What is critical discourse analysis.
In CDA, the notion of
‘critical’ is primarily
applied to the engagement
with power relations
associated with the
Frankfurt School of critical
In this, it argues against a
realist, neutral and
rationalist view of the
world. Instead the role is to
uncloak the hidden
power relations, largely
language, and to
demonstrate and challenge
social inequities reinforced
Discourse is a
James Gee (1990)
uses the term
discourse (with a
small ‘d’ to talk about
language in use, or
the way language is
used in a social
context to ‘enact’
identities. His work is
influenced by Michel
In terms of analysis, CDA
takes the view that texts need to
be consider in terms of what
they include but also what they
omit – alternative ways of
constructing and defining the
world. The critical discourse
analyst’s job is not to simply
read political and social
ideologies onto a text but to
consider the myriad ways in
which a text could have been
written and what these
alternatives imply for ways of
representing the world,
understanding the world and
the social actions that are
determined by these ways of
thinking and being.
Is based on the theories of
Is a form of discourse
analysis, focusing on
power relationships in
society as expressed
through language and
Besides focusing on the meaning of a given discourse, the
distinguishing characteristic of this approach is its stress on power
These are expressed through language and behavior, and the
relationship between language and power.
The method analyzes how the social world, expressed through
language, is affected by various sources of power.
This approach is close to social constructivism, as the researcher
tries to understand how our society is being shaped (or constructed)
by language, which in turn reflects existing power relationships.
The analysis attempts to understand how individuals view the world,
and studies categorizations, personal and institutional relationships,
ideology, and politics
The first step is a simple recognition that discourse is a
body of statements that are organized in a regular and
The subsequent four steps are based on the
identification of rules on:
How those statements
What can be said
(written) and what
How spaces in which
new statements can be
made are created.
material and discursive
at the same time.
A Foucauldian notion of discourse holds that:
•discourse is a culturally constructed representation of reality, not an
•discourse constructs knowledge and thus governs, through the
production of categories of knowledge and assemblages of texts, what it
is possible to talk about and what is not (the taken for granted rules of
inclusion/exclusion). As such, it re/produces both power and knowledge
•discourse defines subjects framing and positioning who it is possible to
be and what it is possible to do
•power circulates throughout society and, while hierarchised, is not
simply a top-down phenomenon
•it is possible to examine regimes of power through the historicised
deconstruction of systems or regimes of meaning-making constructed in
and as discourse, that is to see how and why some categories of thinking
and lines of argument have come to be generally taken as truths while
other ways of thinking/being/doing are marginalised.
There are of course a range of
critiques of this social theory –
how much it denies material
reality, whether it disallows
agency, whether anything
precedes discourse and so on…
Turning this way of
understanding discourse into
method to apply to textual
analysis means asking of the text
or texts questions such as:
•What is being represented here as a truth or as a norm?
•How is this constructed? What ‘evidence’ is used? What is left out?
•What is fore grounded and back grounded? What is made problematic
and what is not? What alternative meanings/explanations are ignored?
• What is kept apart and what is joined together?
•What interests are being mobilized and served by this and what are
•How has this come to be?
•What identities, actions, practices are made possible and /or desirable
and/or required by this way of thinking/talking/understanding? What
are disallowed? What is normalized and what is pathologised?
Ways of constituting
with the social
practices, forms of
subjectivity and power
more than ways of
They constitute the
'nature' of the body,
conscious mind and
emotional life of the
subjects they seek to
govern (Weedon, 1987, p.
... a form of power that
circulates in the social field
and can attach to strategies
of domination as well as
those of resistance (
Diamond and Quinby,
1988, p. 185).
Foucault's work is imbued with an attention to history.
Not in the traditional sense of the word but in attending to what he
has variously termed the 'archaeology'( studying human history) or
'genealogy' (studying family history) of knowledge production.
That is, he looks at the continuities and discontinuities between
“epistemes” (taken by Foucault to mean the knowledge systems
which primarily informed the thinking during certain periods of
history: a different one being said to dominate each epistemological
age), and the social context in which certain knowledges and
practices emerged as permissible and desirable or changed.
In his view knowledge is inextricably( can’t untie or separate)
connected to power, such that they are often written as
Termed it as
Looks at the
Foucault's conceptual analysis of a major shift in (western) cultural practices, from
'sovereign power' to 'disciplinary power', is a good example of his method of
Sovereign power involves obedience to the law of the king or central authority
figure. Foucault argues that 'disciplinary power' gradually took over from
'sovereign power' in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even now, however,
remnants of sovereign power still remain in tension with disciplinary power.
Discipline is a mechanism of power which regulates the behavior of individuals in
the social body. This is done by regulating the organization of space (architecture
etc.), of time (timetables) and people's activity and behavior (drills, posture,
movement). It is enforced with the aid of complex systems of surveillance.
Foucault emphasizes that power is not discipline, rather discipline is simply one
way in which power can be exercised. He also uses the term 'disciplinary society',
discussing its history and the origins and disciplinary institutions such as prisons,
hospitals, asylums, schools and army barracks. Foucault also specifies that when he
speaks of a 'disciplinary society' he does not mean a 'disciplined society'.
Panopticon, panopticism and surveillance:
The Panopticon, was a design for a prison produced by
Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century which
grouped cells around a central viewing tower.
Although the prison was never actually built the idea
was used as a model for numerous institutions
including some prisons. Foucault uses this as a
metaphor for the operation of power and surveillance
in contemporary society.
Foucault argues a number of points in relation to
power and offers definitions that are directly opposed
to more traditional liberal and Marxist theories of
power is not a thing but a relation
power is not simply repressive but it is productive
power is not simply a property of the State. Power is
not something that is exclusively localized in
government and the State (which is not a universal
essence). Rather, power is exercised throughout the
power operates at the most micro levels of social
relations. Power is omnipresent at every level of the
the exercise of power is strategic and war-like.
…as part of his attempt to understand the relationship
between language, social institutions, subjectivity and
power. Discursive fields, such as the law or the family,
contain a number of competing and contradictory
discourses with varying degrees of power to give meaning
to and organize social institutions and processes. They also
'offer' a range of modes of subjectivity (Weedon, 1987, p.
35). It follows then that,
if relations of power are dispersed and fragmented throughout
the social field, so must resistance to power be (Diamond
& Quinby, 1988, p. 185).
Foucault argues though, in The Order of Discourse, that the 'will to
truth' is the major system of exclusion that forges discourse and
which 'tends to exert a sort of pressure and something like a power of
constraint on other discourses', and goes on further to ask the
question 'what is at stake in the will to truth, in the will to utter this
'true' discourse, if not desire and power?' (1970, cited in Shapiro
1984, p. 113-4).
Thus, there are both discourses that constrain the production of
knowledge, dissent and difference and some that enable 'new'
knowledges and difference(s). The questions that arise, are to do
with how some discourses maintain their authority, how some
'voices' get heard whilst others are silenced, who benefits and how -
that is, questions addressing issues of power/ empowerment/