Thursday, July 06, 2006

Scholarly Publishing by Non-western Scholars

This review tells of a fascinating book on some of the problems encountered by those not of the West attempting to publish in the West.

The deeper obstacles, however, were the editors' expectations that he would write in a certain discourse, make a certain kind of argument, and structure his essay in a particular style, one that was not "Sri Lankan" but EuroAmerican. To illustrate his point, Canagarajah reproduces his first U.S. readers' reviews and deconstructs their perspectives on his work. He does not castigate them; he just shows how radically the reviewers' opinions differed from those of his own intellectual tradition. He revised the article according to their suggestions, drastically reducing the personal commentary and political statements. The published article then circulated among his colleagues at his Sri Lankan university, who thought the article was anemic, boring, and arrogant, pointing to the very passages he had added or changed for the EuroAmerican reviewers. Canagarajah's subsequent analysis of center and periphery perspectives on good writing is unique, rich with observations about writing style and structure. It illuminates how periphery scholars might think about writing for center journals while retaining their own voices.

Canagarajah, who now teaches at Baruch College in New York, is particularly eloquent about the unfair mining of periphery scholars' thoughts. He starts the book with a front-page New York Times story from April, 1997 that declares five EuroAmerican professors had "discovered" a species of dinosaur in China. The story does mention the Chinese farmer who found the bones; he was educated enough to know what they were and smart enough to sell them to the local university. But his name and the date he found them goes unmentioned. The article also doesn't mention the names of the Chinese professors who had been studying the bones before the U.S. scholars came along! Rather, the New York Times article suggests that the westerners deserved the credit for a discovery they heard about from the Chinese at a conference.

Several of us have run into these problems in our own publication attempts -- there's nothing more frustrating than a reviewer whose own grip on syntax is iffy telling me that my English needs to be reviewed by a native speaker for grammar and usage.....


Jonathan Benda said...

I think Canagarajah's book is a must-read for center scholars who try to use "cultural differences" to explain away differences in writing between the center and periphery. It ain't all culture (unless "culture" includes trying to get an article typed when you're in the middle of a civil war, can't get paper, and are primarily concerned with keeping your family fed, as he describes at one point).

I've heard some people say "Well, Canagarajah should indicate in his title that he's focusing on Sri Lanka". Have those same people insisted that USAmericans writing about academic publishing in the U.S. should include "U.S." in their book's title? I doubt it...

Clyde said...

Canagarajah is currently TESOL Q editor and responsible for finally pushing through our big paper there. Previously, we had an editor dragging on the process for two years! Everything had to be written in such American context that the research simply didn't make sense any longer--until Canagarajah came in and told us to put it all back together!

Jonathan, I've had almost every paper I've sent out get the demand that TAIWAN be specified in the title, and when I respond that USA is not included in other papers published I usually do NOT get a good response!

Like Michael's experience, I nearly always get my papers returned with at reviewers asking the paper be re-edited by a native speaker (and the reviewer's writing always has some issues, BTW).