Context is/as Critique

Context is/as Critique
Critique of Anthropology March 2001, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 13 -32(20)
Blommaert J. Ghent University, Belgium
In this article the treatment of context in two schools of contemporary
discourse analysis - Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and Conversation
Analysis (CA) - is discussed. Starting from the observation that critical
trends in discourse analysis identify the intersection of language and social
structure as the locus of critique, I first qualify the treatment of context in
some CDA work as largely backgrounding and narrative. Contextual
information that invites critical scrutiny is often accepted as 'mere facts',
framing the discourse samples analyzed in CDA. On the other hand,
context is reduced to a minimal set of observable and demonstrably
consequential features of single conversations in CA, and 'translocal'
phenomena are hard to incorporate in CA analyses. Both treatments of
context have severe defects, and in the second part of the article I offer
three sets of 'forgotten contexts': contexts that are usually overlooked in
critical discourse studies but that offer considerable critical potential
because they situate discourse deeply in social structure and social
processes. Using data from an ongoing project on narrative analysis of
African asylum seekers' stories in Belgium, I discuss linguisticcommunicative resources, 'text trajectories' (i.e. the shifting of text across
contexts) and finally 'data histories' (i.e. the socio-historical situatedness of
Keywords: asylum seekers; contextualization; discourse analysis;
interpretation; methodology; narrative