Dialogue, science and academic writing

Dialogue, science and academic writing. By Zohar Livnat. (Dialogue studies 13.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. vi, 216. ISBN 9789027210302. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kanavillil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas

As announced in its very title, this book’s central thrust is to argue that scientific text is fundamentally and inescapably dialogic, although many academics tend to think they are engaged in a ‘one-man show’ or that what they produce is ‘a classic example of a monologic text’ (1). The idea itself is perhaps not an earth-shaking one, but the systematic manner in which Zohar Livnat conducts his discussion and endeavors to persuade the reader is by all means praiseworthy.

The book consists of six chapters. Leaving aside the introductory and the conclusive chapters, Chs. 2 through 5 carry the bulk of the argumentation in the book. Ch. 2, ‘Approaches to dialogicity’, is mostly exploratory and lays down the basic theoretical framework within which the author wants to conduct his discussion in the ensuing chapters. Themes such as dialogism, intertextuality, and voices in the text are examined in this chapter.

Ch. 3 looks at academic discourse as an exercise in persuasion. The persuasive goals are manifest in the very way research papers and articles are structured. L also argues that it is through the deft use of language that the researcher ‘present[s] his findings as “facts”’. (34). This in turn leads the author to posit ‘degrees of factivity’.

Ch. 4, ‘The dialogic dimension of academic discourse’, takes a closer look at dialogicity at work in academic discourse. This is the longest chapter in the book, running a total of seventy-five pages. L focuses on the use of citations in academic writing and argues that there is a veritable ‘rhetoric of citations’ in presenting an academic paper that ideally ‘looks both backwards and forward’ (64). Also examined in this chapter is concession, which L considers to be ‘a syntactic and discursive structure, as well as a rhetorical strategy’ (66).

Ch. 5, ‘Scientific dialogicity in action’, is the second longest chapter, comprising seventy pages. L zeroes in on controversies that occasionally take place in academia and notes that ‘[t]he notion of dialogicity may take on a more transparent meaning when an actual scientific dispute is being explored’ (123).

This book is an important contribution to the endeavor of gaining a clearer understanding of academic writing. It will greatly benefit those outside the academic community who are generally awestruck by the great advances in science but know very little about the field’s actual workings. However, the book will also be immensely useful to newcomers, helping them in ways not available to them in the normal course of things.

The book is rounded off with a fairly extensive bibliography. In addition, an appendix contains a corpus of journal articles (all published in Hebrew) referred to in the chapters. The book also includes an author index and a subject index.