Dissemination of knowledge, ethics and idelogy in specialist communication: linguistic and discursive perspectives


The project aims to study, from a linguistic and discursive point of view, the process of dissemination of knowledge within the scientific community and among the general public (sharing among experts, dissemination) and the transformations/alterations it has undergone during this process.

The project is based on the Research Programme of Significant National Interest (PRIN) "Dissemination of knowledge through the media in English: continuity and change of discursive strategies, ideologies and epistemologies" (funded by the Ministry of Education, University and Research for the three-year period 2017-2019 - 2015TJ8ZAS).

In contemporary society, increasing levels of specialisation in the various disciplines have led to a rapid and intense circulation and sharing of knowledge between experts within individual fields and between different disciplinary fields, but at the same time have also highlighted the need for increasingly effective and widespread dissemination for the benefit of non-specialists. In this process of spreading knowledge, numerous discourse genres are used, some of which are more traditional - such as periodicals and scientific articles - others are of more recent origin, such as all genres mediated by the web.

The project, which is part of the IULM University and has the participation of several researchers from the University of Milan, investigates, from the point of view of linguistics and speech analysis, the practices and strategies of knowledge transfer and dissemination used in different contexts for the benefit of a diverse range of recipients, taking into account different genres and media and focusing in particular on ethical and ideological aspects.

This is a particularly important issue since, by definition, the transmission of knowledge potentially involves some kind of transformation or shifting of focus. In many cases, these alterations derive exclusively from the need to recontextualize knowledge and make it accessible to specific segments of the general public, but, in many other cases, they are the result of intentional elaboration, aimed at making a topic more interesting (e.g. in journalism), or adapt it to the ideological positions, preconceptions or expectations of the alleged recipients, or implement the more or less implicit transmission of ideological messages through the manipulation of the text, sometimes to the point of bordering on mystification. This applies as much to the transfer of knowledge within the scientific community as, more clearly, to its dissemination through dissemination.

In this perspective, of particular interest is the discursive representation of issues of ideological and ethical relevance, and in particular of the most sensitive issues, such as those related to bioethics and life sciences (medicine, biotechnology, genetics), environmental sciences, corporate social responsibility. These are the themes that the project intends to focus on, with particular attention to their linguistic realisation and to the discursive strategies used, as well as in the perspective of translation, interpretation and interculturality, in order to highlight the moral, ideological, legal, economic, political and religious implications.

From a methodological point of view, the research programme is at the intersection of discourse analysis and linguistics of corpora, using the tools of both, and integrates the qualitative dimension of critical discourse analysis (CDA) with the quantitative dimension of corpus-assisted discourse studies. The corpus on which the research is based, currently being compiled and prepared, includes texts of an intra-specialist and inter-specialist type, and of a popular type - articles from newspapers and magazines, blogs, and materials downloaded from social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter).

Knowledge Dissemination, Ethics and Ideology in Specialised Communication:

Linguistic and Discursive Perspectives

The project sets out to investigate the transformations undergone by knowledge in the process of transfer and dissemination in a linguistic and discourse analytical perspective. It is related to the Research Programme of National Interest (PRIN Project) "Knowledge dissemination across media in English: continuity and change in discourse strategies, ideologies and epistemologies" (financed by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research - 2015TJ8ZAS).

In contemporary society, the increasing degree of specialization in research has generated the need to share knowledge among experts within and across disciplines, and to also make it accessible to non-experts. A number of discourse genres are used in this effort, some of which are traditional (e.g. newspaper or journal articles), while others have emerged only recently.

The research programme, based at IULM University and characterized by the collaboration with some researchers of Milan State University (Università degli Studi di Milano), aims to investigate the practices and strategies of knowledge transfer and dissemination to various audiences in a range of different settings and a variety of genres, looking in particular at the ethical and ideological aspects from the viewpoint of linguistics and discourse analysis. The project also considers different communicative environments, from specialist exchanges and scholarly journals to the press and the world wide web, with its growing level of participation and interaction.

The topic investigated is especially important, since by definition knowledge dissemination is potentially likely to involve some kind of transformation and/or shift in focus. These alterations may be simply due to the need to recontextualise knowledge and make it accessible to lay audiences, but, in many cases, they are due to intentional manipulation aimed at making it more interesting or palatable (e.g. in journalism), or to adapt it to the speaker's/writer's stance, preconceptions or expectations, or to more or less implicitly convey ideological messages by conferring a degree of slant or bias on the text, sometimes bordering on outright manipulation and mystification. This applies not only to knowledge transfer within scientific communities but also, even more cogently, to popularisation.

From this perspective, special interest lies in the discursive representation - both in specialised and in popularising communication - of ideologically and ethically relevant issues, and in particular of those concerning 'sensitive' topics, for instance in bioethics, and in particular in the life sciences (e.g. medicine, bioethics, biotechnology, genetics), in the environmental sciences, in corporate social responsibility discourse, etc., in their moral, ideological, legal, economic, political, and religious implications.

These are the main issues to be explored and investigated in this project in their linguistic and discursive aspects and implications, as well as in the perspective of translation and interpreting.

In methodological terms, the study lies at the crossroads of discourse analysis and corpus linguistics and makes use of concepts and tools belonging to both, integrating the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of corpus-assisted discourse studies and critical discourse analysis (CDA). While the analysis of discourse and genres focuses on selected forms of interaction and communicative practices in specialised areas, corpus analysis highlights the importance of empirical data and the lexico-grammar of real communication. The corpus to be investigated is now under construction and will include intraspecialistic publications (i.e. journal articles, reports), newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter).