CRITICS

Centers for Research into Text/Talk,
Information, and Communication in Society

Secretary: Teun A. van Dijk
E-Mail:  vandijk at discourses.org

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THE CRITICS PROJECT

Teun A. van Dijk

Version 1.0. (November 1994)
With a postscript of May, 2001

Introduction

The CRITICS project consists of a series of activities aiming to contribute to the critical study of language, discourse and communication and to organize, world-wide, the scholars and centers engaged in research and teaching in this multidisciplinary field. The name of the project was chosen as a reflection of this 'critical' endeavor, and as a convenient abbreviation for the following complete name: Centers for Research into Text/Talk, Information and Communication in Society.

The project goes back to ideas developed at the University of Amsterdam around 1990 for the creation of a center that would specifically provide a research environment for students and professors from the South and their cooperation with scholars from the North in the field of communication and discourse studies. When cut-backs and other institutional constraints did not allow the realization of such a center, a different set-up was elaborated to attain some of the goals of such a center. Whereas critical scholars in the humanities and social sciences seldom belong to the mainstream in their field, and locally are often marginalized if not problematized, international organization may be an important strategy to support and legitimize their work. The various activities
outlined below are intended to realize this and other goals.

The development of the CRITICS idea was also inspired by encounters with students, especially in Latin America, highly interested in critical analysis and in establishing contacts with critical scholars abroad who could be of help with their research. An earlier idea to set up a special educational e-mail network in the form of a series of E-Seminars or even of an E-University, was one of the results of the discussions with these students. The CRITICS e-mail plan described below is part of this E-educational philosophy.

Another activity that stimulated the present CRITICS project is the European system of Erasmus networks (aiming at student and staff exchange between European universities, later to be further internationalized). Thus, one network, relates critical linguists and discourse analysts in London, Lancaster, Linköping, Vienna, Madrid, Duisburg, Lisbon, Athens and Amsterdam, and meets twice a year in one of these universities. Students from these universities have been visiting other universities in partial fulfillment of their studies, and thereby have been contributing to international cooperation in critical language and discourse studies.

The International CRITICS Foundation

In order to formalize the various CRITICS activities, an international foundation was created in August 1994 that would be able to realize some of the aims mentioned above:

1. Promote more generally 'critical' research, briefly defined as scholarly critique of, and resistance against social, political and cultural dominance and inequality, e.g., through the development of the most adequate and effective theories, analyses and methods of academic investigation and their application in the formulation of humane alternatives.

2. Stimulate and support more specifically critical research and teaching in the fields of linguistics, discourse analysis, communication studies and related disciplines.

3. Organize critical scholars and Ph.D. students in these fields, e.g., by promoting international networks, conferences or symposia.

4. Provide advice or support to scholars in these fields who are confronted with problems because of their critical research.

5. Set up a CRITICS e-mail list.

6. Foster multidisciplinary relations, exchange and cooperation between the different approaches to critical research of language, discourse, information and communication, especially in the various disciplines of the humanities, and the social and political sciences.

7. Encourage within a global perspective international and multicultural relations between scholars in different ethnic groups, countries, and world regions.

8. Promote international and multidisciplinary exchange of information, e.g., about critical scholars and their research projects and publications.

These aims of the CRITICS Foundation may also be taken as the aims of the CRITICS project as a whole.

The CRITICS Foundation has an International Board, of which the following prominent scholars are members (as of Fall 1994):

Karen L. Adams (Tempe, AZ, USA), Jennifer Bayer (Mysore, India), Michael Billig (Loughborough, UK), Adriana Bolivar (Caracas, Venezuela), Carmen Rosa Caldas (Florianopolis, Brazil), Teresa Carbó (Mexico City, Mexico), Paul Chilton (Coventry, UK), Malcolm Coulthard (Birmingham, UK), Teun A. van Dijk (secretary) (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), John Downing (Austin, TX, USA), Norman Fairclough
(Lancaster, UK), Ofelia Garcia (New York, USA), Rainer Enrique Hamel (Mexico City, Mexico), Cees J. Hamelink (Amsterdam), Janet Holmes (Wellington, New Zealand), Sachiko Ide (Tokyo, Japan), Siegfried Jäger (Duisburg, Germany), Cheris Kramarae (Urbana, IL, USA), Gunther R. Kress (London), Robin Lakoff (Berkeley, CA, USA), Theo van Leeuwen (London, UK), Per Linell (Linkoping, Sweden), William O'Barr (Durham, NC, USA), Robert Phillipson (Roskilde, Denmark), Luisa Martin Rojo (Madrid, Spain), Sik Hung Ng (Wellington, New Zealand), Christina Schaffner (Birmingham, UK), Maria Teresa Sierra (Mexico City, Mexico), Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (Roskilde, Denmark), Geneva Smitherman (East Lansing, MI, USA), Gaye Tuchman (Storrs, CN, USA), Candace West (Santa Cruz, CA, USA), Uli Windisch (Geneva, Switzerland), Ruth Wodak (President) (Vienna, Austria), Saida Yahya-Othman (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania).

Since scholars from some continents and disciplines are still under-represented on the board, new members will hopefully join the board at a later stage.

Communication between CRITICS Centers

To facilitate communication between the board members of the CRITICS Foundation as well as between their respective centers or research groups, most of which have access to e-mail, it was suggested that each center or group would (try to) obtain its own local CRITICS e-mail account, simply called CRITICS, which would function as the specific address for CRITICS mail and exchange. Some centers have in the meantime indeed established such an account, which guarantees that the local addresses remain the same even if the local researchers change.

It was also suggested that since all board members of the foundation are senior scholars burdened with much scholarly and organizational work-loads, they would ask Ph.D. students or assistants to act as their local correspondents in order to maintain the communication between the various CRITICS centers. This would also allow these correspondents to communicate among themselves about their relevant research projects or other interests, and thereby enhance cooperation also among young scholars in critical analysis. In the meantime, several CRITICS centers are represented by such 'correspondents'.

These will also play a crucial role in assisting in providing the necessary information about local research and teaching to the secretariat of the CRITICS foundation as well as to other CRITICS centers, and thus contribute to one of the major aims of the foundation and the CRITICS project as a whole.

For visitors, local CRITICS centers are identifiable by a green CRITICS sticker.

Information Exchange

As suggested, information exchange about critical studies in language, discourse and communication is a primary, practical aim of the CRITICS Foundation and of the whole CRITICS project: Students as well as researchers benefit from knowing who is doing what and where in this field. A practical system of yearly information exchange will therefore be developed in which each center will briefly report in
the beginning of each year about the publications of its members during the past year, and about their research plans for the coming year(s). This will allow others to obtain early information about ongoing projects and about publications that are relevant for their own research.

The CRITICS Bibliography

One specific element of this system of information exchange will be the development of an extensive and yearly updated CRITICS Bibliography. This jointly produced bibliography will feature not only all relevant publications of all CRITICS members, but more generally also other work in the various areas of the critical study of language, discourse and communication. Together with a number of handy specially developed programs for search and updating, this bibliography will be distributed on diskette to all members in order to serve as a useful research instrument. Also the names and addresses of all CRITICS researchers and their research programs will yearly be included on such a diskette.

CRITICS on Internet

A major aim of the CRITICS project is to create an e-mail 'list' on which CRITICS members as well as other researchers world-wide will be able to discuss their work, and issues in critical analysis more generally. Although the precise nature of this e-mail network still needs to be determined (and also may change due to the wishes of its participants), the CRITICS list will provisionally be restricted to
those advanced students and scholars actively engaged in critical studies. Rather than a traditional bulletin board (which would need extensive monitoring, for which as yet no CRITICS funding is available), the CRITICS e-mail list will have a more modest aim, viz., to establish contacts between all those who do research in this area.

More specifically, the CRITICS e-mail list is intended as a resource for advanced students who want to communicate with critical scholars in other universities and other countries. That is, the list will thus function and an international, 'electronic' seminar, or e-seminar, especially for those students in many countries who locally have no or insufficient help and supervision from professors specialized in this area. In this way they will get to know other students who, elsewhere, are working on related projects. Thus, the CRITICS list may also function as an innovative means of long distance education, in which not only researchers but also students will be able to mutually help each other with their work.

Professors and other experienced researchers may answer questions (as their time allows) in their field of specialization, and thus reach a much broader audience than in their own classes. They may post research notes, plans for new projects and ask for feedback, critique or other comments that may benefit their research. They may announce new articles and books, thereby informing their colleagues as well as students world-wide about their work, in a way that is much more efficient and faster than the traditional publications in scholarly journals.

CRITICS Symposia, Conferences and Summer Schools

Besides the more distanced and less tangible electronic means of communication, also the old-fashioned 'inter-facing' of scholars at symposia and conferences is one of the aims of the CRITICS project. Depending on funding and local assistance, regular specialized or more general 'critical' conferences will therefore be organized by the respective centers that take part in the CRITICS project, so as to further critical studies of language, discourse and communication as a well-established approach.

More specifically for students, for instance within the European Erasmus network, but also more internationally, Summer Schools may be held with introductory or advanced courses on relevant topics in critical analysis.

Student exchange

As is already the case for the current ERASMUS network linking a number of universities in Europe, one of the more interesting and relevant activities of the CRITICS project could be international student exchange. Students will then be able to finish (part of their) advanced study, e.g., for a Masters degree or a Ph.D. dissertation, in the university and under the supervisor specialized in the relevant topics. Beside the summer schools mentioned above, introductory courses in various domains of critical analysis may be organized not only for local students, but also for students of other countries.

As is the case for most CRITICS activities, student exchange is successful only if students can be appropriately funded. This means that CRITICS and its local centers will endeavor to obtain scholarships for students who want to study at a different university, especially abroad.

A global CRITICS network

The activities of the CRITICS projects need not be limited to the CRITICS Foundation or the (centers of the) members of its board, nor even to the broader e-mail list. There are many more critical scholars in the various sub-disciplines of the studies of language, discourse and communication, including scholars who have no access to, or do not make use of e-mail.

It may therefore be envisaged that a general, global network is developed of all those scholars and centers who actively are engaged in this research. Most of the CRITICS aims formulated above may then also be realized in a much broader framework. Thus, such a network may also publish its own newsletter as long as most members as yet have no access to e-mail.

Contacts with other organizations

The critical nature of the research of CRITICS centers and their members often implies or presupposes close contacts and cooperation with social and political organizations outside the academy. Members may be participating in feminist or anti-racist organizations, and more official contacts may be established with a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) in the relevant sub-fields
covered by CRITICS researchers. Since much critical research is about power abuse, dominance, inequality, as well as about forms of resistance, struggle and critique, CRITICS centers and their members may, also as such, be involved in such social activities. Expert advice by CRITICS members may be given in many social, legal or political situations.

Organization and funding

The organization of CRITICS is loose and flexible. As long as no funding is available, there is no central CRITICS bureau to coordinate these activities. All activities, both local and international, will depend on those of all members. Each center or person may contribute as much or as little as it likes to the international project. In that respect CRITICS is not an organization, but merely a practical network of people who are engaged in critical analysis. The CRITICS Foundation is merely a formalization of such aims, and organizes a number of prominent scholar who are willing to promote the ideas of the CRITICS project.

Obviously, many activities of CRITICS would be (more) successful if funds would be available for them. Both internationally as well as locally, the various members and centers participating in the CRITICS project may therefore apply for funding of special activities, such as conferences, student exchange or publications. Each center that participates in the CRITICS project may thus also apply for funds under the CRITICS label and use it for its own research activities.

Concluding Remark

The CRITICS activities briefly discussed above are among the many that might be undertaken in the international and multidisciplinary CRITICS project. All members of the various CRITICS research centers, as well as others (also students) working in the field of the critical analysis of language, discourse and communication, are hereby invited to participate in and contribute to the various aims and activities of this international endeavor. They may participate in the bibliographical project, the e-mail list, in student exchange and international conferences, among others. All those interested in the CRITICS project are welcome to send ideas, suggestions (and critique!) to the secretariat.

Postscript May 2001

Unfortunately, due to lack of time, few of the ideas and plans of the CRITICS Foundation have been realized in the past 7 years. The major project of the Foundation still alive is the CRITICS-L internet list.

Also, it is obvious that the vast increase of e-mail and internet access has changed many of the earlier limitations and plans of the CRITICS project. Through personal and institutional web-sites, students all over the world now have much better access to relevant information and resources than in 1994.

Yet, many of the critical aims of the CRITICS project remain extraordinarily relevant today.

Critical scholars who have confidence in the ideas and ideals of CRITICS and want to invest some time in the Foundation are welcome to take the initiative and blow new life in this project.