Over the past decades research in English for Academic Purposes has engaged in an extensive debate on the hegemony of English for knowledge exchange and dissemination. This has prompted several critical concerns, being the most prominent one Phillipson’s (1992) ‘linguistic imperialism’. Scholarly work has also raised concern about the contextual and social action changes that foster the use of English to the detriment of other academic languages. Other contentious issues are the loss of domain of some academic languages, the loss of cultural identity resulting from the adoption of the Anglophone rhetoric conventions and, more broadly, the way the current globalizing processes at both socioeconomic and geopolitical levels are dramatically impacting the language, research and internationalization policies of European higher education institutions. Ensuing from these new scenarios, the literature incipiently reports dramatic changes in the social interaction practices of non-Anglophone scholarly communities.
The aim of the project Ecologies of genres and ecologies of languages: an analysis of the dynamics of local, cross-border and international scientific communication (FFI2015-68638-R MINECO/FEDER, UE) is to describe and interpret the current textual practices of those communities as well as the changing dynamics of these practices, as it is through such practices that scholars communicate knowledge locally, transnationally and internationally. Specifically, we examine the everyday activities of local communities of researchers through ethnographic analysis of genre use (genre typologies) to understand the role and functions of academic English vis-à-vis the roles of other academic languages.
More broadly, we investigate how the genre ecology is shaped in a representative sample of ‘communities of practice’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991) of researchers in Spanish higher education institutions and, comparatively, in other higher education institutions in Europe. It is also our aim to understand the dynamics of the ecology of academic genres in relation to the concept of ‘linguistic ecologies’ (Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 2001). To do so, we draw on the theoretical perspectives of genre analysis, rhetoric and composition, social linguistics and academic literacies (Bazerman & Prior, 2004; Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Gee, 2012; Johns, 1999) as they all enable the examination of the rhetorical ecosystems that allow scientists to “actively enact and, consequently, reenact social practices, relations, and identities” (Bawarshi, 2011, p. 71).
We are designing several qualitative and mixed-methods analytical tools to observe, describe and interpret how the ecosystem of academic genres merge with and is shaped by the use of academic languages. Our goal is to understand current and changing social interaction practices contextually and the role and functions of English that of other academic languages with a view to determining the parameters that make genre and language(s) ecologies evolve in today’s academic settings. In the light of the findings, we expect to be in a position to assess in a comparative manner the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that academic communication poses to scholars from linguacultural backgrounds other than English.