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Discourse analysis

Discourse analysis. Introduction. Like narrative analysis, discourse analysis is associated with post-structuralism and the ‘linguistic turn’: epistemology matters Specific assumptions about the significance of language and text

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Discourse analysis

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  1. Discourse analysis

  2. Introduction • Like narrative analysis, discourse analysis is associated with post-structuralism and the ‘linguistic turn’: epistemology matters • Specific assumptions about the significance of language and text • Meaning resides in networks of relations between words, ideas, concepts, language forms. • Both approaches can be used to analyse a wide range of qualitative research ‘data’ – interviews, documents and media.

  3. Features of discourse analysis Language is constructive – departure from ‘realist’ theorists ‘Discourse’ includes both spoken and written language There are many ways to tell a story - any particular description will depend upon the perspective of the speaker or writer Language is not viewed as a mere epiphenomenon, but as a practice in its own right. People use discourse to do things - to offer blame, to make excuses, to present themselves in a positive light, etc.’ (Gill, 2000) It refers to larger units of organisation than the sentence – narratives, stories and conversational exchanges Discourse is a matter of language usage, with a particular interest in the multiple ways power operates.

  4. Discourse and the making of social life There is no ‘I’ outside of discourse, which gives intelligibility to that term. Butler (1990) Gender Trouble

  5. ‘Discourse analysts are interested in texts in their own right, rather than seeing them as a means of ‘getting at’ some reality which is deemed to lie behind the discourse - whether social or psychological or material. This focus clearly marks discourse analysts out from some other social scientists - whose concern with language is generally limited to finding out ‘what really happened’ or what an individual’s attitude to x, y or z really is. Instead of seeing discourse as a pathway to some other reality, discourse analysts are interested in the content and organization of texts.’ (Gill, 2000)

  6. The heritage of discourse • Positivist/empiricist • discourses are best viewed as ‘frames’ or ‘cognitive schemata’, ‘the conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared understandings’ • Structuralist linguistics (Saussure) • Difference between statement/text and language/grammar/rules of formation of text. • Sign = signifier (the form) + signified (the concept) • Speech act philosophy (Wittgenstein, Austin) • Words do not simply represent the world, they constitute that world See Howarth (2000) ‘Introduction’ in Discourse.

  7. Different theoretical concepts of discourse 1. Realist accounts • stresses the underlying ‘material resources which make discourses possible’ • the ‘study of the dynamics which structure texts has to be located in an account of the ways discourses reproduce and transform the material world’ 2. Marxist accounts • share underlying epistemological/ontological assumptions of realism • discourses are viewed as ideological systems of meanings that obfuscate and naturalize uneven distributions of power and resources • discourse analysis exposes mechanisms by which this deception operations and proposes emancipatory alternatives • Gramsci: hegemony, contestation, co-option • Althusser: ideological state apparatus, interpellation (representations call subjects into being)

  8. Different theoretical concepts of discourse 3. Norman Fairclough’sschool of ‘critical discourse analysis’ • combines works of Gramsci, Bakhtin, Althusser, Foucault, Giddens and Habermas • greater role for human meaning and understanding than with positivist, realist, and Marxist accounts • discourses are viewed as ideological systems of meanings that obfuscate and naturalize uneven distributions of power and resources • uses Giddens’ theory of structuration, the theme of the ‘duality of social structure and human agency’ • discourse analysis examines the dialectical relationship between structure and agency to expose the ways in which discourse is used by the powerful to deceive and oppress the dominated

  9. Different theoretical concepts of discourse 4.. Post-structuralistsand Cultural Studies/ post-Marxists • Derrida, Foucault, Laclau and Mouffe, Butler; Birmingham School of Cultural Studies: Hall, Gilroy, McRobbie... • More comprehensive concepts of discourse than hermeneutical emphasis on social meaning (e.g. Fairclough) or realist/Marxist approaches. – meanings are NEVER fixed and so there is a conStant struggle about definitions, identities and so on. • May incorporate ideas from psychoanalysis • Every ‘concrete’ fixation of a sign’s meaning is contingent: it is possible but not necessary. • Regard social structures as inherently ambiguous, incomplete and contingent systems of meanings • Placing power relations at the centre of analysis

  10. Derrida, difference and deconstruction Language operates through distinction and comparison I = not you Categories of difference are always hierarchical Black/White; Man/Woman; Animal/Man; Unemployed/Worker • Categories are not neutral description, they imply hierarchies and judgment • ‘The Other’ – what the (fantasised) self is not • Romanticising, denigrating, pacifying visions • E.g. the orient contra the occident (Said Orientalism)

  11. Foucault and disciplinary power/knowledge: historical discourses • Truths (including scientific, objective truths) are historically constructed – ‘regimes of truth’; power/knowledge; discourse • Discourses • Are the outcome of power struggles • Produce subjects • Normalise (discipline) or regularise subjects • Normalising discourse • People studying, describing and classifying ‘abnormal’ practices and ‘dangerous’ individuals; the disciplinary gaze; normalising power • E.g. Classification and discipline of sexual behaviours in 19th C

  12. Laclau and Mouffe Hegemonic discourses ‘differential ensemble of signifying sequences in which meaning is constantly renegotiated.’ reinterpretation of Gramsci (+Saussure, psychoanalysis, deconstruction) • Elements: signs whose meanings are not (yet) fixed. • Different positions are ‘articulated’ – relations between elements are articulated. • This produces a ‘structured totality’ = a discourse • Differential positions articulated within a discourse (signs in a discourse)are moments. • Discourses formed by partially fixed meanings around a ‘nodal point’ – a privileged sign around which other signs are ordered.

  13. Discourse becomes a totality when signs are fixed as moments through and in relations to other sign (e.g. by exclusion of other possible meanings). • This ‘total’ discourse reduces possibilities, and stops meanings from changing. What’s excluded is the ‘field of discursivity’. • BUT. Because discourses are constituted in relation to the ‘outside’ then they can be disrupted. E.g. because meanings are polysemic (multiple)

  14. e.g. sporting success • Imagine a news reporter presenting an item on the world cup. The anchor asks ‘What does this mean for the future of football’? • Reporter is asked for a regime of statements to articulate something about world cup football. • Theoretically, there are many ways of answering • BUT, it’s likely that the reporter will articulate a dominant discourse through a nodal point. • E.g. In France, the dominant discourse may be French success. • Making this the nodal point excludes and marginalises other discourses. E.g. shocking news of bribery and corruption, disgust at deaths in Qatar, ‘our boys done good’, Britain/China/Brazil/Monaco will win… etc. .

  15. e.g. medical discourse • ‘nodal point’ = body. • Other signs: symptom, experience, diagnosis, scalpel, pill, treatment etc. • Medical discourse: bodies and illnesses can be known and treated, treat the part that’s gone wrong. • Element = say, your illness. You can’t concentrate. • Within medical discourse, your doctor can articulate this element in relation to moments (lack of concentration means….) in a way that tells you what’s what… By articulating the element in relation to other signs s/he gives you an explanation, and reinforces the medical discourse. • As a patient, you’re supposed to treat that as ‘real’. As a discourse analysis the ‘real’ isn’t what matters. How an element is fixed into a system of meanings is what matters. • So ‘I can’t concentrate’ can be incorporated into a medicalised discourse and treated.

  16. What does discourse analysis involve? • Researching the systems of representation, articulation and meaning that constitute the social world • Study of shared sites of representation/statements • Public documents, texts, media outputs, films, books, legal proceedings, medical guidance, self-help books, speech. • Study of the rule of formation of representation; the language that make statements possible; the grammar; the underlying assumptions: DISCOURSE Discourses are general rules, statements take place within discourses. Look at numerous statements to find out about the underlying discourse.

  17. Doing discourse analysis • Discourse analysis is always addressed to power relations • Deconstruction or revealing underlying assumptions/discourse - making discursive power visible • Thereby weaken the emotional grip of discursive power • Enable and encourage people to question taken for granted assumptions and to take responsibility for their judgments and classification practices • Fostering reflexivity and critique

  18. What is a text? What is a discourse? • Text: structure of messages. Concrete material object. Reflects and reproduces systems. • ‘text is only a trace of discourse, frozen and preserved, more or less reliable or misleading’ (Kress and Hunter, 12). • Discourses: social process in which texts are embedded.

  19. Multimodality (Kress) • Modes of communication offer historically specific, socially and culturally shared optiosn for communicating. • Multimodality: incorporates all modes of communication, including how texts themselves were created, visual and sensory. • Choice of mode is important to understanding what a discourse does.

  20. Doing discourse analysis (practical steps) • The Starting Point: an issue • Data collection: gathering statements/texts/documents • Analysis: interpretation and critique

  21. Doing discourse analysis 1) The starting point: an issue • Either a power relationship that you want to explore and deconstruct in a discursive context • E.g. How is class power perpetuated in the Brazilian mass media? Does international development discourse participate in Islamaphobia? • Or a discursive event that you want to interrogate; you’ve identified a new or transformed discourse and you want to ask - what are the implications of this discourse for power relations? • E.g. A critical interrogation of the ‘addiction to spending’ discourse on the current financial crisis, or the ‘benefit scroungers’ discourse

  22. Doing discourse analysis 2) Data collection • Gathering ‘statements’, texts, images, films, symbols • E.g. Collecting newspaper articles on a given topic (such as austerity and recession) or mentioning a given group of people (such as ‘unemployed’ people) • Set parameters for data collection – e.g. select two newspapers to look at over a specific time period; use ‘key terms’, ‘themes’ or ‘tropes’ to select relevant material • AND developing your own powers of interpretation and critique • Read around the topic, find different perspectives on the topic (things written at different times, things voicing different perspectives) • Improving your ability to think differently about the issue and to ‘see beyond’ and identify the normal(ising) assumptions

  23. Doing discourse analysis 3. A double reading to deconstruct. 1 a faithful reading of the text. Follow the dominant interpretation. 2. An unfaithful reading. What is excluded, neglected and repressed. • How are meanings generated and negotiated? What discourse is produced? • What is the nodal point? • What elements are up for dispute/negotiation? • How are these articulated, in relation to other moments?

  24. Doing discourse analysis 4 ) good things to look for: Identifying implicit assumptions; describing and challenging the power relations, hierarchies, and (mis)representations implied by those assumptions; identifying the discourse Classification practices • Generalisation e.g. ‘Chav’; Muslim • Hierarchical/judgmental terms e.g. ‘unemployed’ Articulation • Terms articulated to other terms, drawing problematic parallels e.g. poor=child. Articulation seeks to define meaning. Othering • Denigrating characterisation of particular groups as opposite of an idealised image of ‘the self’/dominant culture Normalisation • Describing ‘types’ of people as abnormal, dangerous, threatening

  25. Limkokwing University prospectus

  26. e.g. the promises of universities • Nodal point: the university. • Elements ‘good students’, future. • University prospectus participates in the discursive construction of the ideal student AND makes promises to prospective students. • Classifications: top, leader, ‘each one of them’. A ‘nerve centre’, creative, exciting. • Articulations: don’t wait, don’t just. Progressive, proactive, business. • Othering: the pack. • Normalisation: the business leader. Global, local and university brands.

  27. ‘If you read an article or book the usual goal is to produce a simple, unitary summary, and to ignore the nuance, contradictions and areas of vagueness. However, the discourse analyst is concerned with the detail of passages of discourse, however fragmented and contradictory, and with what is actually said or written, not some general idea that seems to be intended.’ (Potter & Wetherell, 1987: 168).

  28. Discourse and the making of social life • Discourse is not simply a means of expression • But, the conditions of our thinking, speaking, seeing selves; making actions possible • ‘A discourse constitutes ways of acting in the world, as well as a description of it. It both opens up and closes down possibilities for action for ourselves’. • Levitas (2005, p3) The Inclusive Society

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