Critical Discourse Analysis

However interesting and useful the 'idea of discourse' may be, it is easy to imagine criticism that:-
· The use of discourse is only 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 in this section, 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.

In this section, I describe the core of CDA, and in section C, I describe some of the major issues dealt with by CDA.

The Theoretical Grounding and Objectives of CDA

There is a 'theoretical burden' to CDA, as links have been built between CDA and the other main bodies of theory types found in the social sciences. It also has clear connections to the main schools of philosophical thought.

There is no one central theory used by CDA. There is a range and variety, and many authors use a technique of moving from theory to discourse, then back to theory :-
· Epistemology. Models of human perception in general, its limits, conditions and contingencies, and particularly scientific perception
· General Social Theories ('Grand Theories'). These try to conceptualise relations between social structure and social action, thus linking macro- and micro-sociological phenomena. Within this,
o some are more structuralist (often top-down explanations = structure -> action),
o others are more individualist (often bottom-up explanations = action -> structure)
o more modern theories imply that there is some kind of circularity between structure and action
· Middle range theories. These may focus on:-
o Specific social phenomena (conflict, cognition, social networks)
o Or specific sub-systems of society (economy, politics, religion)
· Micro-sociological Theories. Try to explain social interaction, e.g. the double contingency problem (A and B have never met, how will they relate, what will they do if they meet), or the reconstruction of everyday procedures, whereby members of society create their own social order. ……. As such, it relates to ethno-methodology.
· Socio-psychological theories. These prefer causal explanations compared to micro-sociology, and concentrate on the social conditions of cognition and emotion
· Discourse Theories. Conceptualise discourse as a social phenomenon, and try to explain its genesis and structure
· Linguistic Theories. Explain the patterns specific to language systems and verbal communication - theories of argumentation, grammar, rhetoric, etc (based on Meyer, 2001, pp 19- 20)

All of the above theory types can be found in CDA, so at first it seems that what unifies CDA is the specifics of research questions rather than theoretical positioning.

An important point about CDA is that the range of theories possible in CDA helps it to claim that it is interdisciplinary, and by using methods based on several of these theory groups, a triangulation process can be carried out which helps to validate the results achieved.

Fairclough and Kress have stated that a full account of discourse would involve a theorisation and description of both the
1. social processes and structures which give rise to the production of a text,
2. and of the social structures and processes within which individuals or groups as social historical subjects, create meaning in their interaction with texts. (derived from Wodak, 2001, p. 3)

Clearly, to achieve a complete description of BOTH the circumstances surrounding the creating of a text AND the circumstances surrounding the reader/researcher is almost impossible to envisage. In addition to this, there is the challenge of carrying out a FULL analysis of a text. In the example of my text, I could exhaust the reader with a 1000 pages of full analysis of my 240-word text. To describe the circumstance of the creation of the text and my own circumstance as researcher would also be major works. At the other extreme, I could simply review it or make comments. This might entertain or influence, but would not ultimately have any validity. Inevitably, I am compromising by selecting the most interesting parts of the 'full analysis', giving some information of the circumstances, and hoping to avoid mere commentary.

The Attitude of CDA

Some of the leading exponents of CDA deal with the critical dilemma by taking an explicit position.

For example, van Dijk asks: "What is CDA ?"
· It is a (critical) perspective on doing scholarship
· It is discourse analysis 'with an attitude'
· It focuses on social problems and especially on the role of discourse on the production and reproduction of power abuse and domination
· It tries to do this in a way consistent with the best interests of the dominated groups
· It combines the (old and pompous) 'solidarity with the oppressed' with an attitude of opposition and dissent against those who abuse text and talk in order to establish, confirm or legitimate their abuse of power
· In CDA, theory formation, description, problem formulation and applications are closely intertwined and mutually inspiring (van Dijk, 2001, p. 96)
He emphasises the need for a broad, diverse, problem-oriented CDA

Meyer describes the differences between CDA and other research methods as
· The nature of the problems tackled is different - other methods do not always determine their interest in advance
· CDA asks different research questions (regarding power, for example )
· CDA scholars play an advocatory role for groups who suffer from social discrimination
· The line drawn between social research and political argumentation is sometimes crossed
CDA endeavours to make explicit power relations which are frequently hidden, and thereby to derive results of practical relevance (Meyer, 2001, p. 15)

And Jaeger adds - "Nevertheless strict objectivity cannot be achieved by means of discourse analysis, for each technology of research must itself be examined as potentially embedding the beliefs and ideologies of the analysts and thereby prejudicing the analysis towards the analysts preconceptions" (Jaeger, 2001, p. 33-4)

In general, it can be said that CDA strives for self-awareness in terms of:-
1. power relations, and the response of the researcher to power situations
2. the researcher should study the way that discourse is used as a tool of power
3. that generally, power relations in society can best be studied from the side of the dis-empowered
4. despite all the efforts of the researcher, objectivity can never be absolute, and is probably never achievable
5. that there should be awareness if the researcher crosses the line between social research and political argumentation

Added to the enormous complexity of discourse itself, and the wide range of social theories available, the quest for self awareness can easily be forgotten, and this is also an essential aspect of CDA

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