Critical Discourse Analysis - Sociology Essay Example

Social communication is increasingly becoming a subject of scientists’ discussions from different disciplines, as well as ordinary language users - Critical Discourse Analysis introduction. In contemporary social sciences, especially in linguistics, we see a clear shift to discourse. Discourse allows us to talk about use of the language, as well as the language as a socio-cultural activity.

In this sense, discourse, on one hand, reflects the social reality, on the other hand, it shapes it, therefore participate in the creation and pass on different values, ideologies and symbolic power. This essay aims to show the definition of Critical Discourse Analysis and also show how useful it is for exploring issues of power and inequality in relation to gender. Since its introduction to modern science the term ‘discourse’ has taken various, sometimes very broad, meanings.


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Originally the word ‘discourse’ comes from Latin ‘discursus’ which means conversation, speech. Discourse refers to a wide area of human life. Being aware of differences between kinds of discourses indicates the unity of communicative intentions as a vital element of each of them. Seven criteria which have to be fulfilled to qualify either a written or a spoken text as a discourse have been suggested by Beaugrande (1981).

These include: Cohesion – grammatical relationship between parts of a sentence essential for its interpretation; Coherence – the order of statements relates one another by sense; Intentionality – the message has to be conveyed deliberately and consciously; Acceptability – indicates that the communicative product needs to be satisfactory in that the audience approves it; Informativeness – some new information has to be included in the discourse; Situationality – circumstances in which the remark is made are important; Intertextuality – reference to the world outside the text or the interpreters’ schemata.

Nowadays, however, not all of the above mentioned criteria are perceived as equally important in discourse studies, therefore some of them are valid only in certain methods of the research. Discourse is always produced by somebody whose identity, as well as the identity of the interpreter, is significant for the proper understanding of the message. On the other hand langue is impersonal that is to say more universal, due to society. Furthermore, discourse always happens in either physical, or linguistic context and within a meaningful fixed time, whereas langue does not refer to anything.

Consequently, only discourse may convey messages thanks to langue which is its framework. Discursive perspective in studies of the mass media has become more modern and less accepted as a complementary or alternative method. Research to classical content analysis of press, is the amount of research. That up using perspective is still too small. Furthermore, the use of such understanding analysis trial media coverage is so varied, as different areas are interdisciplinary study of language and mass communication.

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a rapidly developing area of language study. It regards discourse as a form as social practice, and takes consideration of the context of language use to be crucial to discourse. It takes particular interest in the relation between language and power. This method of analysing media texts has been developed from the work of the French intellectual Michel Foucault. His early writings looked at the ways in which language, both spoken and written, represent certain meanings that reflect and reproduce social and political power.

Foucault claimed that power and knowledge are interdependent: power entails command over discourse and command over discourse entails power. Since Norman Fairclough’s (one of the founders of Critical Discourse Analysis) ‘Language and Power’ in 1989, Critical Discourse Analysis has been deployed as a method of analysis throughout the humanities and social sciences. It is neither a homogeneous nor necessarily united approach. Nor does it confine itself only to method. The single shared assumption uniting CDA practitioners is that language and power are entirely linked.

As pointed out by van Dijk (1993) one of the key objectives of the Critical Discourse Analysis is also the understanding of the nature of power and domination. In his view, power is based on privileged access to social resources, is widely considered as securities, such as wealth, income, position, status, group membership, education and knowledge. However, dominance is defined as the use of social power by elites, institutions or groups, contributing to the emergence of social inequality (including – in political, cultural, class, ethnic, racial, and gender).

The task of CDA is then highlighting the role of discourse in the producing domination. According to ‘Studying the Media’ dictionary, the complete and very well summing everything up definition of Critical Discourse Analysis is: ‘…a means of analysing texts based on linguistics and in recent times the theories of Foucault. Discourse analysis identifies the culturally and socially produced sets of ideas and values that structure texts and representations. It helps to identify abstract and ideological assumptions about the world that may be implicitly contained in particular texts. Fairclough developed a three-dimensional framework for studying discourse, where the aim is to map three separate forms of analysis onto one another: analysis of (spoken or written) language texts, analysis of discourse practice (processes of text production, distribution and consumption) and analysis of discursive events as instances of socio-cultural practice. Particularly, he combines micro, meso and macro-level interpretation. At the micro-level, the analyst, considers the text’s syntax, metaphoric structure and certain, metorical devises.

The meso-level involved studying the text’s production and consumption, focusing on how power relations are enacted. At the macro-level, the analyst is concerned with inter-textual understanding, trying to understand the broad, societal currents that are affecting the text, being studied. Researches on Critical Discourse Analysis in relation to gender started in early 1970s. Scientists examined two domains of language behaviour such as speech behaviour of men and women on the phonological level, and interactions between men and women in discourse.

Discourse of power and rights of cultural gender is not something set and unchangeable. It varies depending on the discourse, which adopts authority, and since it is not constant, then it is not necessary. Considering gender as a cultural dynamic, it is not something that exists, but what is happening. It is being made by us, in a continuous manner and at the same time represented and affirmed, thus we impose it with the power equal to the discourse of power, becoming the discourse by ourselves. Judith Butler expresses the significance of the ‘sex’ category in its most varied dimensions in the following way: …as ‘identity’ is assured through the stabilizing concepts of sex, gender and sexuality, the very notion of the person is called into question by the cultural emergence of those ‘incoherent’ or ‘discontinuous’ gendered beings who appear to be persons but who fail to conform to the gendered norms of cultural intelligibility by which persons are defined. ’ (1990: 170). Across societies and different environments, power is a great variable that differs and separates women and men from each other. In short, in these societies, men have greater command of the discourse of power than women.

Men are able to define the activities that courses status. If women are under-valued in that society, then the activities that they engage and the language used by them will be under-valued. The social solidarity of people doing these activities, regardless of their sex, is expressed through the language used. Women in most cultural contexts are clearly an oppressed group when compared with men as a group. It follows that almost any sex differences in discourse are interpretable with respect to this clear difference in power between men and women.

In proposing a critical analysis of discourse, as one of the methods of the study area communication of modern societies, one should be aware of deficiencies. First of all, critics may raise the same substructure theoretical methods. It is obvious that critical theory met with criticism in environments of scientists calling for neutrality and objectivity of the sociologist. Discourse analysis is useful in studying the media because it provides the means by which films, television programmes and all other media output can be interpreted and understood.


* Beaugrande, R. and Dressler, W. (1981). Introduction to text linguistics. ’ London: Longman. * O’Sullivan, T. (2003) ‘Studying the Media: An Introduction’. 3rd Edition. USA: Bloomsbury * Butler, J. (1990) ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’ New York: Routledge. Bibliography: * Wodak, R. (1997) ‘Gender and Discourse. ’ London: SAGE * ‘Critical Discourse Analysis’ [online]. [Accessed 12th December Fairclough, N. (2003). ‘Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. ’ London: Routledge * 2010]. Available at <http://www. jstor. org/pss/223428> * ‘The Use of The Discourse Analysis’ [online]. [Accessed 12th December 2010].

Available at <http://translate. google. pl/translate? hl=pl&sl=en&tl=pl&u=http://www. york. ac. uk/res/researchintegration/Integrative_Research_Methods/Griffin%2520Discourse%2520Analysis%2520April%25202007. pdf&anno=2> * ‘Krytyczna analiza dyskursu: refleksje teoretyczno-metodologiczne’ [online]. [Accessed 11th December 2010]. Available at <http://www. qualitativesociologyreview. org/PL/Volume2/PSJ_2_1_Jablonska. pdf> * ‘Critical discourse analysis, intertextuality and the present study’ [online]. [Accessed 12th December 2010]. Available at <http://ses. library. usyd. edu. au/bitstream/2123/1701/5/05chapter4. pdf>

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