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Review of  Read the Cultural Other

Reviewer: Ania Renz
Book Title: Read the Cultural Other
Book Author: Odette Ambouroue Manfred Kienpointner Jan Servaes
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Book Announcement: 17.2074

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EDITORS: Xu, Shi; Kienpointner, Manfred; Servaes, Jan
TITLE: Read the Cultural Other
SUBTITLE: Forms of Otherness in the Discourses of Hong Kong's Decolonization
SERIES: Language, Power, and Social Process 14
YEAR: 2006
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Anna Renz, unaffiliated scholar, graduated from the Nicolaus Copernicus
University in Torun (Poland)


The theme of the volume 'Read the Cultural Other: Forms of Otherness in the
Discourses of Hong Kong's Decolonization' evolves around the analysis of
non-Western discourses, in particular those of Hong Kong. Through employing
various strategies and methodologies in their writing, the authors of the
13 essays presented in the book turn their endeavours to highlight
non-Western discourses into an important voice of criticism aimed at
cultural imperialism and universalism.

Chapter 1: 'The study of non-Western discourse' by Shi-xu

The book consists of three parts, the first of which is concerned with
'Paradigmatic reorientation'. According to the arguments outlined in the
introductory Chapter 1 by Shi-xu, to struggle against universalistic
approach means to challenge the Western Weltanschaung as the main
background for discourse analyses in a way that would allow to bring
non-Western, non-White and Third World discourses to a close, continuous
attention of international researchers in linguistics. Therefore, the
volume advocates a pluralist cultural-political approach to discourse
research, and formulates also a significant claim that, in the face of
globalization, securing the position of non-Western discourses on the
international scientific arena is indispensable for the survival of the
human cultural world. Another interesting point is made in Chapter 1
through the discussion of the impossibility of cutting any definition with
clear-cut boundaries for the idea of (non-)Western discourses. First of
all, it is stated that both Eastern and Western discourses are not
homogeneous or monolithic, but 'internally diversified and externally
indistinct and constantly shifting' (Shi-xu page 7 of the book). The
understanding of non-Western discourses postulated in Chapter 1 constructs
a complex theoretical basis for all the following articles. Thus, such
concepts like resisting the domination of the Western discourse, reclaiming
cultural freedom and cultural identity by a cultural community differing
from the Western one, are presented as crucial for non-Western discourses.
However, there is no claim of non-Western ideas to totality, on the
contrary, they are described more as 'selected entities'. The
cultural-historical context of colonialism, post-colonialism and
neo-colonialism is stressed as a very important factor for all the
analyses. Finally, general theoretical considerations proposed in Chapter 1
are redirected to the particular context of Hong Kong and its transition on
July 1, 1997. After introducing the historical background to the event, and
presenting the methodologies of research employed by the book's authors,
Shi-xu finishes Chapter 1 with a short summary of all the essays that follow.

Chapter 2: 'Communication theory and the Western bias' by Denis McQuail

Chapter 2 of the volume is devoted to the analysis of historical
development and functions of media. Starting with the late 19th century,
McQuail examines how various social movements and scientific approaches
shaped communication and media theory throughout the decades, and gradually
contributed to the emergence of the mass production of communication in the
early 20th century. At the same time, the chapter offers a glance on how
the self-styled superiority of the Western point of view achieved a
worldwide scope in the media production and science, including linguistic
research. McQuail's essay closes with him proposing some solutions to the
existing situation. He suggests reevaluation of existing forms of research,
ethnocentric in nature, so as to account for the diversity of world
cultures, their changing identities, and to include the concerns and
contexts of all the non-Western intellectual traditions marginalised so far
by the West.

Chapter 3: 'Towards multiculturalism in discourse studies' by Shi-xu and
Robert Maier

The main objective of this essay lies in proving an aculturalist and
universalist approach to discourse analysis wrong and insufficient for
reflecting the variety of contexts offered by the world's cultures.
According to the article's authors, who base their discussion on well-known
theoretical resources, linguistic research cannot be perceived outside any
socio-cultural context since language and communication are deeply rooted
in culture. In other words, they themselves are cultural discourses. What
is more, by drawing connection between Wittgenstein's theory of 'games' and
diverse cultural discourses, Shi-xu and Maier suggest that intercultural
communication and exchange of ideas are highly desirable for social as well
as scientific reasons (Shi-xu and Maier page 34 of the book). This
statement is then followed by an illustration of cultural-political
strategies for discourse research, from trying to identify and rediscover
existing discourses enabling the intercultural coexistence, through
inviting a search for discriminatory discourses constructing and
marginalising the Other, to suggesting that scientific researchers should
engage in deconstructing and subverting the latter--and attempting to
formulate possible new approaches that would highlight experiences of the
cultural Other.

Chapter 4: 'Beyond differences in cultural values and modes of
communication' by Jan Servaes

This article closes the theoretical ruminations presented in Part 1 of the
volume. It contributes to the current international debate on the dichotomy
between universalism and cultural relativism. Servaes supports his
criticism of universalist approach by presenting a general comparison
between the Western and non-Western profiles and the contrasting cultural
values inherent in them, at the same time drawing the reader's attention to
the obvious limitations of such an exemplary binary description. He then
moves on to analysing cultural relativism as reflected in the problematic
discussion on the (non)universality of human rights. Servaes criticises
both universalist and relativist approaches, thus engaging in the effort of
looking for an in-between point of view. In his opinion, it is the
pluralist approach to cultural and linguistic diversity that can render the
intercultural dialogue possible, based on the exchange of experiences and
mutual criticism. He suggests the opportunity to formulate the principles
for global ethics through this dialogue, but leaves the question
nevertheless open.

Chapter 5: 'Reporting the Hong Kong transition: A comparative analysis of
news coverage in Europe and Asia' by Jan Servaes and Sankaran Ramanathan

This chapter opens Part 2 of the volume, a more analytical one, entitled
'The discursive dominance of the West'. Here, the authors present in detail
the results of their analysis of the news coverage of the Hong Kong
transition in the Western, Hong Kong and Chinese media. For their research,
they chose the period of time between 27 June and 6 July 1997, and focused
on different news items from 15 leading Asian and 15 leading European
newspapers. The aim of their investigation, consisting of both qualitative
and quantitative analyses, was to illustrate the discrepancies between the
ways in which Asian media present European events and vice versa.

Chapter 6: 'The contest over Hong Kong: Revealing the power practices of
the Western media' by Shi-xu and Manfred Kienpointner

The authors of this article offer a critical analysis of the way the
Western media approached the event of Hong Kong's transition. To a large
extent, they base their discussion on authentic entries from various
Western newspapers, which, as they reveal, resorted to discourses of
cultural repression when addressing the Hong Kong issue. In this chapter,
they distinguish two main types of repressive discourses in the Western
media, namely the one used to dictate a specific pro-Western course of
conduct to China after the transition and to threaten it with possible
sanctions, and the other through which these media define the identity of
Hong Kong people, thus not letting 'the Subaltern speak' for themselves
(Spivak 1995).

Chapter 7: 'Hong Kong's press freedom: A comparative sociology of Western
and Hong Kong's views' by Junhao Hong

In this paper, the author examines the views on press freedom in Hong Kong
held by the Western, Chinese, and Hong Kong societies. Fundamental
discrepancies between these perspectives are presented as an important
reason for employing a culturally specific attitude when analysing aspects
of a culture, be it identity or a standpoint on press freedom. Moreover,
Hong argues here that press and its freedom are phenomena closely linked to
specific social, political and cultural institutions of a given country. In
this way, he implies possible contributions of the non-universally
approached Hong Kong and Chinese media to the process of 'reading the Other'.

As the title itself suggests, the following third and last part of the
volume is an endeavour of its authors to introduce to the reader the
'Complexity, diversity and Otherness of non-Western discourses.'

Chapter 8: 'Unfamiliar voices from the Other: Exploring forms of Otherness
in the media discourses of China and Hong Kong' by Shi-xu

The idea presented by Shi-xu in Chapter 8 is to highlight non-Western
discourses through depicting the ways in which they differ from the
dominant Western discourses. From the variety of unfamiliar non-Western
discourses, he focuses on a few that in his opinion are most significant in
the case of the Hong Kong transition. All of them try to challenge the
Western ethnocentric way of perceiving the events, and thus to imbue the
Hong Kong people with the power to speak for themselves.

Chapter 9: 'Media and metaphor: Exploring the rhetoric in China's and Hong
Kong's public discourses on Hong Kong and China' by Lee Cher-Leng

Cher-Leng devotes her paper to a detailed analysis of the Hong Kong and
Chinese discourses concerning the transition of the former. She offers a
comparative analysis of the interesting methaphors present in both of them,
with particular attention paid to the textual and contextual aspects.

Chapter 10: 'Voices of missing identity: A study of contemporary Hong Kong
literary writings' by Kwok-kan Tam

Chapter 10 is devoted to the theme of identity (re)creation through
literary writings. The author treats the circumstances of the historical
transition as the background for the presentation of the complexities
inherent in Hong Kong identity. Instability, i.e. constant reshaping and
changing, is shown as the most important feature of identity connected with
'the floating city' of Hong Kong (Shi-xu page 168 of the book), overlooked
and neglected by the Western discourses on the place. The Hong Kong
writers, on the other hand, are presented as the (re)creators of identity
that 'is a bridge that ''gathers as a passage that crosses''' (Bhabha quoted
in Tam page 173 of the book).

Chapter 11: 'Identity and interactive hypermedia: A discourse analysis of
web diaries' by Hong Cheng and Guofang Wan

This paper explores further the notion of Hong Kong identity. This time the
focus is on a new genre of mass communication, namely the diaries created
on the Internet. The authors of the essay provide a captivating picture of
particular web diaries entries contributed by people from Hong Kong to the
Public Broadcasting Service. The purpose of this analysis is to pay
attention to the Subaltern's own voices, show the variety of different
identities within Hong Kong and also to highlight the conflict that appears
more often than not between the cultural and social identities of the Hong
Kong people.

Chapter 12: 'Narrating Hong Kong history: A critical study of mainland
China's historical discourse from a Hong Kong perspective' by Lawrence
Wang-chi Wong

Chapter 12 is the last analytical one in the volume, and deals with
historical discourses on Hong Kong. The author of the essay points to the
manipulations within the discourses describing the history of the city, and
analyses the political and social circumstances underlying this process.

Chapter 13: 'A nascent paradigm for non-Western discourse studies: An
epilogue' by Narcisa Paredes-Canilao

Part 3 closes with a chapter summarising the whole undertaking of the
book's authors. It provides a theoretical background for the practical
analyses presented in preceding papers. Dwelling upon the well-known
theories, the author describes a nascent paradigm for non-Western
discourses advocated in the whole book, and puts a final emphasis on the
idea of a pluralist cultural approach to discourse analysis.


The volume 'Read the Cultural Other', as a scientific venture attempting to
promote cultural approach and stress its significance for various academic
disciplines, successfully employs a diversity of research possibilities to
support its point of view. Not only do the authors point to the
interrelations between the linguistic and cultural domains of scientific
research, but they also propose a wide range of practical illustrations of
how linguistic analyses may be connected with and enriched by a pluralist
cultural approach.

What is more, the book in question is an interesting example of a
post-colonialist discourse, which captivates with its treatment of Hong
Kong's decolonisation. As Hong Cheng and Guofang Wan relate in their essay
on the city's identity (re)construction, the nature of Hong Kong's
decolonisation in comparison to other colonised nations make it an
untypical case of a post-colonial society. First of all, unlike in other
colonies, the decision about the decolonisation of Hong Kong was made by
its former coloniser (Great Britain) and its motherland (China). There was
no regard for the actual citizens of Hong Kong. Secondly, for most other
colonies decolonisation meant becoming an independent nation, while in the
case of Hong Kong its sovereignty was simply transferred to another country
(China). The thing that deserves special attention is that the analysis of
the post-colonial characteristics of Hong Kong is presented here in a way
that both introduces the idea of post-colonialism to researchers unfamiliar
with the topic, and also gives a valuable account for people professionally
occupied with this scientific field.

Another aspect worth noticing is the fact that most of the authors of the
articles in the book act from diasporic, hybridized positions. As they
themselves claim, 'living-in-between-East/West cultures ... is an advantage
and a source of strength' (Shi-xu page 10 of the book), especially when one
deals with notions of fragmented and hybridized identities. However, this
statement is not to be mistaken for a claim to ''be'' the voice of the Other.
On the contrary, the authors rather seem to appreciate their hybridity as
giving them access to diverse cultural points of view, which further enable
them their attempt to retrieve the authentic voices of the Hong Kong Other
and present them to the Western readership. As for me, the most interesting
and controversial point of the authors' discussion about the voice of the
Other is their criticism of the well-known idea of Spivak, according to
whom 'the subaltern cannot speak' (Spivak quoted in Paredes-Canilao page
223 of the book). Paredes-Canilao suggests in the theoretical essay closing
the volume that perhaps the voicelessness of the subaltern is more a
logical than realistic impossibility, and that the core of the problem lies
in the very definition of the subaltern, because it has been constructed so
as to make the term ''a speaking subaltern'' an oxymoron. Such thesis will
surely prompt a fascinating discussion about these problematic questions.

The editors of 'Read the Cultural Other' deserve much credit for the way
they selected and put together all the essays. The articles create a kind
of continuum consisting of both the theoretical and empirical researches.
Each essay gives the impression of being interrelated to all the previous
and following ones. For instance, the initial approving of the attitude of
''strategic essentialism'', and allowing the term ''non-Western discourse'' (as
opposed to pluralist ''discourses'') in order to valorize the marginalised
voices (Shi-xu page 7 of the book), is closely connected to the later
discussion of the threat that over- or misused ''strategic essentialism'' may
lead to the Chinese, Hong Kong and diasporic discourses being judged as
nationalistic or imperialistic (Shi-xu page 121 of the book). To caution
against such perception, Cheng and Wan involve in their paper in an
analysis of the ambivalent and complicated nature of the Hong Kong
identity, which they end by stating that it is characterised by 'a kind of
lack of nationality, a nationalessness' (Cheng and Wan page 191 of the book).

While the standpoint challenging universalism manifested by the book's
authors (who aim at creating an attitude in between universalism and
relativism) is generally presented in a convincing way, I found it
difficult to acknowledge the use of the generally criticised binarism at
one point in the volume. In Chapter 4, Jan Servaes draws upon Koh's idea
about the possibility to divide both Asian and Western values into those
good and those bad ones (Servaes page 63 of the book). Although such a
course of argumentation may in fact fit the idea of the author, it appears
a little bizarre that it should be employed in the general discussion about
universalism without a more detailed explanation.

What is more, at the outset of the book, the authors outline a convincing
critical statement that marginalising non-Western discourses illustrates
the ignorance of the Western cultural, political and social institutions
(McQuail page 25 of the book). This idea is developed in the next article,
where Shi-xu and Maier further expand the book's discussion about
universalism and the need for a cultural approach in communication and
linguistic studies. However, despite the fact that they openly criticise
the academic and scholarly circles in these scientific disciplines for
continuously excluding and neglecting cultural aspects in their researches,
they somehow limit their allusions to linguistic theories by merely
mentioning the main ideas underlying them. It is a pity mostly because
reading of this volume gives the impression that, apart from undermining
the power of the universalist discourse, its main aim is to encourage a
cultural approach in linguistic studies. It would be more convincing for
linguists if the analysis of particular linguistic theories in connection
to cultural discourse was given a more detailed attention (Shi-xu and Maier
pages 35-37 of the book).

Nevertheless, these few critical remarks are not meant to diminish the
overall value of the book's argumentation. It surely provides the reader
with a deep theoretical insight into the issues of post-colonialism,
identity and discourse. The diversity of empirical researches presented in
it constitutes, on the other hand, a rich source of information for the
scholars from various scientific fields such as linguistics or cultural and
communication studies.


Shi-xu, Manfred Kienpointner, Jan Servaes (eds.) 2006. Read the Cultural
Other: Forms of Otherness in the Discourses of Hong Kong's Decolonization.
Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1995. Can the Subaltern Speak? In Bill
Ashcroft et al. (ed.) The Post-colonial Studies Reader. London and New
York: Routledge.

Anna Renz is an unaffiliated scholar, graduated from the Nicolaus
Copernicus University in Torun (Poland). Post-colonialism and linguistics
are the main fields of her study. She plans to write a doctoral thesis that
would reconcile linguistics with a cultural approach.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 311018267X
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: ix, 244
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