Discourse Analysis

I’m excited. The first readings for this discourse analysis class were really interesting. I’ve organized some thoughts into the following bullet points in no particular order. Questions and critiques are welcome!

  • I was interested to learn that discourse analysis (like hci and design) is not immune from poor definitions of key terms and that there is a lack of consensus regarding what discourse means and how to analyze it. I believe Jorgensen describes use of the word discourse as “indiscriminate,” which at least communicates that it should be used with more precision and care. I’m unsure about is the degree to which this indiscriminate use is actually harmful to discourse analysis writ large. How is discourse analysis (the field?) suffering from the indiscriminate use of one of its key (if not the key) terms? I’m confronting a similar question in my own work in design research.
  • I was really intrigued by a few insights near the end of the Jorgensen reading about what the purpose of discourse analysis is and is not. Discourse analysis is not about getting “behind the discourse to find out what people really mean.” It is about “identifying the social consequences of different discursive representations of reality.” It was especially helpful to consider this insight relative to the Hepburn reading, which clarified for me what it means to identify such social consequences. Of course, I also found some of Jorgensen’s closing insights challenging, e.g. distancing one’s self from one’s object of study. Is this because the distance helps the researcher to circumvent the discursive limits constraining their object of study? For example, the distance between Hepburn and the discursive practices in the secondary school where she conducted her research better positioned her to identify the limits hindering attempts to “tackle the problem of bullying”
  • Woofit gave me a few questions to think about, too. One of the key methodological principles of conversation analysis (ca) was that, “All aspects of interaction must be considered.” What is it the authors mean when they say “aspects” of an interaction?Breathes? Pauses? I guess I can infer some (of what I assume are) aspects of an interaction from the sample transcription in the text, and I’m sure we’ll talk more about transcription protocol in class. As an aside, the Woofit text got me thinking about the way in which hci researchers conceive of interaction compared to the way discourse or conversation analysts conceive of it. Within hci, I suspect interaction and interactivity are, like discourse to the scholarly community of discourse analysts, hotly contested terms with no real definitional consensus.
  • I can already tell that I’m going to need to take a lot of time to read and re-read the material. Foucault, Derrida, Saussure… postmodernism, poststructuralism, semiotics, and, of course, linguistics, are all topics with which I’m familiar, but familiarity doesn’t seem like it’s going to be sufficient. I really liked reading in the Jorgensen text that, in discourse analysis, “theory and method are intertwined [and that] researchers must accept basic philosophical premises in order to use discourse analysis as a method of empirical study.” Of course, researchers must understand these basic philosophical premises before they can accept them. And it’s this idea of understanding the basic premises that I’m latching onto here. Understanding something in a deep way (which is maybe a prerequisite for rigorous application?) takes time for me. And despite how many courses I’ve gone through that require reading dense texts in a short amount of time, I still feel a twinge of uncertainty at the outset. Probably like the anxiety a runner feels the night before a marathon or a cyclist feels the night before riding a century. I’d think something was wrong if I didn’t feel it.

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One response to “Discourse Analysis”

  1. Ah, yes! I really enjoyed your post. A few initial thoughts…

    *I really like the question you posed around indiscriminate definitions of discourse as perhaps NOT hurting the field. I would argue that it is actually REALLY productive to have this flexibility of thought.

    *As I re-read the readings for this week, I circled (again) the idea of “distance.” This is something that I honestly have little resonance with, as I see some epistemic conflict between claims of anti-foundationalism and poststructuralism and the possibility of “distance.” Rather, I envision the analysis as calling for reflexivity and acknowledgement of biases (as least those that are visible to the analyst)…it is an interpretative act, so I become a bit uncomfortable when “distance” and echos of scienticism comes into play.

    *Yes and yes on reading and re-reading. When I re-read for this week, I found aspects of the texts that (after several years of reading and re-reading) hadn’t struck me until this round of reading. 🙂


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