Words from experience

December 19, 2008 at 6:51 pm 1 comment

On December 15th and 16th, professor John Swales presented two seminars at the University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain. For me it was the first time I saw him in person and I was really enthusiastic about it. Swales’ definition of genre and discourse community were central to the research I did in the Brazilian program for science initiation, my very first steps into the academic life, styles and genres.

Professor John Swales

Professor John Swales

 There were two very interesting discussion points which I’d like to share here: if there’s anybody there, please, speak your mind. 

Well, the first one was, regarding congress presentations, if the presentation part and the discussion part would be two separate genres or not. Most people in the room seemed to be convinced it was just one genre because the discussion section cannot occur without the presentation one; I said I thought there are actually two genres, because the roles of participants are different in each of them; professor Swales still thinks this is an open discussion… 

The second discussion point is related to the production of materials for ESP. Professor Swales used three drafts of a literature review produced by a student of his, Joyce, and it was clear for us the progress she had made from draft to draft and how much mastery of the genre and its register she had developed in the process. We all agreed on how useful it would be for our students to read Joyce’s three drafts so that they could see what they were and what they weren’t supposed to do. Reading Joyce’s drafts I felt personally identified with her, because her style and progress reminded me of myself. The point, however, is that Joyce does not exist. She never has. Yes, that’s what you heard. Swales made her up and made up the examples. He said among all the texts he had asked his students to produce, he could not find the perfect progression to use as an example.UPF seminar

 

And then Swales asked us if we thought that pre-fabricated example was a valid one. He wanted to know our opinion because pedagogical and linguistic paradigms of real world, spontaneously produced texts could argue against it. Well, we all agreed that was a good strategy for a ESP class. I even wished I had met Joyce when I was writing my PhD Theses. Reading her drafts makes so clear what is it you should and shouldn’t do, that it feels like you could save years of doing the wrong things, like not evaluating enough or being too enthusiastic towards the literature you revise.

Apart from the discussions we had the chance to engage in, what stroke me the most about professor Swales was that he seemed to be enjoying himself. Yes, that’s true, there talking to a small group of highly glocalized researchers, professor Swales was enjoying himself while he was explaining genre theory and some of his research results. And I actually enjoyed myself listening to him too. And I think this feeling is one of the few things we can use to challenge genre hierarchy in the academia nowadays and this crazy fetish for the impact factor: I don’t publish (or try to) because I have to, I don’t publish because if I don’t I will perish. I publish because I understand this is part of my job and this is a job I enjoy. This is a job which gives me the opportunity to meet people, to listen to what they know, share what I know, and come up with much more then we knew as individuals.

 Swales gave us some advice and I think he won’t mind my sharing it here. It is more than a lesson from a much experienced researcher who’s been on the road for so many years and still enjoys himself and delights his audience:

                    “Humor, respect and hedging are prime lubricants of potentially sticky moments.”

 

Ditto, Swales. Thanks a lot.

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