5 July 2018
I woke up to a cloudy day 2 of the conference here in Aalborg, which meant I would experience less of the FOMOS effect, fear of missing out of sunshine. Although Arran Stibbe, who presents later today would argue that we should see all types of weather positively.
This day is a full one, with over 13 different talks (and many more to choose from!), so I will be giving short, bite-sized (thank you, David Machin!) sections, summarising the main points (I hope!) of what are fascinating research projects.
After a delicious raw breakfast of fruit and veggies at the Scandic Hotel where I am staying, I rushed, excited, to hear David Machin giving a keynote speech on Doing Empirical Research with Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis.
Machin emphasizes that documents that used to be really boring, like the ones I analyse in my own research – Integrated Reports, Annual Reports, now have colour, they are boiled down to core information, all in the attempt to bind the readers, interest them and grab their attention. Texts now come in single bite-sized chunks that seem incoherent but are actually precise with deliberate component, technologized ways of communication. Machin’s framework draws on van Leeuwen’s multimodality in new writing and how multimodality becomes recontextualised, and Fairclough’s technologization.
Numerical and bullet points that feature prominently in these types of texts that Machin analyses, are technical and suggests boiling down to core points.
In my Bayer’s Integrated reports there are images of senior management, their picture with a short text beneath, describing their roles. Machin points out the commonality of seeing this type of information in the context of senior management in an educational institution. Although they are organised horizontally to appear as though the individuals are equal, they are not, but this is evident via the order and the postures in the photos.
Bullet lists and flow charts, containing socially agreed upon and transparent paradigms, can have items sitting one after another but it doesn’t say how things connect (or contradict!) each other. Describing educational pamphlets, Machin argues that multimodality is an extremely complex syntax, with meaning often getting lost. This integration of text, images and graphic elements has led to a shift in how basic things like causalities and categorizations are communicated. An important observation for integrated reports is that, overall, cohesion no longer comes from linguistic cohesion such as conjunction but from overall relationship between colour, space, images etc.
After David Machin’s invigorating and energetic (and funny! he has such a wonderful way of presenting) talk, the break is buzzing with discussion on charts and images.
This morning’s strand I chose is Institutional and Corporate discourse, chaired by Chris Hart. The first talk is by Catharina Nystrom Hoog discussing: The public authority with human values: An analysis of core value words. Discussing core values in the context of the Coast Guard core value document. In fact, it is a legal requirement to have a platform of Value (PV) in Sweden. Prototypical features of the document are frequent pictures where a a recurring type of picture portrays people who are smiling.
Verbs, Catharina finds, are usually in the present tense with the use of noun ‘we’. This presentation is part of a wider project that seeks to answer why and how the genre of values emerged, asking, What does the text represent about the Swedish society today.
Using CGA (Critical Genre Analysis), the authors look at core value words (see the picture above). The most desired value in Sweden according to the word cloud is open. However, one participant in the interviews conducted, questioned the legitimacy of the platform of values when he said that the words are irrelevant because all the words have positive meaning. However, the fact that there is a pattern and more weight is given to some, means that the meaning does matter. Why are semantically vague words like open are most preferred? One speculative reason is that by using a more ‘open’ word, there is room for discussion, they invite discussion.
Finally, Catharina concludes that metaphorical coherence is evident here – where the public authority is seen as a human being, or a body.
The next 20 minutes are fascinating, where Lise-Lotte Holmgreen & Jeanne Strunck talk about their research on Story work in the organisation: Constructing and contesting narrative.
The presentation concerns the construction of organisational identity by critically assessing the contribution of narratives to this construction. Looking at the linguistic choices that naturalise particular narratives, uncovering the interaction of narratives and counter-narratives in forming a common organisational identity.
The case study is a Danish bank and building society, focusing on middle manager’s narratives of recruitment. The recruitment process is a refelction of organisational identity because you can see the profiling of candidates.
Organisational identity, as fragmented and structured, rests on the relationship of individual, collective and organisational identity formation. Dominance is very connected to legitimacy, what has to do with trustworthiness, desirability and appropriateness, presenting a coherence image to stakeholders.
The last session this morning is given by Chris Hart on a joint project with Matteo Fuoli titled: Trust-building Strategies in Corporate Discourse: An Experimental Study.
Large multinational corporations are routinely found to engage is harmful practice and must therefore do discursive work to legitimate their position in society. Through CSR and Integrated Reports, the companies perform a trust-building function. The main aspect of trust are competence, benevolence and integrity.
The corpus study comparing the CSR to Annual reports by Matteo focused on grammatical rather lexical choices. In CSR attitudinal construction and in particular desire/intention/decision verb+clause construction serving to establish integrity. It was found that CSR reports use epistemic stance using verbs such as know, understand, aim, want, to establish benevolence.
Chris Hart and Matteo Fuoli’s recent study (2018) creates experiments to tests the findings in Matteo’s paper described above. The experiments use a test and control group. All the groups read a fictitious news article accusing pharma corporation of bribing doctors, but the test group also reads an About Us page, containing the trust building strategies. All the participants then fill out a questionnaire to see how the trust page influenced their perceived trust.
The results demonstrate that trust building functions and the effects of the stance taking acts identified, the companies, by presenting themselves as sympathetic to public concerns and committed to business ethics, are able to enhance public perceptions of their trustworthiness.
This was such a great morning, followed by a wonderfully sustainable lunch, with excellent company, vegan food, and almost no single-use plastics!
The afternoon gave me the excellent opportunity to listen to Oren Livio, giving a talk on When Words and Images Collide: Verbal and Visual Patterns of Israeli News Coverage of the Elor Azaria Scandal.
Convicted of manslaughter and 18 month imprisonment, Elor Azaria became a renowned figure in Israel, and the case of him shooting an immobile Palestinian was closely followed with public opinion being generally supportive of his release.
Livio examines media discourses, focusing on the complex interaction between verbal and textual patterns. The sample of texts in 12 media outlets from both print and online modes, from the date of the killing to the date of the sentencing.
Livio reports interesting verbal coverage patterns. Textual coverage is extremely ambivalent, characterized by a mix of binary constructions: 1. Azaria as hero vs. victim; 2. Azaria as ordinary vs. as extraordinary; 3. Azaria as politicised vs. depoliticised.
Azaria was constructed as a hero based on the idea that terrorists should not leave the scene of the crime alive, a popular view reflected in a public survey. All media outlets referred to the man that was killed as terrorist.
The second ambivalent element is a reference to Azaria as ordinary and at the same time, extraordinary. Many media outlets focus on Azaria’s performance at school, creating a discourse of a person we can identify with. And at the same time he was portrayed as an exemplary combat soldier. What is common to all of this, is that these discourses de-politicise the event. However, Azaria’s case is, of course, very political as it concerns the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, further feeding into the entrenched and furrowed divide.
The visual coverage patterns concerning the Azaria case reveal many family photos, covering the trial, showing Azaria supported by family. Sometimes smiling shyly, loved, always in uniform. The second type of photos portray public support of Azaria, showing highly potent cultural symbols. This also include gimmicky stories, with a new born baby named Elor in honour of Azaria. There is very little visual imagery that can compete with these visuals as there are no public demonstrations against the support of this case.
The last strand of the day I attend and present in is environmental discourses. I have the excellent opportunity to listen to Arran Stibbe in his talk Centrifugal force: Positive Discourse Analysis and the search for new stories to live by.
Positive discourse analysis is a strand of CDA that is contested by Wodak, and remains contested in the CDA community. Stibbe in his talk highlights that positivity is important, that we need to find other discourses that take us away from the status quo.
PDA and ecolinguistics
What does ecolinguistics do? It analyses the discourses that shape our culture, revealing the stories we live by. It’s about changing our whole society. Stories could be positive or negative. One thing that ecolinguistic does is question stories from en ecological perspective and promotes forms of language. For example Andrew Goatly, using Systemic Functional Linguistics, in his analysis of The Times and Wordworth’s poems highlights the importance of showing the role of transitivity analysis in according particular agency to particular actors.
What is positive and what is negative?
To judge stories we employ and develop an ecosophy. Stibbe’s ecosophy is Living! Where all species, high wellbeing, and future are emphasised. To have a future we have to reduce consumption in a democratic way.
Critical discourse analysis is used in ecolinguistics as a major hegemonic discourses that encode the stories we live by (Bahktin). If the forces are good, we can leave them to continue being dominant. As Stibbe says, we cannot only focus on negative discourses but we have to look at positive ways discourses do promote more ecological discourses.
The last slot, is my own presentation titled: Erasure and Abstraction of hedgehog extinction: Applying an Ecolinguistic Analysis to Bayer’s Integrated Reports, which I will expand on in a separate post, but in the meantime, you can read a short overview of my project here.
The day closed with a wonderful 3-course dinner (with excellent vegan options!) at Fusion restaurant and I was lucky to be dining in excellent company, with Caroline Tagg who will be giving a plenary tomorrow, Arran Stibbe, Amanda Potts (Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me on that cold, wintry day at Goldsmiths and giving me advice on PhD applications!), Sam Browse (See ya at SCADS!) and other such fine and inspiring individuals.