Thur am Liz Kiely

Methodologies... Summer School,
Applied Social Studies,
Thursday 23rd June, 2011
Discourse Analysis as a Critical
Tool for Policy Analysis
Elizabeth Kiely
Plan for Session
What do we mean by discourse?
What is critical discourse analysis?
How is it useful for policy analysis
How do we do use critical discourse
analysis as a research method?
What do we mean by discourse?
‘Discourses can be thought of... as
practices for producing meaning, forming
subjects and regulating conduct within
particular societies and institutions, at
particular historical times’ (MacLure,
2003, p.175)
 Discourses are ‘... Practices that
systematically form the objects of which
they speak’ (Foucault, 1971, p.49).
What do we mean by discourse?
Discourse is constitutive of social practice
and is constituted by social practice.
 Discourses represent things and position
 Discourses produce subjectivities
 Discourses occur in micro (political
speech; interview) and macro contexts
(medical discourse; social work discourse,
curricular discourse)
Discourses we may be familiar
Discourse of managerialism
 Discourse of professional practice
 Discourse of child welfare
 Discourse of risk
 Therapeutic discourse
 Discourse of consumption
What are discursive data for the
purpose of analysis?
Language in use in speech and writing
Examples (not an exhaustive list)
 Interview / focus group data
 Media – television / radio broadcasts,
newspaper articles, news reports
 Parliamentary debates & political speeches
 Organisational internal documents
 Programmatic materials
 Policy documents
Discourse within Critical Theory
Key Practitioners of Critical Discourse Analysis
(CDA): Norman Fairclough, Teun Van Dijk, Ruth
 Aim: ‘... To unmask ideologically
permeated and often obscured structures
of power, political control and dominance as
well as strategies of discriminatory inclusion
and exclusion in language use (Wodak et.
al., 1999, p. 8).
 CDA should ‘... deal primarily with the
discourse dimensions of power abuse and
the injustice and inequality that result from
it (Van Dijk, 1993, p. 252).
Discourse Within Critical Theory
There are differences in styles of CDA
CDA is both theory and method
(Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999).
CDA is interdisciplinary
In CDA all social life is not reduced to
discourse (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999).
CDA accepts a non-relativistic
understanding of truth as epistemic gain;
does not accept judgemental relativism.
Researcher / Analyst – not neutral and
Discourse within Poststructuralism
Influences - Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida
Discourses are inextricably linked to institutions
and to disciplines in society
The workings of power and knowledge are
evident in discourse
There is no one truth; truth is produced through
discursive work
Deconstructive project – a project of resistance,
which illuminates institutional forgetting when
matters attain the status of common sense
(MacLure, 2003, p.179).
Subjectivities are produced in / through
How is discourse analysis useful for
policy analysis?
Has much to offer policy as discourse analysis
 Helps us to think of policy as ‘a strategic and
political process’ – policy in a wider historical,
social and cultural context
 Helps us to think of policy as ‘creating’ a
problem rather than ‘discovering’ it (Carol Lee
Bacchi, 1999).
 Allows us to critically consider the
presumptions underpinning policy, which are
often not analysed.
... Usefulness for policy analysis
Helps us to attend to the impact of the
closure effected by the interpretation of the
problem, the policy chosen and the solutions
/ programmatic interventions put forward.
 Provides us with an approach to look for
gaps, silences, the unspeakable in policy
 Helps us to identify what to contest in policy
 We are encouraged to critically analyse all
policy discourses including our own
proposals etc.
... Usefulness for policy analysis
usefully enables us to analyse the impact of
problem representations of the subjects of
policy; there are real people living the effects
of discourses and policy constructions.
Useful for tracing continuity or shifts in
policy discourses
Provides opportunities for highlighting
alternative / marginal and disappearing policy
Useful for policy activism
How to do discourse analysis
No precise blueprint
What is /are my research question(s)?
What analysis will provide a useful response
to this /these question(s)?
To conduct this analysis what data do I need
and from whom?
What are the practical steps involved? Access, working out the selection / corpus
of data to be analysed.
Read to enable you to build up your
discourse analytic tool kit.
How to do discourse analysis...
Analysing (Fairclough’s approach)
 Description of text(s) – content and
 Interpretation of text (s) –
interdiscursivity and intertextuality,
blending and ordering of discourses
 Broader social analysis –Attention to
the wider social, historical and cultural
context; attending to power and ideology,
Assess impact / effect of discourse.
Analysing - Describing
Ask yourself basic questions about the
text to describe it – who wrote / said it?
Who is the audience? What are key
features of the language used? What
motivated the text? When was it written /
said? What exactly is being said / written?
Are there non-verbal components?
What are key features of how it is being
said or written? What is the genre / text
Analysing – Interpreting
Intertextuality and interdiscursivity -how
does the discourse relate to others, past
and present?
 Choice of words
 Rhetoric
 Metaphors
 Who and how does it interpellate / hail /
seek to build a rapport with?
Analysing / Interpreting...
What is defined as the problem(s)?
What explanations of the problem are offered /
not offered?
What is the solution(s)?
What problem(s), explanation(s) and solution(s)
are not offered?
Is there the presence of one or more discourses
within the text?
What discourse (s) is /are privileged within the
Is there evidence of negotiation with / resistance
to discourses within the text?
Analysing / Broader Social Analysis....
Can you identify silences / what is not said within
the discourse?
Can you identify / look for alternative / resistant
Is there a shift / discursive break in the discourse
/ continuity in the discourse?
Can you assess the impact of the discourse?
What can you say about access to discourse –
insiders / outsiders?
What can you say about the relationships
between the discourses (you are studying) and
social struggle / conflict, hierarchies of credibility
and the exercise of power relations?
Van Dijk – Key questions for a CDA
How do powerful groups control public
 How does such discourse control mind
and action of less powerful groups and
what are the consequences e.g. material
 How do dominated groups discursively
challenge / resist such power?
Wodak’s discourse- historical approach
Historical analysis
Socio political analysis – interdiscursivity and
intertextuality (media analysis)
Socio cognitive analysis – collective
memories, frames and context models
Attention to genre
Analysis of texts in their specific settings
Analyse verbal expressions
Key – historic, triangulate and cognitive
Issues / Challenges
Is my analytical toolkit good enough?
Corpus size
Not always viewed as sufficient, when used
as a stand alone research method
Publishing work resulting from CDA – may
be perceived as a subjective, ideological
interpretation not the outcome of a robust
‘objective’ research process
Emancipatory requirement
Access and Dissemination
Exercise: Analysis of....
Reference sheet for teachers delivering
the lesson on teenage pregnancy to junior
cycle students (RSE resource materials)
 Information lesson to third class students
(RSE resource materials)
 Three letters (written to newspapers) in
relation to the RSE programme
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