Social Science or Social Control: Qualitative Researchers’ Dilemma in Contrastive Rhetoric


  • Yaying Zhang Thompson Rivers University


As many critics have pointed out, social science is not and has never been a neutral enquiry into human behaviors and institutions. It is strongly implicated in the project of social control, whether by the state or by other agencies, which ultimately serve the interests of a dominant group. In this paper, I will focus on contrastive rhetoric—an area of study in second language writing—as an example of social science research. I will first discuss how, in the field of contrastive rhetoric, a particular “social problem” is first identified and then contained through the collective pronouncements of expert discourse. I will then speculate on the epistemological assumptions of contrastive rhetoric that determine the research focus and influence research findings, which, in turn, can affect the representations as well as experiential realities of the researched groups. Finally, I will discuss how alternative ways of approaching the “problem” could challenge existing paradigms that disadvantage the researched groups. 

Author Biography

Yaying Zhang, Thompson Rivers University

Yaying Zhang is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Thompson Rivers University, where she teaches courses in Rhetoric/Composition and Asian Canadian Literature. Her research interests focus on issues of language and culture at the intersection of rhetorical and postcolonial studies.