Discourse can be described in great detail, as having strands, knots, positions, themes and many other elements, but academics now use discourse to help them understand many social and political issues, and this has developed into a new school of thought, Critical Discourse Analysis. A particular feature of CDA is its interest in the way power relationships are signalled in communications.
I have included some pages on CDA and Power
The ‘idea of discourse’ may be interesting and useful, but it is easy to imagine criticism that:-
- The use of discourse is a more sophisticated form of campaigning
- Or, that discourse is just another method of commentating of current affairs
These criticisms could clearly have validity, so discourse analysis faces a challenge of how it can become a ‘full academic discipline’ – how can it inoculate itself in advance against these criticisms?
For this reason Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) has been developed, and I want to describe CDA as an academic discipline which has developed a range of methods and techniques for working on discourse – finding ways to disentangle the discourses and understand the positions and levels taken up by authors.
CDA has enormous potential, and here are some examples of the potential applications:-
- how the effects of power and ideology in the production of meaning are obscured, and how dominance acquires stable and natural forms, it is taken as 'given' and normal to be either dominant or dominated.
- how the breaking of conventions (stable discursive practices) occurs in acts of creativity (and may even be necessary for creativity)
- how texts are often sites of struggle in that they can show traces of differing discourses and ideologies contending and struggling for dominance.
- how in texts, discursive differences are negotiated; they are caused by differences in power which are themselves in part encoded in and determined by discourse and by genre.
In particular, one can postulate the following major goals that are possible with CDA
- The possibility to reconstruct ‘what someone thought’ when they created a text – this is what I tried to do when I looked at UK food policy. The task in its entirety is obviously impossible, especially as a food policy is a collective thought, but perhaps it is possible to reconstruct ‘what the government thinks about animals’ as a first step.
- The opportunity to develop an ‘archaeology of thought’ in the way that Foucault has done in some of his books. An example of this might trace the way famine and plenty have inter-related over the centuries, and how this has influenced human aspirations
- The chance to look in new ways at what is happening in the world. For example, there is a new idea that the major force at work in the world is the spread of the ‘managerial discourse’ which is taking over (colonising) in politics, government, the arts, and many other areas of life.
Some of CDA is very technical, and I have added some extra articles about some of the major themes of CDA.
I have some other very technical materials on the theoretical basis of CDA, which I will leave out for now - I can email them to anyone who is interested in them !
(Throughout this section I use some examples relating to food. All references are from articles in Wodak, R. and Meyer, M (eds.) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, Sage Publications, London.)