Analysing Discourse

DISCOURSE IS – A set of meanings, metaphors, representations, images, stories or statements that in some way produce a particular version of people, objects, events etc. There is no meaning without discourse.


These meanings or metaphors, stories or statements are achieved through language; language constructs a version of reality. ‘Do you take —- to be your lawful wedded wife’ has an entirely different meaning to ‘do you take sugar in your tea’, one is a legally binding commitment whereas the other is answering a simple question about preference. Language can also be used in an attempt to shield content, for example someone using a disclaimer such as ‘I’m not racist but….’. Language has social action, it can make someone want to do something in response. It can also construct different versions of reality; if someone tells you it is raining and you can’t see outside, you have to trust their version of reality.


There are three ways to look at discourse:

  1. Conversation analysis
  2. Interpretive repertoires
  3. Foucauldian discourse analysis


As critical analysts of media, we have to consider what a particular example of discourse is attempting to achieve, what it’s function is in the immediate social situation in which is has been produced. Just as with the interview, we can’t disregard language that we are familiar with, we need to look beyond face value and figure out what that language is meant to do.


Conversation Analysis

  • Talk in interaction is socially organized and structured (turn taking)
  • How micro language can be studied to see what it is accomplished (nice way of declining an offer)
  • Action orientated, pays detail to the micro details of language
  • Action – talk does things, constructing a version of the world (cashier indirectly questioning whether a product had been stolen)
  • Fact and Interest – ‘you would say that wouldn’t you’
  • Accountability – blame, responsibility, intentions, emotions
  • Minute actions in language (extensions of words, sobs)


Interpretive Repertoires

  • Potter and Wetherall
  • Broader patterns of sense making – social understandings, belief systems, that allow talk to make sense
  • Building blocks of conversation, these can be historical but also changed over time
  • Edley looked at how men construct notions of feminism – men constructing an idea of a feminist ‘short cropped hair’, ‘strong minded women’


Foucauldian Discourse Analysis

  • Knowledge – produced through language, language has a role in the constitution of social and psychological life
  • Discourses facilitate and limit, enable and constrain what can be said, and done, by whom, where and when
  • Subject position: ways of understanding self that when taken up, have implications for subjectivity (discourse of education)
  • Feeling sadness in our hearts, because we have constructed this through language – ‘heart broken’
  • Truth – how is truth come to be accepted
  • Power – not wielded (not something anybody owned), but diffuse and saturated, operates in and through language
  • FDA perspective – what world is being constructed? How do people understand themselves in the world, what can they say and do? What is the social and historical contexts that allow this world to make sense?


We considered various examples in this session, from a T-shirt that caused much controversy and discussion around whether it was based on the concept of domestic abuse, to a sign in a shop window. The task was to identify what realities were being constructed, how these realities were being constructed and what discourse these examples relied on to make their meaning. There are some many different ways we can consider text, analysing these examples and learning about the different methods of discourse analysis have been really helpful in making me think about how I actually read as a researcher. It may seem quite simple when reading an academic article or journal, to just take everything on face value, however I have to look not only at the content that these people have written, but also what language they have used and how this has constructed a version of reality.

Aside from academic sources, I am going to be research social media activity a lot and what people are posting in order to think about whether these people are actually presenting an authentic expression of self. On Instagram the user has the ability to use hashtags and captions with the images that they post and these can quite often be as influential as the content itself. The captions shape the meaning of the image that they have posted, both image and text come together to form a version of reality. Therefore I need to analyse these captions in the same depth I, as a photographer, would analyse a photograph, as the language used can be so influential in terms of the meaning being constructed. In addition to this, the hashtags a person uses controls how likely the image is to be seen by the audience on Instagram. A private user may not feel the need to use a hashtag as in their view, the image is only meant to be seen by their selected followers. A public user however would choose hashtags very carefully as the use of each one categorises their image, meaning it will be seen in a number of different contexts aside from their own personal profile of imagery.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s