The Return to Blogging Blog Part I

I do want to use this blog for the remaining weeks as a sandbox for playing with my data. But today’s entry is maybe better framed as half a description of the approach I’m taking and half a glimpse of (a piece of) that approach.

A week or so after my data landed in my lap (a corpus of emails collected from the phd-design listserv for those readers who may not remember my class presentation) I was preoccupied with choosing an “approach” to analysis. From what perspective would I be analyzing this data? Would I be using a framework? Or would the analysis be a bit more fluid and extemporaneous? I didn’t make this decision until I after I spent that first week just reading through the data and so, in a way, I would frame my decision as a collaborative one made with the data rather than an a priori decision.

From my initial reading of the text, one thing was clear. There are two kinds of research: legitimate and illegitimate, where legitimate is more or less synonymous with academic. In other words, for research to be legitimate (in an academic setting) then it has to meet certain criteria. If it does not meet those criteria, then by definition it is not legitimate research. Such is the case with research through design, which incidentally goes by many names (e.g. practice-based research, practice-led research, research for design, etc.). In the email thread, there were staunch participants on both sides of the debate, though I will admit I read a skew in favor of legitimate research. That is, more of the contributors tended towards dogmatic acceptance/support of legitimate research… or maybe it’s just that those voices were more dominant, providing more content… ad nauseam… I know. In any event, I grew curious about the ways in which ways of doing research are legitimated through discourse and, concomitantly, ways in which (other) ways of doing research are “illegitimated.”

This interest pointed me back towards Wooffitt’s chapter on CDA. The following quotes seem to me to capture the pith of what I’m grappling with:

“[CDA] is concerned to analyze how social and political inequalities are manifest in and reproduced through discourse.” (Wooffitt XXX)

“… all critical discourse analysts try to explore the role of discourse in the production and reproduction of power relations within social structures.” (Wooffitt 138)

In what ways does discourse manifest and reproduce the apparent inequality between different kinds of research? What is the role of discourse in the production and reproduction of research-centered power relations within academia? Whose work counts as legitimate research and whose work doesn’t? And how can we get a better bead on this through discourse analysis?

In the same chapter, Wooffitt describes work by van Dijk re: “the various ways in which a text may be interrogated by analyzing the transcript of a political speech.” (Wooffitt 141) As I read the example, I couldn’t help but replace some of the keywords in the text with words that were relevant to my project. For example, “[I] seek to reveal the ways in which [these emails… or just one email… or just one participants email…] although [seemingly at times inclusive in its tone] and in the nature of its arguments, discredits [other ways of doing research], and thereby perpetuates [academic research.]” (Wooffitt 142)

This is a relevant issue for the design research community, who, at one of the premier conferences last year, during a panel discussion, took a comment from an audience member who decried the conference with the following critique:

Me (hhh) Um, I just have to say that I mean but there if (.) there are things that are wrong in (.) being (.) presented as research and (.) then (.) there they need to be dispu’ed, they need to have (.) but then there’s conflict there eh (.) research isn’t some sort of (hhh) nice reflective thing (.) it’s something (.) when there are (.) when there are things that we are doing that are wrong, they need to be disrupted (.) and they need to be challenged.

… watch the full video here:; the comment before this one happens at about the 50:44 mark

SO! Now how have I started my approach? I have taken van Dijk’s approach to analyzing the political speech as a framework composed of two levels:

  1. The broader context of the discourse. This includes questions like “Who can write?” and “Who can speak?” “What is the setting?” “Does the setting imbue certain participants with authority?” “What is the genre of communication?” What are the characteristics of this genre?”
  2. The discourse.
    1. Communicative acts and social meanings, including: words and phrases used, metaphors, etc.
    2. Participant positions and roles, including: kinds of identities relevant to the interpretation of the speech
    3. Speech acts, including: who reads them and who critiques them? how do they land with a particular audience?
    4. Macro-semantics, including: How is the debate formulated or reformulated? What is (or was) the core issue?
    5. Superstructures and schemata, including: argumentative propositions and rhetorical moves.

I have drafted preliminary content based on these categories and conducted a (second) mini lit review of the literature around this topic in the design research community, which is, perhaps not surprisingly, quite highly discussed. What hasn’t been done, so far as I can tell based on my preliminary work, is a discourse analysis of the discussion to understand how these asymmetrical power relations are perpetuated at the level of discourse, which makes the prospect of extending this work beyond the boundaries of the semester quite exciting.

**I wanted to get a post uploaded in time, but I plan on posting more often during these next few weeks as a way to force myself to really dig into the data and share my preliminary analyses and findings. This post is Part I. Ideally I will post Part II and III later this week, if folks are checking in.**