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What Is the Analysis of Scientific Rhetoric for?

A Comment on the Possible Convergence

between Rhetorical Analysis and Social Studies of Science
Author(s): Steve Woolgar
Source: Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter, 1989), pp. 47-49
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
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What Is the Analysisof
A Commenton the Possible
Analysisand Social Studiesof Science
Steve Woolgar
Brunel, The Universityof West London

An exciting developmentin recent years is the turningof attentionby

rhetoriciansto the rhetoricof science. As evidencedby the threepreceding
articlesin this issue, scholarstrainedin the analysisof rhetorichave started
to focus on the rhetoricalstructureof science. This promisesan interchange
betweenrhetoriciansandthose interestedin the social and culturalcharacter
of scientific practice, especially perhaps those who have carried out
"discourse analysis." But can rhetoricianslearn from social studies of
science and vice versa? It seems to me that in assessing the likelihood of
a fruitfulconvergenceof these areas, we need to be clear aboutthe analytic
payoffof the researcheffortsnow takingplace. Whatis the analysisof scien-
tific rhetoric for?
Perhapsthe most importantissue is this: to what extent does rhetorical
analysisentail a form of criticismthatdetracts(denies, modifies, calls into
question) the claims (statements)of the text being analyzed?Is this form
of criticism a desirable effect of rhetorical analysis? Is it, in any case,
In generalterms, rhetoricalanalysisinvolves the identificationof features
of the organizationof discourse/text.This kindof analysisseems to involve
at least some degree of critical stance vis-a-vis the text: the identification
of "features" serves to ironicize the (unanalyzed)text's claim to neutrality
as a mediumof representation.To point out (analyze) "features" is to in-

AUTHOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of these comments was presented at the session
"Rhetoricianson the Rhetoricof Science" at the 1987 annualmeetingof the Society for Social
Studies of Science, Worcester, Massachusetts,as discussant remarkson the articles in this
theme section.


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48 Science, Technology, & Human Values

sert a lever between text and object, to raise doubts about the text's claims
to fidelity. The text is rendered other than the way it seems.
But this irony is itself accomplished in and through the analyst's text.
The analyst's text is the means of showing that a(nother) text is other than
it seems; one text is used to advance claims about a(nother) text's claims
to fidelity. This is an extremely unoriginal point, of course, but one that
nonetheless refuses to go away. It is often overlooked (or perhaps ignored)
in the vast majority of instances of rhetoric/discourse analysis, but comes
sharply to observation in the particular class of instances that have to do
with claims to fidelity through analysis. In other words, when scientific
truth claims are the subject of analysis, and when claims about those claims
are based on systematic procedure or are located within disciplines with
scientific pretensions, the question of reflexivity raises itself most markedly.
The question of reflexivity has recently begun to enjoy some renewed at-
tention among sociologists of science, but what significance is given to
reflexivity among those studying the rhetoric of science?
The three interesting attempts at "deconstruction" presented in this
special section suggest that many of the devices identified by rhetoricians
when they study scientific discourse are similar to, or at least resonate with,
the features/devices identified by researchers in the sociology of scientific
knowledge. For example,

(1) Assigningmembership/modalizers. Waddellnoticesthe way in which writers

deal with the claims of others by categorizing the claimants. ("Wald is a
brilliantman . . . but thatdoesn'tgive him any specialexpertisein thisarea.")
This categorizationhas the effect of resituating(or recontextualizing)Wald's
claims by tying them to the circumstancesof their production.The implica-
tion is that the value of the claims can be reassessed in the light of these
circumstancesof production.The assignationof membership-categorizing
the actions of actors in terms of theirclass membershipso as to degrade(or
upgrade)those actions-is just one instanceof a more generalcase of adding
or subtractingmodalizersto act upon the claims (actions, and so on) of the
modalizedothers. For example, Waddell shows a modalizer in the form of
"emotive factors" when he notices how LeMessurierinvokes Wald's con-
tributionsto the debate.
(2) Noticeableabsences. Fahnestocknotes the occurrenceof the rhetoricalfigure
chiasmusin Martin's text. By pointing to the absence of evidence of a par-
ticularspecies of archaeologicalartifact, Martinis able to suggest that this
is equivalentto evidence of its absence. This is an interestingdevice noted
also by conversationalanalysts, notably Harvey Sacks.
(3) Synecdoche. Fahnestock notes how Martin is also the master of the tech-
niqueof copia whereby certainforms of expression can imply the existence
of many more similar entities beyond the occasion of the author's telling.
Lists and examples are standardinstances of this device.

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Woolgar / Analysis of Scientific Rhetoric 49

The reflexivity question arises, of course, in the following considerations.

(1) Fahnestock also claims the assignation of membership device to be

important-but then she comes out of rhetoricalanalysis. Similarly, what
is the value of Waddell's observationhere, given that this is just the kind
of thing you would expect him to say?
(2) Certainly,I can thinkof nothing in all the literatureto deny the importance
of chiasmus as a rhetoricaldevice.
(3) The above list representsjust a brief sample of the many devices revealed
by rhetoriciansin their analysesof scientists'papers. Clearly, the list is very
long, and I have insufficient space here to mention more than just a few of
(4) This list of "considerations"is similarlya mere soupgon of the myriadways
in which reflexivity arises.
(5) But isn't this just the kind of point I would be expected to make, given my
interest in reflexivity?

What is the status of a rhetorical analysis? To what extent does the

delineation of rhetorical structure presume itself to be immune from the
same critical stance? Much of the recent work in social studies of science
suggests that reflexivity need not be regarded as a problem (to be ignored
or evaded) so much as an opportunity for exploring new forms of analysis.
Does this kind of reflexive question matter to those engaged in the analysis
of scientific rhetoric? Why or why not? Unfortunately, the three articles
do not give much of a clue. And yet it is likely that these questions will
be crucial to the fruitful interchange between rhetorical analysis and
sociology of scientific knowledge.

Steve Woolgaris ProjectDirectorin the Centrefor Researchinto Innovation,Culture,

and Technology(Brunel, 7he Universityof West London, Uxbridge UB8 3PH UK).
His recentbooks include Science: The Very Idea (London:Horwood/Tavistock,1988)
and an edited volume, Knowledge and Reflexivity: New Frontiers in the Sociology
of Knowledge (London: Sage, 1988).

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