journals expect writers to follow, but Macedonian scholars are not trained to structure articles following those rules. The reasons are various. Some of the reasons are that they don’t have access to the major journals in the field, other reasons are that they didn’t have courses on academic and professional writing available. The scholarship they produce is NOT less accessible but less competitive.

    And yes, while talking about norms, I was referring to the traditional introduction, methodology, results, discussion (IMRD) structure. I feel that as young scholars we need to know about this existing patterns, try them out and only after experiencing/proving what limitations/constraints that structure resembles, we can be more “non-standard.” This reminds me of a discussion I have with Macedonian young actors. They all want to be progressive and perform cool new plays/texts. However, I argue with them that FIRST of all they need to show that they can perform a classic text (a myth-let’s say Medea or some of Chehkov’s plays and only then, can they be more “experimental.”
    I’m thinking more about how to teach academic writing to my students . I don’t feel confident enough to say “Ok, dear students, there are rules but you can avoid those and experiment with non-standard norms. Is that ok for undergrads?”

    Secondly, you understood perfectly that what was found in the articles could not be accessed through reading of the abstract. Abstracts were misleading. Yes, I invited the ENIEDA participants to discuss the content and structure of the abstracts. Many agreed that important details were missing, but there were some participants who thought my approach of analyzing the abstracts using Bhatia (1993), Santos (1996), Hyland (2000), Samraj’s (2005) approaches is limiting.

    As for Canagarajah, Belcher and Paul Matsuda, I can say I’m very happy to see those people fighting against the “rules” of some journal editors and the whole ideology of “publish and perish.”

    Finally, you asked “why this informational opacity must be ascribed to stylistic markedness”? I am trying to figure out a way to measure/assess/connect one with another. Basically, if I reformulate one of my research questions it would sound like this: Does the way you write your abstracts and articles reveal who you are as a researcher and individual? I argue that just by counting the usage of “I” in one’s paper it is not enough to talk about stylistic makedness. There is something in the choice of rhetorical moves you make which reveals your academic personality.

    Mariam, I hope the elaboration above answers some of your questions about “norms” (intro,purpose, method, results, conclusion in abstracts).
    I’ll try to answer your questions about ‘negotiating self-presentation’? What I am saying is that it is hard, at least for me and my colleagues to develop our own voice while simultaneously complying to what the US or UK journal editors require from us. Think about comments we sometimes get on a manuscript we submitted for publication. Weren’t you in a position to feel like screaming out “why do they ask me to exclude this section when that’s my major point or struggle in this article?” or something similar. And you need to think of a way to “adjust” or what a call “negotiation of self-presentation.”

    The lack of informational value was due to articulation that would be considered poor by major journal articles. To clarify, the research articles I looked at were written in Macedonian with abstracts in English or German.

    I tried to be more elaborate. Please feel to make further comments. I do enjoy the discussion.

  • Mariam Attia

    Thanks for this, Mira. I found the observations you made and the questions you raised very interesting. I also think the points Achilleas addressed are central to further investigation in this area. Please allow me to add two more here:

    1) Clarification of concepts: I think we need to clarify some key terms around which the questions were formulated. For example, what are these ‘norms’ and in what way do they ‘limit’ self expression? Who are these ‘influential scholars’ and why are they perceived as the standard? What do we really mean by ‘negotiating self-presentation’?

    2) Underlying assumptions: The questions seem to be based on a set of pre-established assumptions. For example, the first question suggests a prescribed way/method of self-expression to be complied with. The second question assumes a) that there are certain norms out there, b) that these norms are set by specific individuals and c) that they should be adhered to. The third question presumes that self-presentation is difficult to realize/ achieve, or at least this is how it sounded to me.

    There was also a description of abstracts as lacking in ‘informational value’. I wondered why this was the case and whether the problem was in the information or in the articulation. In other words, maybe researchers have valuable contributions to share, but it is the way these contributions are presented in English that makes them unclear. Sample size and selection criteria are also significant factors to bear in mind, and overall I agree with Achilleas that this point needs further investigation.

    As I know very little about your research, I am not sure if this is helpful, but perhaps your real challenge is not to find the right answers, but rather to ask the right questions.

  • That’s an interesting set of questions, Mira. I will just try to reformulate what you have written, to make sure I am getting it correctly, before I add my two cents / pence / deni. You argue that there is a certain set of ‘rules’ which major international journals expect writers to follow, but scholars in your country flout those rules, and that the scholarship they produced is less accessible as a result.

    A first point to consider (and in doing so I am not necessarily rejecting your premise) is whether these ‘rules’ are as pervasive and inflexible as you assume. There are many publishing outlets out there, and some will have more rigid policies than others, but I think that there is a certain trend that many editors, reviewers and readers are open to original / non-standard forms of expression. Here’s what Suresh Canagarajah had to say on the topic, from his position as a chief editor of TESOL Quarterly:

    I intend to help the journal negotiate more boldly the diverse modes of representing research findings. In many journals, introspective or narrative writing sits side by side with the more impersonal articles reflecting the traditional introduction, methodology, results, discussion (IMRD) structure. I would like TQ to be more open to atypical forms of scholarly rhetoric.

    I am not suggesting that this degree of openness is typical, but it does seem to suggest that the challenge writers are facing is not how to emulate a ‘standard’ of scholarly writing, but rather how to match their output to the outlet of their choice. A subtle, but important difference, I believe.

    A related point concerns how easily accessible the information is to potential readers. Your claim -if I am getting it right- is that the abstracts you reviewed lacked informational value, i.e. the information content that, presumably, was to be found in the articles could not be accessed through a cursory reading of the abstract. If this observation of yours is consistent with readers’ interpretations, then clearly there is a problem. In fact, I think it would be interesting and useful if you could empirically research whether this is indeed case. What is less clear to me is why this informational opacity must be ascribed to stylistic markedness. Am I missing something?

  • Richard Fay

    It’s not often I get called Professor Fay — I think I will stick with that formulation from now on ! R