Power, Persuasion and Manipulation in Specialised Genres

Providing Keys to the Rhetoric of Professional Communities

by María Ángeles Orts Llopis (Volume editor) Ruth Breeze (Volume editor) Maurizio Gotti (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 386 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 227

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgement
  • Contents
  • Introduction (María Ángeles Orts / Ruth Breeze)
  • Power through Manipulation
  • Interdiscursive Manipulation in Media Reporting: The Case of the Panama Papers in India (Vijay K. Bhatia / Aditi Bhatia)
  • Empowering the Discourse of Globalization in International Organizations: The International Maritime Organization as a Case in Point (Ana Bocanegra-Valle)
  • Maintaining a Dominant Voice: A Syntactic Analysis of the Way Power is Wielded in Medical Editorials (Shirley Carter-Thomas / Elizabeth Rowley-Jolivet)
  • Persuasive Strategies on Surrogacy Websites: A Discourse-Analytical and Rhetorical Study (Giuliana Elena Garzone)
  • ‘Silence will Break my Bones’: The Presentation and Representation of Victims and Perpetrators at the Service of Just-world Views in Judicial Discourse (Esther Monzó-Nebot)
  • A Keyword Analysis of the 2015 UK Higher Education Green Paper and the Twitter Debate (Pascual Pérez-Paredes)
  • Power through Persuasion
  • Persuading against Gender Violence: An Interdiscursive Genre Analysis (Antoinette Mary Fage-Butler)
  • Persuasion in Promotional Banking Products: A Comparative Corpus-based Study (Daniel Gallego-Hernández)
  • Rhetorical Strategies of Persuasion in the Reasoning of International Investment Arbitral Awards (Diana Giner)
  • Power and Persuasion in Arbitration: East vs West (Maurizio Gotti)
  • Showing Power and Persuasion in Business Communication: The Corporate News Section in Websites and Social Media (Juan C. Palmer-Silveira)
  • Transmitting Authority in Risk Communication: An Exploration of U.S. Air-Accident Dockets Online (Carmen Sancho Guinda)
  • The Role of Hedging in Balancing Power and Persuasion in the Judicial Context: The Case of Majority and Dissenting Opinions (Holly Vass)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

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1.   The scope of our study

The present volume of Linguistic Insights wishes to focus upon the study of linguistic persuasion and power in the written texts of professional communication, to go further into the understanding of how they are “constructed, interpreted, used and exploited in the achievement of specific goals” (Sancho Guinda et al. 2014: 18). Such texts are here contemplated from the stance of genre theory, which starts from the premise that specialised communities have a high level of rhetorical sophistication, the keys to which are offered solely to their members. We, therefore, aim to bring forth studies on the language of professions – law and arbitration, engineering, economics, advertising, business, poli­tics, medicine, social work, education and the media − focusing upon the analysis and scrutiny of the communicative devices that serve the need of such professions to exert power and manipulation, and to use persuasion. However, the perspective adopted in our work does not envisage power simply as a distant, alienated and alienating supremacy from above, in the exercise of what Marx called the ‘false consciousness’ (McLellan 1995). As an everyday, socialized and embodied phenomenon (Foucault 1972), power is, indeed, not restricted to merely constitute the possession of authority, status and influence, “the enabling mechanisms for the domination, coercion and control of subordinate groups” (Simpson/Mayr 2010: 3). Specifically, much along the lines of the seminal work by Berger/Luckmann (1967) and along the lines of Foucault’s (1991) work, we depart here from the general premise that reality is socially constructed, and, hence, that any theory of knowledge must account for the relationship arising between human thought and social context; between the institutions made by humans ← 9 | 10 → that, paradoxically, create their subjugation. In Foucault’s vision, power is creative, since it lies at the origin of the social order. In his words:

We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production. (1991: 194)

From this stance, knowledge in everyday life may be regarded as socially distributed, possessed differently by different individuals and types of individuals (Berger/Luckmann 1967: 4–22), where professions are contemplated, firstly, as “finite provinces of meaning, marked by circumscribed meanings and modes of experience”, the result of “human beings being continuously interacting and communicating with others” (Berger/Luckmann 1967: 29). Secondly, we understand professions as part of the habitus: the “mental or cognitive structures through which people deal with the social world” (Bourdieu 1989: 18). In this sense, what Swales (1981, 1985, 1990) and Bhatia (1993, 2002) called ‘specialised discursive communities’, are instances of the way in which humankind organizes and institutionalizes the world; they constitute pre-defined patterns of conduct which are perceived as possessing a reality of their own; a reality that confronts the individual as an external and intrinsically coercive fact.

Agar (1985: 164, in Simpson/Mayr 2010: 15) defines an institution as “socially legitimated expertise, together with those persons authorised to exercise it”. Hence, a dialectical relationship is established between individuals in a society and the human-produced reality of institutional frameworks ‒ such as health, the media, the law, education, corporations ‒, together with the controlling mechanisms attached to them. Analysing power within professions is, thus, regarding such professions as specialized communities aiming to dominate, police and protect their particular area of expertise. As organizations or institutions with commanding influence over their entire field, they are inextricably linked to power, as much as they are to language. Indeed, the main controlling mechanism, the “instrument of the collective stock of knowledge” (Berger/Luckmann 1967: 68) for every institution is language. Language is used to create and mould institutions, and, in turn, institutions ← 10 | 11 → use it to create, shape and impose their own discourses (Simpson/Mayr 2010), being a paramount aspect of interaction (Fairclough/Wodak 1997) and constituting the sheer fibre that institutions and organizations are made of.

2.   The power of professions through their genres

In tune with our assertions above, specialized communities have a powerful tool to generate their own construction in their genres. Genres are the internal communicative mechanisms operating within a group of members of a specific professional community, as well as between these members and society as a whole. Genre theory implicitly supports Austin’s (1962) and Searle’s (1976) view that social and legal reality is not only represented in language, but also constituted through language (Salmi-Tolonen 2011a). Bhatia’s works have been specially instrumental in the development of genre theory, since they tackle the analysis of professional practices and disciplinary cultures through the integration of textual, strategic or socio-pragmatic aspects, as well as other critical, text-external aspects of genre construction, interpretation, use, and exploitation in various professional contexts (Bhatia 2012).

This constructivist way to contemplate genres conceives language as discourse, as meaningful social action (Gunnarsson et al. 1997), as a key instrument to define individuals and their organizations, and the roles the former play in the latter. The transmission of the meanings, ideological frameworks and constructs of an institution is based upon the deployment of language as the main means of communication “inherently connected with human cognitive processes” (Salmi-Tolonen 2011b: 1). Professional genres are to be seen, in this light, as “reflections of the political ideologies and power structures within the studied society, as well as of the actual knowledge level of the field and of the social patterns of the professional group” (Gunnarsson et al. 1997: 3), where power within organizations and institutions is envisaged as the ability to make things happen (Kanter 1977). With this vocation, there are linguists that investigate how institutions interplay through language, ← 11 | 12 → not only with their users, but also with other institutions and the world at large, so as to shape the overall public perception that they obtain. Breeze (2013), for example, tackles the analysis of the genres and texts of corporations as sets of social practices, which are not limited to those very genres and texts, but which include new complex realizations that are also conceived as part of the corporate discourse system in all its complexity and power of reverberation and regeneration. In the last few years this constructivist, positive study of power in language has gained momentum in the area of specialized discourse studies, with the rising interest in the role played by personal interactions in the elaboration and application of specialized texts, and in the analysis of bureaucratization in the contexts of law, banking, education and international organizations (Breeze et al. 2014; Sarangi/ Slembrouck 2014). These studies transcend the traditional, neutral envisaging of business genres and texts as the products of a discursive community to be mastered by newcomers, as has been the practice of second-language scientists and practitioners in recent years.

However, abandoning the constructivist thesis discussed above and laying the accent upon a critical notion of discourse – and upon the role that ideology plays in it – is the trend that conceives professional discourse as verbal manipulation, as an intentional exercise of elitist and/or exclusionary practices. From this critical stance, the acquisition or exhibition of supremacy by specialized communities is achieved through the technicality, precision and complexity of its written texts (Gibbons 2004). In other words, institutions seek to construct and promote their image through the deployment of their genres, discursive practices and communicative events, both to create a planned self-representation suiting their own interests and to exercise persuasion (Beder 2012). How writers and speakers achieve, maintain and reproduce social power and manipulation through discourse has been studied by Critical Linguistics (CL) (Fowler et al. 1979; Kress/Hodge 1979), and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Fairclough 1989/2014; van Dijk 2008), the former being specifically designed to analyse the discursive strategies deployed to legitimately control or ‘naturalize’ the social order, while the latter studies the opaque processes of domination through language, explaining how it constitutes a powerful social tool ← 12 | 13 → at the service of the powerful. In the thesis supported by CL and CDA, the relationship between discourse and power “produces, maintains and reproduces underlying asymmetrical relations of power” (Fox/Fox 2004: 17) to achieve dominance and subordinate individuals (Mumby/ Clair 1997; van Dijk 1993). Such relationship is wielded ideologically by the expert community as a dominant bloc which treats social hierarchies as natural and reifies human phenomena – professional discourses, professional genres and their constructs – as non-human, non-humanizable inert facticities (Berger/Luckmann 1967), an extreme step in the process of objectivation, whereby the constructs deployed by the issuers of the specialized discourse become incomprehensible and detached from laypeople (Orts 2014, 2015, 2016). This approach is also visited in criti­cal analyses made of professional communities such as those of the law (Goodrich 1987; Cutler 2003; Barnett/Duvall 2004), of the media (Bhatia/Bhatia this volume), of international organizations such as the IMO (Bocanegra-Valle this volume) or the corporate world (Fox/Fox 2004; Palmer-Silveira this volume).

3.   Legitimation: power through consent and persuasion

No matter how powerful specialized communities are considered to be, according to Weber (1958), power – mainly in democratic societies − cannot be administered without consent. In other words, the institutional world requires legitimation, ways in which it can be explained and justified. Every institution has a body of transmitted recipe know­ledge which supplies the institutionally appropriate rules of conduct. However, the totality of the institutional order should make sense to the participants in the different institutional processes, and they should be subjectively meaningful. Hence, for institutions to last and remain, there must be explanations and justifications of the salient elements of the institutional tradition. Legitimation is this process of ‘explaining’ and ‘justifying’ (Berger/Luckmann 1967: 92–95). In other words, if the users of institutions and organizations are to comply with their dominance and their set of rules, they must be persuaded to believe in their ← 13 | 14 → legitimacy (Simpson/Mayr 2010: 7). In the case of the law, for instance, and according to Kairys (1999), the great source of its power is that it enforces, reflects, constitutes, and legitimizes dominant social and power relations without the need for or the appearance of control from outside. In law, as in other discourses like medicine (Carter-Thomas/Rowley-Jolivet this volume), the balance is struck between the prescriptive character of its texts (the power that they aim to impose) and their need to be expressed so that a kind of consensus is to be attained precisely for them to stay in that powerful position.

There are linguistic and discourse analytical approaches to organizations and institutions that regard linguistic exchanges as constitutive of those very organizations and institutions; social structures are dialogical social realities where meanings have to be negotiated between issuers and receivers (Fairclough/Wodack 1997; Mumby/Clair 1997). Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony’ states that social practices and formations need to become ‘natural or commonsense’ for subordinate groups to accept their values (Gramsci 1971, in Simpson/Mayr 2010: 9). Along the same lines, for van Dijk (2000: 8), ideologies are “principles that form the basis” of a group’s beliefs and as such “allow people as group members to organize the multitude of social beliefs about what is the case, good or bad, right or wrong, for them, and to act accordingly”. In other words, specialized communities need to work at prevailing through consensus, which is achieved through the propagation by means of their genres of the principles, routines and discourses of the ruling group, the ‘experts’ within the community. It is precisely because the discourse of institutions needs to be seen as legitimate to its subjects in order to be accepted, that this process of legitimation is mainly expressed, not through imposition but through the deployment of strategies of verbal persuasion on the part of the issuers of their genres and discourses. Consequently, in this volume we also focus on how specialized communities must use persuasion for their genres to become legitimized. But legitimation needs credibility, and this, in turn, may be gained through an image of a consistent discursive community, one with a set of communicative purpose(s) which are “mutually shared by the participants” (Bhatia 1997: 630).

The concept of ‘persuasive writing’ is a common factor in studies dealing with interpersonal traits in texts. To study proximity or ← 14 | 15 → distance between interactants and the role of persuasion in such proximity, researchers resort to the concept of metadiscourse as the set of strategies that reveal the existence of a dialogical framework between the writers and the readers of texts (Vande Kopple 1985; Crismore et al. 1993; Dahl 2004; Hyland 2005; Dafouz 2008; Gallego-Hernández this volume). Metadiscourse is “the means by which propositional content is made coherent, intelligible and persuasive” to receivers of texts (Hyland 2005: 39). As a result, the concept has been taken up and used by researchers to trace patterns of interaction, and to discuss different aspects of language in use (Amiryousefi/Eslami Rashek 2010). A study on the persuasive character of professional genres would draw differences between the discourse of litigation and those of arbitration and conciliation/mediation in the international context. If litigation has a strong prescriptive and authoritative hue, arbitration and conciliation/mediation are not ‘imposed’ on the international community, but have, in turn, different degrees of cooperativeness (Gotti 2014 and this volume). Still, courts of arbitration are bound to compete with the services offered by the rest of the arbitration institutions in the world, being designed to have international scope and provide a neutral and sound basis for the international resolution of disputes and needing to be persuasive enough to gain future clients (Giner this volume). This would, then, be a case of genres positioned closer to non-expert interlocutors, “acknowledging alternative viewpoints and bridging to less informed backgrounds” (Sancho Guinda et al. 2014: 30).

4.   The contents of this volume. Power, manipulation, persuasion

This volume brings together research on the workings of power in the discourses of different professions, showing how persuasive and mani­pulative techniques are used in professional genres to align readers with specific ways of understanding the world. In different ways, such texts are often moulded to promote the interests of the professional group, ← 15 | 16 → the individual practitioner, or some other entity. Of course, this is not necessarily to say that individual writers have devised Machiavellian strategies to limit readers’ options for interpreting the text. Rather, the techniques that are used have been conventionalized within specific genres that form part of the repertoire of the profession in question. This means that proficiency in these genres is needed in order to understand their message properly – and also to identify instances in which skilled users of a particular genre might be exploiting its potential in a way that is deliberately manipulative (Bhatia 2004). With a view to elucidating these practices in a critical spirit, these chapters will explore the way that persuasive or manipulative messages are habitually conveyed through specific professional genres, some of which are socially recognized to be substantially persuasive in nature (such as advertising or corporate web pages), while others (such as accident reports or arbitral awards) are not usually classified in this way.

Although it is important to acknowledge that persuasion and manipulation are overlapping categories, it is also probably true to say that one or other of these intentions prevails in any given instantiation. We have therefore grouped the chapters in this volume into two sections. Part One brings together six chapters in which manipulation seems to predominate, either because of the deliberate distortion or withholding of information, or because of the appropriation of discourses from other spheres. Part Two contains seven chapters in which more open-ended forms of persuasion are discussed, centring on genres which are intended for promotional or educational purposes, or which form part of consensual methods of dispute resolution.

4.1.   Power through manipulation

The section on manipulative discourses is appropriately opened by VIJAY and ADITI BHATIA, who build on their previous work in the area of Critical Genre Analysis (2016) and discursive illusions (2015) to address the problematic area of media reporting in the context of recent financial scandals. They examine the specific case of revelations concerning the Panama Papers in India, looking in depth at newspaper reports about celebrities said to have been involved in the scandal. ← 16 | 17 → They find that multimodal evidence and interdiscursive appropriation – that is, drawing on text-external generic resources – are used to lend an air of authenticity to accusations that are actually not founded on fact. Journalists routinely employ strategies such as using unwarranted negatively-charged adjectives or alluding to the existence of ‘secrets’ and ‘leaks’, in order to build speculations designed to arouse readers’ curiosity and excite suspicion. Fortunately, however, the authors conclude that the effects of such media manipulation are likely to be short-lived.

Secondly, moving to a very different area of public life, ANA BOCANEGRA-VALLE considers the annual speeches given by the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization, and identifies four main themes that recur in their argumentation: globalization, leadership, hegemony and legitimation. She explains that the discourse of globalization emerges as a generative theme which empowers the institution’s interests and legitimizes its leadership to multiple audiences. At the same time, these speeches deal with issues of accountability, cooperation and solidarity intended to enhance the institution’s public image as a responsible player on the world stage.

Next, in a chapter which explores the issue of leadership and authority in academic medicine, SHIRLEY CARTER-THOMAS and ELIZABETH ROWLEY-JOLIVET show how power is deployed in the editorials of medical journals, linking this to the need for dominant groups in democratic societies to maintain their power through discursive means, engineering consent by careful deployment of language. Since editorials evidently constitute a genre with a considerable power asymmetry between writers and readers, it is interesting that they display many interpersonal features designed precisely to persuade the readership. By careful use of elements such as modals, questions, pronouns or extraposition to modulate epistemic claims and generate an air of consensus, the editorial writer can direct readers and manoeuvre them towards particular reading positions. The choice of particular syntactic forms thus enables the writers to achieve a dominant editorial voice, simultaneously imposing their point of view and boosting their own professional authority.

In the next chapter, GIULIANA GARZONE examines an area of discourse from a controversial sector of the medical world in which producers have to deploy a range of subtle techniques in order to establish ← 17 | 18 → credibility with their audience. She looks at the webpages of surrogacy organizations, exploring how they attempt to construct an image of high professional expertise. Notably, these websites employ strategies designed to construct the organizations’ ethos, framed as competence and benevolence, which are accompanied by visual images that evoke pathos, such as images of smiling babies and happy couples. Logos, that is, the appeal to reason, is kept in the background. These choices are combined in a pattern which foregrounds sentiment over rationality, in such a way as to lend some respectability to what is intrinsically a dubious area of activity.

Following on from this, ESTHER MONZÓ-NEBOT analyses face-work strategies in a controversial judgment on a sexual assault case, in which the judge rationalizes a lenient sentence for an offender by downplaying the attack and silencing the victim’s voice. Monzó concludes that the use of in- and out-grouping strategies enables the judge to rationalize an unjust decision, thereby manipulating the available system in order to perpetrate an injustice against a less privileged group.

In the last chapter in Part One, PASCUAL PÉREZ-PAREDES analyses aspects of discursive manipulation in the green paper produced by the UK government on higher education, showing how it is structured around three distinct features of language that materialize its endorsement of a predominantly economic vision of universities. He is able to provide linguistic evidence which links his analysis to other writers’ claims that higher education in the UK is being constructed as a competitive market. By presenting controversial interpretations as consensual, such documents contribute to the manipulation of public opinion and conspire in the silencing of stakeholders’ voices.

4.2.   Power through persuasion

Part Two covers a variety of genres in which persuasion plays an important role, perhaps because of the more even power balance between participants. ANTOINETTE MARY FAGE-BUTLER investigates material produced by the Scottish NGO Zero Tolerance designed to prevent violence against women, analysing their lesson plans for primary schools on the one hand, and their handbook for journalists on the other. By ← 18 | 19 → contrasting the way the messages are presented in these two genres, she shows how the sender’s strategic intentions are fleshed out to operate persuasively on two very different audiences. Next, moving to aspects of persuasion in the area of business and intercultural communication, we can see how promotional genres in the area of banking vary from one country to another. On this topic, DANIEL GALLEGO-HERNÁNDEZ’s chapter provides a detailed contrastive genre analysis of promotional banking texts in French and Spanish. He finds that certain persuasive functions are operationalized differently in the two different cultural spheres, partly because of the potential each language offers for interactional discourse, and partly because of the different way these genres have developed in these two cultural spaces. His chapter brings out the metadiscursive schemata underpinning interactional devices in the two languages, and demonstrates how persuasive messages engage the reader in each case.

Gallego-Hernández’s work is followed by two chapters which address the world of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which is now taking on increasing importance particularly in the international sphere. MAURIZIO GOTTI’s chapter provides an explanation of hybridization between the process of arbitration and mediation/conciliation in Asian countries, centring particularly on China, where mediation and conciliation are culturally favoured forms of dispute resolution, since they enable businesspeople to maintain two important aspects of face, namely authoritativeness and trust within the business community. He argues that the principles of harmony and conflict avoidance based on the Confucian tradition may account for the preference for mediation and conciliation in this context, and his analysis of Chinese legislative texts shows that hybrid options are explicitly admitted. The cultural contrast with European legal traditions brings out the importance of flexibility and persuasion in the eastern hemisphere, as opposed to the adversarial or inquisitorial systems favoured in the west. DIANA GINER also looks at ADR, but in the more familiar context of international investment arbitration. Her chapter investigates arbitral awards in terms of intensifying and mitigating strategies, as well as attitude and gradability. In the argumentative stages of the awards, the facts of the confrontation are presented in such a way as to create intensified or weakened arguments. Arbitrators do not commit themselves equally to ← 19 | 20 → every assertion in the document, and maintain a cautious tone at times, although a firm stance is needed when presenting the final decisions. Importantly, since arbitration has a consensual basis, these awards pay similar amounts of attention to both parties’ arguments. This serves the important function of showing parties that the arbitrators have taken their position into account, which is a way in which the arbitrators can maintain their credibility with parties even in the case of unfavourable resolutions. Her chapter provides an overview of the most important persuasive techniques used in these arbitral awards.

On a different note, JUAN CARLOS PALMER-SILVEIRA’s study of companies’ self-presentation on English-language corporate webpages and LinkedIn accounts presents a contrast between companies established in English-speaking countries and those of international firms. On the strength of an empirical analysis, he is able to show that the people who create social media and web information about companies seem to be following the rules established by traditional advertising for promotional purposes. This sheds interesting light on current commercial practices, and also provides useful points of comparison with other chapters in the present volume.

After this, CARMEN SANCHO GUINDA’s chapter looks at the persuasive strategies adopted in the area of risk communication, where technical writers attempt to mould people’s concepts of danger with a view to preventing unsafe behaviours. She analyses the aviation accident dockets (summaries) issued by the transportation safety authorities in the USA, which are intended to make information about accidents accessible to the public at large. These texts deviate significantly from conventional formats for accident reporting, as they include hyperlinks, animations, eye-witness accounts and multimodal information. Such artefacts combine a wide range of strategies to convey their message, and Sancho argues that this approach is underpinned by the principles of autonomy (offering readers a choice), completeness (manifested in a panoply of different genres) and flexibility (adaptation to different levels of expertise and interest). By combining disparate modes and registers – objectivity and subjectivity, orality and literacy, prescription and performativity, and scientific and personal narrative – the dockets retain the primary social communicative purpose of the accident report, ← 20 | 21 → which is to identify errors and prevent future incidents, but also play a more complex role in disseminating information to the public at large, thereby meeting the democratic demand for greater accountability.

Finally, in the last chapter in this volume, we return to the area of judicial discourse, which forms the subject of the chapter by HOLLY VASS on Supreme Court majority and dissenting opinions. The Supreme Court opinion has a wide potential readership including other judges, policy makers, academics and the media, since it is recognized as one of the key law-making genres in the US Common Law system. She examines how Supreme Court judges use hedging devices to balance the expression of authority with the need to convince. By careful discursive manoeuvring, judges can cast epistemic doubt on others’ arguments, while providing suitable nuances within their own argumentation. This is particularly true in the case of dissenting opinions, since judges who disagree with their peers have to balance respect for the legal system and for their colleagues against clear expression of what they perceive to be an erroneous decision. For this reason, unlike ordinary judgments which tend to be authoritative in tone (see Monzó-Nebot this volume), such decisions are likely to contain a considerable amount of hedging, as the writer attempts to negotiate the hazardous territory of dissent by tempering criticism with persuasion.

Regarding methodology, the chapters in this book exhibit a wide range of strategies for the analysis of discourse in professional contexts. Various chapters make use of corpus linguistics, with analysis of keywords and clusters (Bocanegra-Valle) or analysis of metadiscursive markers (Palmer-Silveira, Vass, Carter-Thomas and Rowley- Jolivet). Particularly innovative in this sense is the analysis of key parts of speech offered by Pérez-Paredes, which opens up interesting perspectives for future work. Other authors undertake multimodal analyses on a fascinating range of data (Garzone, Sancho Guinda, Bhatia and Bhatia). On the other hand, some authors adopt strictly qualitative discourse analytical techniques in order to conduct a detailed exploration of particular texts or genres (Fage-Butler, Monzó-Nebot, Gotti). These complementary approaches enable readers to come to their own conclusions as to the usefulness of each method for exploring aspects such as interpersonality and interdiscursivity, and for dealing appropriately with larger and smaller volumes of text. ← 21 | 22 →

5.   Towards a ‘new power’ in specialized discourse?

Finally, we would like to leave a door open to hint at the changes brought about by what we conceive as a historical shift in power which is taking place with globalization and the advent of the Internet era. In recent years, a particular perspective has also emerged in genre studies, a product of Bhatia’s own evolution in the way to contemplate genre theory (Bhatia 2004, 2008, 2012): Critical Genre Analysis (CGA), resulting from the fusion of two fields, Genre Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis. Without specifically denouncing manipulative practices, Bhatia advocates a critical approach to the study of genre language as critical discourse, language as social control, and language in and as social interaction (Bhatia 2004), to later focus on a multiperspective and multidimensional methodological framework where interdiscursi­vity and asymmetrical power relations (Bhatia 2008) are seen as ways of ‘demystifying’ professional practice through the medium of genres (Bhatia 2012, 2016; Fage-Butler this volume).

Schubert (2012: 19) affirms that “scholarly disciplines emerge, develop, shift and expand”, and specialized communication studies are not an exception. Interesting changes are coming for professions, in a world where media publishers are losing their power to social media users and bloggers, consumers of products are taking the lead and power shifts occur from shareholders to consumers and from multinationals to start-ups. Even in the legal field this power shift is evident, as underlined by Salmi-Tolonen (2011b: 1):

The trend today is towards a more pluralistic view of law that includes not only rules made by state legislatures but also a new body of rules, practices and processes by private actors, firms, NGOs, and independent experts like technical standard setters and epistemic communities, either exercising autonomous regulatory power or implementing delegated power conferred by international law or national legislation.

We are experiencing what Anesa/Fage-Butler (2015) call a process of ‘co-construction of knowledge’ with multi-source networks of exchanges and new communicative dynamisms where an incipient hetero­geneity through social platforms and popularization through forums is ← 22 | 23 → evident in the voices of professional discourse. Whether, and to what extent, this shift to a ‘new power’ will translate into a more egalitarian and communal approach to authority in specialized discourse, and, hence, into less authoritarian, less ideologized genres, giving way to ‘heterogloss dialogicality’ (Sancho Guinda et al. 2014: 29), is still a conundrum to be solved in the (rapidly) coming years.


Agar, Michael 1985. Institutional Discourse. Text 5, 147–168.

Amiryousefi, Mohammad / Eslami Rasekh, Abbas 2010. Metadiscourse: Definitions, Issues and its Implications for English Teachers. English Language Teaching 3/4,159–167.

Anesa, Patrizia / Fage-Butler, Antoinette- Mary 2015. Popularizing Biomedical Information on an Online Health Forum. Ibérica 29, 105–128.

Biographical notes

María Ángeles Orts Llopis (Volume editor) Ruth Breeze (Volume editor) Maurizio Gotti (Volume editor)

María Ángeles Orts (University of Murcia, Spain) teaches Professional English, especially in the areas of law, economy and business. She has published extensively on economic and legal lexicon, corruption crimes and gender violence, power and legitimation in legal texts, and the translation and interpretation of legal genres. Ruth Breeze is senior lecturer in English at the University of Navarra, Spain. Her most recent books are Corporate Discourse (Bloomsbury Academic 2015) and the co-edited volumes Essential Competencies for English-Medium University Teaching (Springer 2016) and Evaluation in Media Discourse: European Perspectives (Peter Lang 2017). Maurizio Gotti is Professor of English, Head of the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Director of the Centre for LSP Research (CERLIS) at the University of Bergamo, Italy. His main areas of investigation are the features and origins of specialized discourse.


Title: Power, Persuasion and Manipulation in Specialised Genres