Books : reviews

Michael Billig.
Arguing and Thinking: a rhetorical approach to social psychology.
CUP. 1987

Arguing and thinking is an entertaining and scholarly examination of argumentation and its psychological importance in human conduct. Michael Billig suggests that modern psychology has overlooked the study of arguments, and he seeks to repair this gap by turning to the very earliest social psychologists - the ancient theorists of rhetoric. According to Billig, rhetoricians like Aristotle, Cicero and especially Protagoras discussed many of the same issues as modem social psychologists. However, the ancient theorists understood something, which seems to have been forgotten by today’s social psychologists: the ability to argue, and to contradict, is crucial to human thinking.

Arguing and thinking does more than trace the connections between ancient rhetorical ideas and modem social psychology. It also offers a novel approach to contemporary social psychological issues. Citing examples from a wide range of sources, the author illustrates the argumentative dimension in such phenomena as attitudes, roles, categorizations, etc. In so doing, Michael Billig is able to reverse a number of common psychological assumptions, and to stress the theoretical importance of rhetoric.

This witty and original book will appeal not only to psychologists, but to all readers with an interest in argumentation. Arguing and thinking is for those who can be persuaded that the juxtaposition of the old and the new may offer fresh and important insights.

Michael Billig.
Learn to Write Badly: how to succeed in the social sciences.
CUP. 2013

Modern academia is increasingly competitive yet the writing style of social scientists is routinely poor and continues to deteriorate. Are social science postgraduates being taught to write poorly? What conditions adversely affect the way they write? And which linguistic features contribute towards this bad writing? Michael Billig’s witty and entertaining book analyses these questions in a quest to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong with the way social scientists write. Using examples from diverse fields such as linguistics, sociology and experimental social psychology, Billig shows how technical terminology is regularly less precise than simpler language. He demonstrates that there are linguistic problems with the noun-based terminology that social scientists habitually use – ‘reification’ or ‘nominalization’ rather than the corresponding verbs ‘reify’ or ‘nominalize’. According to Billig, social scientists not only use their terminology to exaggerate and to conceal, but also to promote themselves and their work.