Critical Discourse Analysis

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Some background: I read this week’s readings, went back and re-read the notes I took from last week’s readings, looked at my last few blog entries for this class, and took a (brief) second pass at this week’s readings. Here’s where I’m at: We’re learning different schools of discourse analysis and I’m having a heck of a time drawing lines between them. There are examples in this week’s Jorgensen reading where the lines appear clear.

For example, “Critical discourse analysis engages in concrete, linguistic textual analysis of language use in social interaction. This distinguishes it from Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, which does not carry out systematic, empirical studies of language use.” Aside from the fact that when I read this, I said to myself, “Ok, so what exactly does Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory “do” when it does analysis then?” The distinction between the approaches is at least clear in theory. But there are other cases where I read the text and the lines blurred.

For instance, the authors write that, “… an important difference between Fairclough and poststructuralist discourse theory is that, in the former, discourse is not only seen as constitutive but as constituted.” Is this supposed to be different from Laclau and Mouffe’s thinking because “constituted” implies that there is an entity external to discourse that is “constituting” it? Maybe. But it seems like it’s possible for both Fairclough (who believes that some social phenomena “are not of a linguistic-discursive character”) and Laclau and Mouffe (who believe that “the whole social field is understood as a web of processes in which meaning is created,” which I’m translating as “all social phenomena are of a discursive character) to subscribe to the idea of discourse as constitutive and constituted without giving up their positions on boundaries between discourse and (external) social practice. In Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, this process would be internal to the system. It builds (and re-builds) itself. Internal regulation. And in Fairclough’s it would be an interaction between two systems: discourse constitutes social practices and is constituted by them.

I’m especially interested by the issue of line drawing, I think, because this week’s readings (in general) left me wondering a lot about the relationship between the meta-theoretical underpinnings of the different approaches and the actual carrying out of an analysis. I need to do some re-reading of this and past week’s examples of analysis, but I think it would be worthwhile to try and (1) chart the similarities and differences between Luke’s analysis of “texts of home and community life, classrooms, and schools,” Wetherell’s approach to the analysis of Diana’s Panorama interview, and Lester and Gabriel’s analysis of the construction of intelligence in introductory ed psych textbooks and (2) to think about what analyses of the same material from a different approach might look like. If, for example, Luke was looking at constructions of intelligence from a CDA perspective, what would that analysis look like?

2 thoughts on “Critical Discourse Analysis

  1. Ah, yes — lots of overlap but nuanced differences at the level of analysis (in particular). A few things that shift (in minor ways but with impact) are the ways in which an analyst orients to issues of power, race, sexism, identity markers — are they presupposed to impact the interaction or are they only attended to when made relevant by interacts (CDA, for instance, presupposes their existence). Further, the level of analytic focus (Laclau and Mouffe focus on the meta and CDA is a bit more micro, not to the extent DP and CA will be however). So, with these few items of difference, you can see how analysis of the same data set would vary (at times ever so slightly).

    1. Thanks for the reply, Jessica! It’s exactly those details that I’m curious about–the ways in which an analysts orientation towards issues like power, race, sexism, identity markers, etc. influence their analysis. I guess orientations might be most apparent in the “agenda” portion of the analysis. I skimmed (just today) an HCI paper that uses discourse analysis as a means to understand how HCI “talks about sexuality” in order to (1) open up new possibilities for the conversation and (2) demonstrate the value of the discourse on sexuality to the broader hci community. It does more than just these two things, of course, these are just the stand-out things in my memory. I can kind of see how their orientation towards power, e.g. the relationship between the broader (dominant) hci community and the discourse on sexuality, motivates their work and maybe functions as a guide for making meaning through their analysis.

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