Chapter 38: The Literary and Rhetorical Turn
Paul Atkinson How we write makes a difference. We produce texts that reconstruct particular social worlds, institutions and groups. We create accounts of local cultures, mundane practices and specialized actions. Written language is not a neutral medium through which we can convey equally neutral ‘findings’ about the social world. Language, spoken and written, is a ‘thick’ medium. It has its own conventions that impinge directly on what we can and what we cannot convey by way of written texts. This, of course, is not confined to social or educational research. It applies to any and every form of writing. Our academic disciplinary cultures are characterized by the textual conventions that they display, as well as by many other methodological commitments. For instance, the ‘standard’ scientific journal paper reflects just one restricted set of textual conventions. It is not, as it were, just a ‘natural’ way of representing scientific work. Although it does not strike us as being an especially ‘literary’ mode of representation, even the journal paper is a distinctive kind of textual genre. When it comes to more obviously discursive forms of writing – such as the production of an ethnography – then it is more obvious that we ought to pay attention to issues of authorship. In this context it is worth noting the convergence of method and textual product in the term ‘ethnography’ itself. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a flurry of interest in the rhetoric of social science texts – anthropological, sociological and other. This in turn reflected a...
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