Master Thesis Media & Journalism



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2.3 Discourse Analysis

Now that we have established what discourse is (a complex collection of statements composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak), the difference between media discourse (discourse produced by the media) and public discourse (discourse produced by the people) and more importantly, the relation between media discourse (media discourse as an influenced influence of public discourse) and public discourse (public discourse as an influenced influence of media discourse), we can turn to how to analyse discourse. See, providing an overview of the descent, domains and many different definitions of discourse is an absolute significant starting point, but the question of how to conduct discourse analysis is what really matters for this thesis. Therefore I will first turn to locating discourse analysis, by trying to define the term and explain why we should bother to analyse discourse at all, after which I will explore some approaches to discourse analysis, two of which will be the basis of my research.


In order to locate discourse analysis within the academic field, first of all, a definition of discourse analysis would be in perfect place. However, just like the term discourse directs to many different definitions, depending on its many different domains, the term discourse analysis has a very wide reference as well. “It can describe very different research activities with different kinds of data.” (Taylor, 2001: 5) In order to cover this diversity Taylor starts with a loose definition, as follows: “discourse analysis is the close study of language in use”. (Taylor, 2001: 5) But why would one want to do that? Why would one bother to closely study language in use? For the very simple reason that discourse has always been, still is and will always be everywhere, constantly affecting everyone and everything they think, say and do. No one or nothing can escape from discourse. Discourse constructs reality, and so the study of language in use is of absolute significance.
But before we can actually work with this definition, it is important to understand what it means. What does the close study of language mean? What does language mean? According to Taylor the common starting point of any approach to discourse analysis is that “discourse analysts are looking closely at language in use and, furthermore, they are looking for patterns”. (Taylor, 2001: 6) But then again, what are patterns? One possible answer to all of the afore can be clarified according to the example of how people learn a new foreign language. “This common sense strategy rests on a particular model of language, as a static system which can be broken down to its component parts.” (Taylor, 2001: 6) And so a person learns the parts, such as verbs like cat, dog, desk and chair, or tenses like love, loves and loving, or fixed expressions like hello and goodbye, in the end trying to connect them together again. Through analysing what other people say into its component parts and building up appropriate messages back, a person eventually learns to communicate with people speaking that specific language. (Taylor, 2001) In this model of communication language simply is a vehicle for meaning, that is, it can be used to convey meaning from one person to another, provided that both know the concerning components of the language.
However, after careful critical reconsideration of Shannon and Weaver’s transmission model of communication, we already found out a few problems for this straightforward view of language as a system. First of all, language is not static at all.

On the contrary. Language is constantly changing, for the simple reason that its elements are constantly changing. Change occurs over time, for who knew that today a ‘faggot vote’ would refer to a whole different thing than back in the 19th century, when it meant ‘a vote created by the portioning of a property into as many apartments as will entitle the holders to vote’. (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989) But also within the interaction of two parties new meanings may be created, through the combined contributions of both. (Taylor, 2001) “Because these new meanings are being created, and also because the language is being used to do things, it is not sufficient to understand language as transparent or reflective. It is not a neutral information-carrying vehicle, as the transmission model of communication would imply. Rather, language is constitutive: it is the site where meanings are created and changed.” (Taylor, 2001: 6) Besides, language is not static in such sense that it is an important means for doing things. Through language one can claim, one can convince, one can confront and one can do many, many more things. But to understand what is being done, one not only needs to know what happened earlier during the conversation, but even what happened before that conversation. Does it take place due to an argument, due to a theatre performance or perhaps due to a first date? “To understand what is being done with language, it is necessary to consider its situated use, within the process of an ongoing interaction.” (Taylor, 2001: 7)


By going into this interaction, all of the afore treated theories show that Shannon and Weaver’s model of language as the transmission of information is way too static, hence way too simple. More importantly, for the purpose of this thesis they serve to introduce the following few possible approaches to discourse analysis. (Taylor, 2001)

The first approach focuses exactly on the variation within language as a system, and the way this variation relates to different social situations, different environments and different users. This type of discourse analysis generally goes into the regularities within an imperfect and unstable system, whereas another approach attends to the activity of language in use, instead of the language itself. This second sort of discourse analysis sees language use as a process, investigating the interaction between different parties and looking for patterns. Furthermore, the interest in use implies a particular view of language users, understanding them as constrained by their interactive context. The third approach to discourse analysis focuses on patterns within language in use as well, although this time looking for sets of terms which are related to a particular topic or activity. Just think of typical medical or technological terms. In this analysis language is understood as situated as well, but within a particular social and cultural context, rather than a particular interaction. A final possible approach to discourse analysis focuses on patterns within even larger contexts, showing how language constitutes society and the people within it. The key idea is that language not only influences the expression of ideas, but that it is constitutive and blurs into practices. The way in which something or someone is talked about does indeed make a difference to the larger workings of society. This type of analysis “draws attention to the all-enveloping nature of discourse as a fluid, shifting medium in which meaning is created and contested. The language user is not a detached communicator, sending out and receiving information, but is always located, immersed in this medium and struggling to take her or his own social and cultural positioning into account. Even more than with the second approach, this fourth approach to discourse analysis understands the language user not as a free agent, but as one who is heavily constrained in her or his choice of language and action, even if these are not fully determined. And of course the discourse analyst is not outside these struggles and constraints,

but is one such user within them.” (Taylor, 2001: 10)
2.4 Media Discourse Analysis & Public Discourse Analysis

Evidently, the term discourse analysis, just like the term discourse, refers to many different definitions, or at least lots of approaches. Hence, I will distinguish between two of those approaches, that is critical discourse analysis, which is generally used to analyze media discourse, and critical discursive psychology, which is generally used to analyze public discourse. Since media discourse and public discourse are often studied separately, critical discourse analysis and critical discursive psychology are often applied apart as well. However, as this thesis treats discourse as constitutive, as well as a constitution, and consequently combines media discourse and public discourse as influenced influences of one another, so should one combine media discourse analysis and public discourse analysis as the analysis of the influenced influence of one another. In line with my definition of discourse, I will first study critical discourse analysis and critical discursive psychology separately and, acting on the understanding of these methodical and more and more methodological concepts, I can combine them and create a fresh, fitting and therefore effective and efficient method to analyse both media discourse and public discourse on climate change.


2.4.1 Critical Discourse Analysis

Although in the previous piece I have presented some different approaches to discourse analysis as distinct, in reality they

are often implicated in one another and shaded together. Just like Critical Discourse Analysis, or CDA, which is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of discourse and views language as a form of social practice, therefore focusing on the way social and political domination is reproduced by text and talk (Fairclough, 1995), sometimes combining all of the aforementioned approaches. And so CDA is also based on what I earlier called influenced influence, that is, the idea that discourse is not a simple message transmitted from sender to receiver, but that it is a social and cultural construction within a process of interaction between the sender and receiver of a message.

“Its objective is to show how language figures in social processes. It is critical in the sense that it aims to show non-obvious ways in which language is involved in social relations to power and domination, and in ideology. It is a resource which can be used in combination with others for researching change in contemporary social life, including current social scientific concerns.” (Fairclough, 2001: 229) Such as climate change.


CDA often makes a distinction between text and discourse, which can be useful in an exploration of media discourse and the way it is continuously constructed. (Talbot, 2007) The term text then refers to ‘the observable product of interaction: a cultural object’ and the term discourse refers to ‘the process of interaction itself: a cultural activity’. (Talbot, 2007) This distinction distinguishes between the actual product of discourse, such as a book, a newspaper article or even an image, and the ongoing process of making it. “Discourse is not a product, it is a process. To analyse it we need to look at both the text itself and the context the text is embedded in. A text is part of the process of discourse and it is pointless to study it in isolation.

It is the product of a meaning-producer (encoder) and a resource for a meaning-interpreter (decoder).” (Talbot, 2007: 10)


By now we know that discourse, as much as discourse analysis, comes down to multiple meanings. Some say discourse analysis is the study of language in use, an approach which takes the communicative function of language as its primary area of investigation and assumes that the way something is said is as interesting and significant as what is being said. (Taylor, 2001) Others say discourses are the structures of possibility and constraint, that is, historically constituted socials constructions in the organisation and circulation of knowledge, which position people as social subjects. (Foucault, 2002) The difference is that this last approach does not really look at language at all. Instead, “it examines the social constitution in language of accumulated conventions (that is, structure) related to bodies of knowledge, by investigating how power is exercised through them (that is, agency), including how they define social identities”. (Talbot, 2007: 11)These two different definitions of discourse, and equally the definitions of discourse analysis, come from different analytical traditions.

“Understanding them as complementary, the CDA formulation of discourse as social practice combines them. Discourses are bodies of knowledge and practice that shape people. They give positions of power to some but not others. But they can only come into existence by taking place in social interaction in specific situations. Each being entirely dependent on the other, they exist in a dialectical relationship.” (Talbot, 2007: 13) For example, reading about the ‘truly life threatening, catastrophic climate change’ in the newspaper does not happen in a social vacuum. It is shaped by situational, institutional and social structures. But it also shapes them, for reading such a piece of panic in the paper either helps to sow and sustain a status of sorrow or, perhaps, to contribute to transforming it. And so, as a social practice discourse is highly influential, for it is “socially constitutive as well as socially shaped: it constitutes situations, objects of knowledge and the social identities of and relationships between people and groups of people”. (Fairclough & Wodak, 1997: 258) The following figure represents this dual view of discourse.



Framework for CDA of a communicative event (Talbot, 2007)

“The text is in the centre, embedded within discourse practice, which is itself embedded in sociocultural practice. As a product, the text consists of traces of production processes (Hall’s ‘encoding’). From the position of the person decoding it,

it is a resource, consisting of cues for interpretation processes (Hall’s ‘decoding’).” (Talbot, 2007: 14) In short, texts, the products of interaction, influence discourse, the process of interaction, and the other way around. Discourses interpret and discourses are being interpreted.


Talbot tells us these cues for interpretation, or actually ‘lexico-grammatical realisations’, relate to three basic language functions that are inherent in any text. The first function is the ideational, which refers to the function of language to communicate ideas, then there is the interpersonal function, which looks at language as establishing and maintaining social identities and relationships, and the third, textual function, refers to the text-creating function of language. This three-way distinction “allows us to distinguish between the way in which the writer/speaker relates to the world of ideas, or the propositional content of texts (ideational), how s/he relates to the receiver(s) of those ideas (interpersonal), and the way in which the writer/speaker organises these into cohesive stretch of discourse (textual)”. (Talbot, 2007: 14) However, these meanings are always interpreted with other resources in mind. And so CDA combines linguistic and intertextual analysis, looking at the texts themselves and the different discourses that are drawn upon.
Although some scientists sometimes confuse CDA for being an actual ‘method’ of discourse analysis, they generally agree that any method may be used, “as long as long as it is able to adequately and relevantly produce insights into the way discourse reproduces (or resists) social and political inequality, power abuse or domination. That is, CDA does not limit its analysis to specific structures of text or talk, but systematically relates these to structures of the sociopolitical context.” (Fairclough, 2001: 229) However, Fairclough does propose a possible analytical framework, in which one first focuses upon a social problem that has a semiotic aspect. Because CDA “analyses texts and interaction, and indeed any type of semiotic material (written texts, conversations, television programs, advertisements on billboards, etc.), but it does not begin with texts and interactions; it begins with the issues which preoccupy sociologists, or political scientists.” (Fairclough, 2001: 236) Or me. Then one identifies the obstacles to the social problem, in my case the climate change controversy, being tackled. “The objective here is to understand how the problem arises and how it is rooted in the way social life is organized, by focusing on the obstacles to its resolution – on what makes it more or less intractable.” (Fairclough, 2001: 236) This stage of the analytical framework is particularly interesting in my case, for it is here where the analysis of discourse, as such, takes place.
By means of structural analysis one can look at how the order of discourse is structured, “how semiosis itself is structured within the network of practices. For instance, the media, from a semiotic perspective, are an order of discourse within which there are diverse recurrent representations of various areas of social life and various groups and communities.” (Fairclough, 2001: 237) And so climate change is represented in different ways, sometimes in a skeptical way, sometimes in an exaggerated way and sometimes in a rather neutral, apparently truthful way. However, “looking at the discourse itself as part of the obstacle involves both structural and interactional perspectives” (Fairclough, 2001: 238), and so one should also look at what’s actually going on within specific texts and interactions. “It is at this point that we reach what many would see as the exclusive concern of discourse analysis, the actual analysis of the text.” (Fairclough, 2001: 238) This is what Fairclough calls interactional analysis. “Whereas analysis of orders of discourse tries to specify the semiotic resources available to people (the social structuring of semiotic diversity), interactional analysis is concerned with how those resources interact, that is,

the active semiotic work that people are doing on specific occasions using those resources. It is in the process of being used and worked that these resources come to be transformed.” (Fairclough, 2001: 241)

To understand this process one can apply interdiscursive analysis, which identifies which genres and discourses are drawn upon in a text and how they work together and even transform one another. Because, “on the one hand, genres and discourses acquire a degree of permanence and continuity as a (semiotic) part of the social order (social practices), while on the other, they undergo local transformations in texts.” (Fairclough, 2001: 241) Think of a newspaper article on climate change, whose genre mixes elements of a scientific research, an everyday, common sense conversation or some TV talk show, in which the climate change controversy is intensely debated on.
Finally, one can also apply linguistic and semiotic analysis, which is a complex and many-sided process and which can work on the language of a text at various levels. First, it can cover the whole-text language organization, that is, “the narrative, argumentative etc. structure of a text, the way a dialogue is structured”. Second, there is the clauses combination, that is, “the linking of clauses in complex or compound sentences (i.e. with or without one being subordinated to another) and other ways of linking sentences together”. Third, one can look at clauses or simple sentences, that is, “the grammar and semantics of clauses, including categories such as transitivity (transitive or intransitive verbs), verbs relating to action (thought, speech, being, having), voice (active, passive), mood (declarative, interrogative, imperative), modality (degrees of commitment to truth or necessity)”. And fourth, this linguistic approach to CDA can cover words, that is, “the choice of vocabulary, semantic relations between words (e.g. synonyms, hyponyms), denotative and connotative meaning, collocation (i.e. patterns of co-occurrence), metaphorical uses of words, etc”. (Fairclough, 2001: 242)
2.4.2 Critical Discursive Psychology

Evidenced by the endless number of books, theories and theorists that come up when studying discourse and its analysis,

it is clear-cut there is no simple way of defining discourse analysis. As I explained earlier, there are many approaches to this type of research, most of them deriving from, drawing upon or at least overlapping one another. Critical Discursive Psychology, or CDP, would be one of those separate strands within discourse analysis. Although “discursive psychology is itself a complex field, underwritten by a multiplicity of different, sometimes even contradictory, ideas and arguments” (Edley, 2001: 189), CDP does indeed have a lot in common with discourse analysis in general, and even CDA in particular.
First, let me turn to the theoretical tensions which characterize CDP, and the way it borrows and departs from other forms of discourse analysis. As apposed to more traditional psychological approaches, which look at language as a resource to peek in people’s brains, CDP looks at language as its topic, to study the way in which people talk about things like attitudes, memories and emotions. Apparently people do not simple speak and that is it. People produce accounts, depending on contexts and accomplishing certain social actions. In CDP, “action is conceptualized in terms of the enormous range of practical, technical and interpersonal tasks that people perform while living their relationships, doing their jobs, and engaging in varied cultural domains. Action (practices, getting stuff done - the precise term is not meant to carry weight here) is central to people’s lives, and therefore central to understanding those lives.” (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 447) This concern with the ‘action orientation’ of people’s discourse, attends to “the interactional business that is performed in and through the production of descriptions or accounts”. (Edley, 2001: 190) So once again, interaction appears to be the magic word,

this time applied within the analysis of people’s discourse, that is, public discourse, instead of media discourse. However,

the same theory seems to apply, for on the one hand public discourse depends on its context, but on the other hand public discourse brings about certain social behaviour. So CDP accedes the same paradox as CDA, for public discourse is an influenced product, but an influencing producer as well. People talk using a historically determined repertoire of terms, in which some become culturally dominant or ‘hegemonic’ and are accepted as accurate or true descriptions of the world.

CDP analyses this process of normalisation and naturalisation, and attends to whose interests are best served by different discourses. Because people are products of discourse, but at the same time producers of discourse. Discourse on, for instance, climate change, which is constructed through the characteristics which we conventionally associate with climate change, such as ‘an inconvenient truth of melting icecaps, floods and warmer weather’ or ‘an indeed inconvenient, however heavily hyped fairytale’. And so climate change, as well as many more things in life, is “a discursive accomplishment rather than a natural fact, it is something that is done collectively of jointly with others and climate change is typically negotiated and involves the operation of power”. (Edley, 2001: 196)


It is commonplace to characterize CDP as constructionist. “Social representations are not treated simply as devices for people to perceive (or misperceive) their social worlds - they construct the nature and value of those worlds.” (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 449) In CDP, this construction is done in texts and talk as specific versions of the world are developed and rhetorically undermined. In CDP, then, construction is relatively easily analytically tractable, because “how representations are constructed, established and undermined can be studied using a set of materials.” (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 449) Because CDP focuses on public discourse, it asks for an approach that is capable of analysing conversations or dialogue,

for this is where meanings are constructed, an approach that is sensitive to the context of a specific subject and can identify the ranges of resources that society offers to construct such a subject, and last, but not least, an approach which attends to the operation of power and to when and where which interests are best served and how.


CDP meets these requirements through the concepts of ‘interpretative repertoires’ and ‘ideological dilemmas’. Interpretative repertoires are the different ways in which people talk about objects, that is, the repertoires of terms that people use to characterize and evaluate certain actions or occurrences. “Interpretative repertoires are the building blocks of conversation,

a range of linguistic resources that can be drawn upon and utilized in the course of everyday social interaction. Interpretative repertoires are part and parcel of any community’s common sense, providing a basis for shared social understanding.” (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 198) But then, how does one analyse these building blocks of conversation? Turns out there is no standard procedure or vast method to do so. It is all about following hunches and developing, abandoning and revising tentative interpretative schemes, an ability that develops with practice. Mostly there are only a few ways of talking about something, which counts for climate change as well. By attending to these different ways, one can come to understand the existing restrictions in our construction of reality and ourselves. When going into ideological dilemmas, the second CDP concept, one must make a distinction between intellectual dilemmas and lived dilemmas. Intellectual dilemmas, which are the ruling and commonly accepted ideas within society, refer to the classical Marxist notion of ideologies as “integrated and coherent sets of ideas that served to represent the domination of the ruling sections of society as natural or inevitable.” (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 202). Lived dilemmas, on the other hand, are the way of life, the culture or, simply spoken, the common sense of a society. These ideologies can be characterized as inconsistent, fragmented and contradictive, hence, as dilemmatic. Therefore many think of them as faulty and unreliable, even though this ignores the basic concept of common sense, namely, “that the interdeterminacy of lived ideologies makes them wonderfully rich and flexible resources for social interaction and everyday sense-making”. (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 203) Interpretative repertoires and ideological dilemmas overlap so far as interpretative repertoires are part of a culture’s common sense. Moreover, ideological dilemmas tell us that different interpretative repertoires of the same social subject, such as climate change, are themselves constructed rhetorically. Talking about climate change either as terribly truthful or exasperatingly exaggerated does not necessarily arise spontaneously and independently. These different ways of talking about this specific subject “develop together in an unfolding, historical, argumentative exchange”. (Potter & Edwards, 1999: 204)




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