Readings for Nov 8 in 8011

On November 8, we are having a visit from Dr. Carol Berkenkotter to talk about textual analysis. The readings for this week generally center around that topic.


MacNealy, M. S. (1998). Discourse or Text Analysis (Chapter 7). In Strategies for Empirical Research in Writing. Longman.

In this book chapter, Mary Sue MacNealy provides an overview of discourse and text analysis, setting out the reasons scholars choose these methods, decisions scholars make to employ them, examples of their use, and their advantages and disadvantages. MacNealy uses the terms “discourse” and “text” interchangeably to refer to

oral, written, and graphic materials that have been produced in natural situations for a particular audience and purpose… as well as communicative materials produced for other reasons such as entertainment… and even pieces of text produced by students for a grade.” (p. 124, MacNealy’s emphasis)

She notes that communications researchers may use “content” to refer to the same objects (p. 123). By “analysis” in this context, she means “the use of systematic methods of study, including empirical techniques such as carefully defined populations of interests… carefully selected representative samples, and clearly defined procedures for collection and interpretation of data” (p. 124).

MacNealy identifies labor-intensiveness and the difficulty of executing component tasks in discourse analysis methods as the major disadvantages of discourse analysis (p. 143). In light of these difficulties, she offers researchers several pieces of advice: Select random samples of portions of texts for analysis where there is a large quantity of text (p. 128). Choose for analysis a portion of each text suitable to the researcher’s purpose, whether whole text, paragraph, sentence, or even less (p. 129-31). Define the object of inquiry—the construct—with care and determine what characteristics of the research situation will allow the researcher to assess the construct, including establishing categories for the units that are assessed (p. 132-34).

MacNealy describes several types of studies using discourse analysis. In the area of style analysis, she levels criticisms against readability tests such as the Flesch formula and Gunning’s Fog Index, and the computer algorithms that employ them slavishly (p. 137-38), but she identifies some potential for research using automated tools (p. 139). In her discussions of structural, rhetorical, and semantic analysis, she makes no mention of automated or computerized tools (p. 140-42).

My question: Why have automated tools not found their way into this field? I’m thinking of the powerful uses of automated tools in the field of biomedical informatics and (at least in Europe) efforts to apply them to legal texts.

Berkenkotter’s Patient Tales

Berkenkotter, C. (2009). Patient Tales: Case Histories and the Uses of Narrative in Psychiatry. University of South Carolina Press. (Intro and Chapters 3 and 6.)

Introduction: Carol Berkenkotter seeks to “introduce readers to a historical study of the antecedents of the case histories that psychiatrists and clinical psychologists routinely write” (5). She describes case histories as being interesting:

[T]he clinical case history is actually a double narrative. The patient’s “story,” his or her narrative of personal experience, is subsumed into the narrative pattern and thought-style of clinical psychiatry…. From a rhetorical perspective this narrative-within-a-narrative is noteworthy because of the linguistic and semantic devices the therapist uses to recontextualize the patient’s narrative of personal experience into a more encompassing narrative framework that has been highly codified within the psychiatric profession. (2)

She calls psychiatry a “protean” profession because it can “cut across the methodological and epistemological boundaries between the natural and human sciences” (3). She discusses the development of narrative studies (6-9). She describes her methods for this study, ranging “from discourse analysis to textual exegesis of primary texts such as nineteenth-century patient case histories and asylum superintendents’ letters and diaries” (9). She summarizes her focus:

My goal throughout the book has been to construct an account of psychiatry’s emergence and transformation into a knowledge-producing profession within medicine…. Toward that end, my object of study has been the psychiatric case history as an evolving genre that nearly went extinct as a knowledge-bearing text during the period of the rise of biomedicine in psychiatry beginning in the 1970s. Most important to my study have been the users of this genre–the mad doctors, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and finally the psychotherapists who successively became the practitioners of psychological medicine.

In her preview of the last chapter, Berkenkotter notes:

One major feature of the psychoanalytic case history that has survived the rise of biomedicine is the psychotherapist’s use of the client’s own verbal expressions and narrative of personal experience as essential for establishing verisimilitude and directing the subsequent course of therapy…. Thus the client’s initial narrative and the narrative dialogue with the therapist are important tools for transformation–as the client works with the therapist to co-create an alternative narrative that reflects cognitive and affective changes in the client’s self-construal. (14)

Chapter 3: This chapter discusses the use of photography (and lithographic reproductions of photos) in combination with physiognomy during the 19th century as tools for diagnosis of mental illness. Berkenkotter claims that this use of photography relied on “realist assumptions”: “first, that the photograph is the unproblematic mirror of nature, and second, that the human face is the diseased brain’s reflective surface” (55). She discusses in detail a series of examples from 19th century. Moving forward, she notes that in modern sciences visualizations also have “epistemic relevance,” and she argues “that interest in the visual instantiations of mental illness characterizes both nineteenth-century psychiatric photography and the rapidly growing technology of brain imaging and neural mapping in contemporary neurobiology and psychiatry.” (69)

Chapter 6: Berkenkotter recounts the “near demise” of the case history during the period in the 1970s and after when “psychoanalytic though-style swung… toward empiricism, positivism, and biomedicine” (131). She considers the effect of DSM-III and DSM-IV, which quickly became the focus of psychiatric assessment and entrenched the biomedical model of psychiatry (133). Journal articles moved toward reporting the results of studies with large n rather than the n-of-one case studies. A central problem during this transition was that practitioners still needed more richly detailed reports, resulting in “the tension existing between ‘clinical physicians’ need for narrative’s circumstantialities and etiological focus, and biomedicine’s unifying, simplifying, reductionist explanations of disease'” (135, quoting Hunter 1991).

Berkenkotter reports results of a study of articles published in the American Journal of Psychiatry during 1965 to 2001 to recount the change in psychiatry’s thought-style. She notes that despite the transition away from case history reports, “many practitioners maintain an interest in the phenomenological dimensions of mental illness” [as it is experienced by the patient] and recognize “the complexities of treating individuals with multidimensional problems in living.” Thus the “epistemic function of the case narrative persists” among practitioners (144).

My question: Though it is interesting, I’ve wondered why Chapter three fits into the overall argument?

Berkenkotter’s Research in Tech Comm Chapter

Berkenkotter, C. (2002). Analyzing Everyday Texts in Organizational Settings (Chapter 3). In L. J. Gurak & M. M. Lay (Eds.), Research in Technical Communication: (pp. 47-65). Ablex Publishing.

In this book chapter, Carol Berkenkotter seeks to introduce readers to methods for textual analysis, particularly rhetorical analysis, discourse analysis, and genre analysis. Here are a number of useful points she makes:

  • Rhetorical analysis “is interpretive and based on the analyst’s bringing the tools of rhetorical criticism to bear” (49).
  • Discourse pays “close attention to the linguistic/grammatical elements in [a] text, developing coding schemes for analyzing syntactical, grammatical, morphological, and other kinds of linguistic features” (49).
  • Genre theorists use a combination of approaches (49-50).
  • The analysis she proposes is “structured and systematic” by which she means “those that can be communicated or taught to other researchers for the purposes of replication and/or independent confirmation or disconfirmation” (48).
  • Methodological caveat 1: “researchers should avoid using documentary sources or organizational paperwork as surrogates for other kinds of data” (51).
  • Methodological caveat 2: “researchers should not treat organizational records and other forms of documents as being ‘official’ or transparent” (52). (In legal (hearsay) terms, they should not be offered to establish the truth of what they assert.)
  • Epistemological assumption 1 – “documentary reality”: Symbols and discourse are important to perceptions of reality from the social constructionist’s perspective (52).
  • Epistemological assumption 2 – “concept of intertextuality”: [D]ocuments do not stand alone” (52).
  • Epistemological assumption 3 – “genre systems”: “‘[A] society or particular institution or domain within it has a particular configuration of genres in particular relationships to each other, constituting a system'” (53).
  • “The professions are organized by genre systems and their work is carried out through genre systems” (53).
  • The researcher’s development of research question will determine how “narrow or inclusive the researcher’s choice of texts should be” (54). CB offers suggestions.
  • CB does not really explain how to choose the texts, but rather gives an example (55).
Chapter constitutes a useful overview.
My question: CB’s characterization of “structured and systematic” methods as “those that can be communicated or taught to other researchers for the purposes of replication and/or independent confirmation or disconfirmation” (48) sounds uncharacteristically positivistic. Does she take this stance in this chapter assuming that readers may have other epistemological stances?

Berkenkotter and Huckin

Berkenkotter, C., & Huckin, T. N. (1994). Rethinking Genre from a Sociocognitive Perspective (Chapter 1). In Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/culture/power (pp. 1-25). Routledge.

In this chapter, Carol Berkenkotter and Thomas Huckin introduce their contention that “genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use, and that genre knowledge is therefore best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in disciplinary activities” (3). The discuss five principles undergirding their theoretical framework.

Dynamism: “Genres change over time in response to their users’ sociocognitive needs” (4). This arises from their use in recurrent situations. Genres “must try to deal with the fact that recurring situations resemble each other only in certain ways and only to a certain degree” and are “therefore, always sties of contention between stability and change” (6).

Situatedness: Genres are “a form of ‘situated cognition” knowledge of which is “transmitted through enculturation” (7). They discuss Bakhtin’s “primary genres” and “secondary genres.” They argue this knowledge arises in a “cognitive apprenticeship” which is “generally the enculturation into the practices of disciplinary communities… ‘picked up’ in the local milieu of the culture rather than being explicitly taught” (11).

Form and content: “Genre knowledge embraces both form and content, including a sense of what content is appropriate to a particular purpose in a particular situation at a particular point in time” (13). The content factors include philosophical considerations, background knowledge, novelty, and kairos (14-16).

Duality of structure: By using genres, authors “constitute social structures (in professional, institutional, and organizational contexts) and simultaneously reproduce these structures” (17). “Reproduction… does not mean simple replication; Giddens sees reproduction as allowing for changes and evolution within it” (18).

Community ownership: “Genre conventions signal a discourse community’s norms, epistemology, ideology, and social ontology” and thus “studying the genres of professional and disciplinary communication provides important information about the textual dynamics of discourse communities” (21).

My question: I’m interested in whether this type of thinking is still au courant in TC and whether it has been applied to “mundane” legal genres (like client predictive memos, etc.).

Schryer et al.

Schryer, C., Afros, E., Mian, M., Spafford, M., & Lindgard, L. (2009). The Trial of the Expert Witness: Negotiating Credibility in Child Abuse Correspondence. Written Communication, 26(3), 215-46. doi:10.1177/0741088308330767

Catherine Schryer and her colleagues examined a corpus of letters from health care providers to Canadian courts assessing the physical status of children who were considered at risk for child abuse. They also interviews letter writers and some of those who would read and use the letters. The difficulty for letter writers was the complex situation in which they found themselves and three “social issues that shape their texts and discoursive practices: (1) insecurity regarding the field of child abuse, (2) uncertainty with respect to evidence in such cases, and (3) the conflicted role of the expert witness” (217). They wanted to discover whether the letters were “fashioned to satisfy the informational requirements of the different readers with their competing agendas” – that is, whether they were functioning as “boundary objects” (223). The concluded that the answer is “yes.”

They provide a background of social context, including legal issues regarding expert witnesses (217-220); they situate this paper in the context of a larger study where health-care providers negotiate with other disciplines (221). I found their definition of “genre” interesting. Genres are “‘stabilized-for-now or stabilized-enough’… constellations of regulated and regularized strategies that social agents use to negotiate their way through time and space” (220).

They argue that the letters in this study constitute “boundary objects” (221). Some notes:

  • They discuss Bourdieu’s conception of the power of “naming” or categorization (221-222). Bourdieu claims that “the ability to name or to shape social reality can only occur under specific circumstances: (1) when the speaker’s or writer’s authority is socially recognized and thus this authority is ‘legitimately licensed’; (2) when this authority is exercised in a ‘legitimate situation’; and (3) when this authority is enunciated using ‘legitimate forms'” (222).
  • Boundary objects (quoting Bowker and Star) are “those objects that inhabit several communities of practice and satisfy teh informational requirements of each of them” (222).
  • They performed a linguistic analysis.
  • They used NVivo qualitative data analysis software (227).
  • They used WordSmith to generate lexical concordances (227).
The authors discussed their findings at great length. They summarized what they believed are the implications of their study for “the intertwined levels of language theory, professional communication practices, and professional education” (241):
  • These letters are ‘reifications’ (241)
  • “over time, a generic boundary object has evolved that allows the participants in child abuse prevention networks to function together” (241)
  • “genres such as these letters that function as boundary objects might only be able to do so if they are in a constant state of negotiation between their readers and their writers” (242)

My question: On the one hand, I was pleased the researchers did not attempt to over-generalize their results. On the other, I was disappointed when they failed to deliver on their promise to outline “implications” for “language theory, professional communication practices, and professional education”.  What gives?

1 thought on “Readings for Nov 8 in 8011”

  1. Dr. Berkenkotter brought some records from English insane asylums with her for us to look at. Very interesting (and beautiful handwriting). She talked about the selection of records from the huge number of pages available. She said she’d make a grant proposal from a current project available to us.

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