Discourse Analysis?

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Discourse analysts in the social sciences work with many forms of language data, including talk, documents, online material and news media. They investigate interactions and social practices, meaning-making and larger meaning systems, and contests and conflicts around collective identities, social norms and subjectification. This book offers a coherent and wide-ranging introduction to different theoretical and practical traditions of discourse analysis. It introduces the premises underlying them and sets out the processes through which discourse analytic researchers produce findings which become evidence for new academic arguments. It provides clear practical guidance and also answers some common criticisms of discourse analysis.

Discourse analysis is one of the most popular qualitative analysis techniques we encounter at Grad Coach. If you’ve landed on this post, you’re probably interested in discourse analysis, but you’re not sure whether it’s the right fit for your project, or you don’t know where to start. If so, you’ve come to the right place.

n its simplest form, discourse is verbal or written communication between people that goes beyond a single sentence. Importantly, discourse is more than just language. The term “language” can include all forms of linguistic and symbolic units (even things such as road signs), and language studies can focus on the individual meanings of words. Discourse goes beyond this and looks at the overall meanings conveyed by language in context.  “Context” here refers to the social, cultural, political, and historical background of the discourse, and it is important to take this into account to understand underlying meanings expressed through language.

Discourse analysis uses the language presented in a corpus or body of data to draw meaning. This body of data could include a set of interviews or focus group discussion transcripts. While some forms of discourse analysis center in on the specifics of language (such as sounds or grammar), other forms focus on how this language is used to achieve its aims. We’ll dig deeper into these two above-mentioned approaches later.

Discourse analysis is the analysis of both written and spoken language in relation to its social context and refers to the way that different types of language construct meaning. The emergence of discourse analysis can be traced back to the work of French theorist Michel Foucault who considered discourses as statements that are recognised as meaningful within society and then reproduced through said discourse. Fundamentally, discourse analysis is considered valuable as it seeks to establish how and why certain social ‘scripts’ or systems are attributed significance and therefore helps us better understand the world around us. Discourse analysis also provides a tool to analyse the role of language in reinforcing and producing such social value systems and material realities. In this sense, “language does not explain the world as much as produces it” (Dunn and Neumann, 2016: 2).

Discourse analysis typically begins with the close reading and rereading of texts. Rereading of texts enables the analyst to notice small details and systematic patterns within the data which can highlight patterns, variability, and consistencies (Albertin et al, 2016). Following this stage, it is possible to develop hypothesis around how certain linguistic forms operate in that context. Whilst discourse analysis is embedded within a wide constructivist theoretical framework, the analytical approach applied will vary according to the epistemological context of the research.

Discourse analysis methods are employed within a wide range of fields however are commonly used within linguistics, sociology, anthropology, education, and social psychology, to name a few.

A popular way of viewing discourse is as language used in specific social contexts, and as such language serves as a means of prompting some form of social change or meeting some form of goal.

Discourse analysis is a method of studying and analyzing written, spoken, or signed language use, often in the context of social and cultural phenomena. It involves examining both the structure and content of communication to understand how language shapes and reflects social reality. Discourse analysis can be applied to various types of communication, such as conversations, interviews, written texts, and media.

There are different approaches to discourse analysis, including:

  1. Textual Discourse Analysis: Focuses on the linguistic features and structures within a text.
  2. Social Discourse Analysis: Examines the social context and power relations embedded in communication.
  3. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA): Aims to uncover hidden power structures and ideologies in discourse, often used in the analysis of media and political communication.
  4. Conversation Analysis (CA): Concentrates on the structure and organization of talk in interaction, often studying the sequential order of utterances.
  5. Multimodal Discourse Analysis: Explores how different modes of communication, such as language, images, and gestures, interact in meaning-making.

Discourse analysis is widely used in fields such as linguistics, sociology, anthropology, communication studies, and cultural studies. Researchers use it to understand how language contributes to the construction of social reality, identities, and power dynamics.

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