The Popularization of Specialized Knowledge Through Ted Talks: The Case of Positive Psychology

  •  Francesco Pierini    


TED is a non-profit global platform where conferences and speeches—brief but powerful—are held by people who, based on the TED’s motto, have an idea considered to be worth spreading. TED is often regarded as one of the best examples of positive globalization in its activity of knowledge-sharing and it defines itself as “a global community welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world” (Note 1).

As Heller (2012) said, TED’s talks are “sophisticated, popular, lucrative, socially conscious, and wildly pervasive—the Holy Grail of digital-age production”. However, in some recent newspaper articles TED’s approach to the dissemination of science has been criticized because considered simplistic, trivial and even biased (Bratton, 2013; Robbins, 2012). Notwithstanding, current studies in TED’s approach to scientific popularisation show that science is directly brought into contact with people, without any mediation (Scotto di Carlo, 2014a).

The aim of this paper is to examine how a discipline such as positive psychology is represented in some successful speeches delivered by specialists at TED events. I will focus on the main linguistic and extra-linguistic strategies—such as non-verbal elements—used by experts and academics to convey specialized knowledge to lay people by using the main tools offered by discourse analysis. This will help to clarify whether this process of knowledge-dissemination established by this hybrid genre, is an effective mode of construing, representing and transmitting scientific information.

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