My current research is on processes of social change in their discourse aspect (Fairclough 1992 is an early formulation of a version of CDA specialized for this theme). More specifically, I am concerned with recent and contemporary processes of social transformation which are variously identified by such terms as ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘globalisation’, ‘transition’, ‘information society’, ‘knowledge-based economy’ and ‘learning society’.
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I shall focus here on the version of CDA I have been using in more recent (partly collaborative) work (Chiapello & Fairclough 2002, Chouliaraki & Fairclough 1999, Fairclough 2000a, 2000b, 2003, 2004, Fairclough, Jessop & Sayer 2004). Methodologically, this approach entails working in a ‘transdisciplinary’ way through dialogue with other disciplines and theories which are addressing contemporary processes of social change. Transdisciplinary’ (as opposed to merely ‘interdisciplinary’, or indeed ‘postdisciplinary’, Sum & Jessop 2001) implies that the theoretical and methodological development (the latter including development of methods of analysis) of CDA and the disciplines/theories it is in dialogue with is informed through that dialogue, a matter of working with (though not at all simply appropriating) the ‘logic’ and categories of the other in developing one’s own theory and methodology (Fairclough forthcoming a).
The overriding objective is to give accounts – and more precise accounts than one tends to find in social research on change – of the ways in which and extent to which social changes are changes in discourse, and the relations between changes in discourse and changes in other, non-discoursal, elements or ‘moments’ of social life (including therefore the question of the senses and ways in which discourse ‘(re)constructs’ social life in processes of social change).
The aim is also to identify through analysis the particular linguistic, semiotic and ‘interdiscursive’ (see below) features of ‘texts’ (in a broad sense – see below) which are a part of processes of social change, but in ways which facilitate the productive integration of textual analysis into multi-disciplinary research on change.
Theoretically, this approach is characterized by a realist social ontology (which regards both abstract social structures and concrete social events as parts of social reality), a dialectical view of the relationship between structure and agency, and of the relationship between discourse and other elements or ‘moments’ of social practices and social events (discourse is different from – not reducible to – but not discrete from – ‘internalizes’ and is ‘internalized’ by (Harvey 1996) – other social elements). I shall proceed as follows.
In section 1 I shall give summarise main theoretical features of this version of CDA. In Section 2 I shall discuss the view of methodology, including methods of data collection and analysis, referring specifically to an aspect of ‘transition’ (and ‘globalisation’) in central and eastern Europe and more particularly in Romania: the project of developing ‘information societies’ and ‘knowledge-based economies’. I shall develop this example in Section 3, discussing the recontextualization of discourses of the ‘information society’ and ‘knowledge-based economy’ in a Romanian policy document. . Theoretical issues The term ‘discourse’ is used in various ways within the broad field of discourse analysis. Two are of particular relevance here. First, ‘discourse’ in an abstract sense as a category which designates the broadly semiotic elements (as opposed to and in relation to other, non-semiotic, elements) of social life (language, but also visual semiosis, ‘body language’ etc). I prefer to use the term ‘semiosis’ (Fairclough, Jessop & Sayer 2004) to avoid the common confusion of this sense of ‘discourse’ with the second, hich I retain: ‘discourse’ as a count noun, as a category for designating particular ways of representing particular aspects of social life (eg it is common to distinguish different political discourses, which represent for example problems of inequality, disadvantage, poverty, ‘social exclusion’, in different ways). The category of ‘discourse’ in this second sense is defined through its relation to and difference from two other categories, ‘genre’ and ‘style’ (see below).
The realist social ontology adopted here treats social structures as well as social events as parts of social reality. Like a number social theorists, such as Bourdieu and Bhaskar (Bourdieu & Wacquant 1992, Bhaskar 1986), I assume that coherent accounts of the relationship between social structures and social events depend upon mediating categories, for which I shall use the term ‘social practices’, meaning more or less stable and durable forms of social activity, which are articulated together to constitute social fields, institutions, and organizations.
There is a semiotic dimension at each of these levels. Languages (as well as other semiotic systems) are a particular type of social structure. I use the term ‘order of discourse’ (the term is Foucault’s, but it is recontextualized within this version of CDA in a distinctive way, see Foucault 1984, Fairclough 1992, 2003) for the semiotic dimension of articulated networks of social practices (for instance, the political field is partly constituted as a particular order of discourse, so too are specific governmental, educational or business organizations).
I use the term ‘text’ in an extended way for the semiotic dimension of social events – the written documents and websites of government are ‘texts’ in this sense, as also are interviews and meetings in government or business organisations (Fairclough 2003). The term ‘text’ is not really felicitous used in this way, because one cannot shake off its primary association with written texts, but it is difficult to find a preferable general term.
Social practices and, at a concrete level, social events, are articulations of diverse social elements, including semiosis. One might for instance see social practices as including the following elements (though there is clearly room for argument about what the elements are): Activities Social relations Objects and instruments Time and place Social subjects, with beliefs, knowledge, values etc Semiosis These elements are dialectically related (Harvey 1996).
That is to say, they are different elements, but not discrete, fully separate, elements. There is a sense in which each ‘internalizes’ the others without being reducible to them. So for instance social relations in organizations clearly have a partly semiotic character, but that does not mean that we simply theorize and research social relations in the same way that we theorize and research language. They have distinct properties, and researching them gives rise to distinct disciplines.
Conversely, texts are so massively ‘overdetermined’ (Althusser & Balibar 1970, Fairclough, Jessop & Sayer 2004) by other social elements that linguistic analysis of texts quickly finds itself addressing questions about social relations, social identities, institutions, and so forth, but this does not mean that linguistic analysis of texts is reducible to forms of social analysis. Nevertheless, the dialectical character of relations between elements underscores the value and importance of working across disciplines in a ‘transdisciplinary’ way.
Semiosis figures in broadly three ways in social practices (and the articulations of practices which constitute social fields, institutions, organizations) and social events. First, it figures as a part of the social activity, part of the action (and interaction). For instance, part of doing a job (for instance, being a shop assistant) is using language in a particular way; so too is part of governing a country.
Second, semiosis figures in representations. Social actors acting within any field or organization produce representations of other practices, as well as (‘reflexive’) representations of their own practices, in the course of their activity, and different social actors will represent them differently according to how they are positioned within fields or organizations. Third, semiosis figures in ways of being, in the constitution of identities – for nstance the identity of a political leader such as Tony Blair in the UK is partly a semiotically constituted way of being (Fairclough 2000b). Semiosis as part of social activity constitutes ‘genres’. Genres are diverse ways of (inter)acting in their specifically semiotic aspect. Examples are: meetings in various types of organisation, political and other forms of interview, news articles in the press, and book reviews. Semiosis in the representation and self-representation of social practices constitutes ‘discourses’.
Discourses are diverse representations of social life. For instance, the lives of poor and disadvantaged people are represented through different discourses in the social practices of government, politics, medicine, and social science, as well as through different discourses within each of these practices corresponding to different positions of social actors. Finally, semiosis as part of ways of being constitutes ‘styles’ – for instance the styles of business managers, or political leaders.
The semiotic aspect of a social field or institution or organization (ie of a specific articulation of social practices) is an ‘order of discourse’, a specific articulation of diverse genres and discourses and styles. At a higher level of analysis, part of the analysis of relations between different social fields, institutions and (types of) organization(s) is analysis of relations between different orders of discourse (eg those of politics and the mass media).
An order of discourse is a social structuring of semiotic difference – a particular social ordering of relationships amongst different ways of making meaning, ie different discourses and genres and styles. One aspect of this ordering is dominance: some ways of making meaning are dominant or mainstream in a particular order of discourse, others are marginal, or oppositional, or ‘alternative’. For instance, there may be a dominant way to conduct a doctor-patient consultation in Britain, but there are also various other ways, which may be adopted or developed to a greater or lesser extent alongside or in opposition to the dominant way.
The dominant way probably still maintains social distance between doctors and patients, and the authority of the doctor over the way interaction proceeds; but there are other ways which are more ‘democratic’, in which doctors play down their authority. The political concept of ‘hegemony’ can usefully be used in analyzing orders of discourse (Butler et al 2000, Fairclough 1992, Laclau & Mouffe 1985). A particular social structuring of semiotic difference may become hegemonic, become part of the legitimizing common sense which sustains relations of domination, though hegemony is always open to contestation to a greater or lesser extent.
An order of discourse is not a closed or rigid system, but rather an open system, which can be changed by what happens in actual interactions. In critical realist terms (Fairclough, Jessop & Sayer 2004), social events are constituted through the intersection of two causal powers – those of social practices (and, behind them, of social structures), and those of social agents. We may say that social agents produce events in occasioned and situated ways, but they depend on social structures and social practices do so – the causal powers of social agents are mediated by those of social structures and practices, and vice-versa.
Texts in the extended sense I described earlier are the semiotic elements of social events, and it helps to highlight the productive activity of social agents in making texts if we think of them in process terms as ‘texturing’: social agents draw upon social structures (including languages) and practices (including orders of discourse) in producing texts, but actively work these ‘resources’, create (potentially novel) texts out of them, rather than simply instantiating them. Analysis of texts includes ‘interdiscursive’ analysis of how genres, discourses and styles are articulated together.
These are categories which are distinguished and related at the level of social practices (as elements of orders of discourse). At the level of social events – texts – they are drawn upon in ways which give rise to hybridity or ‘mixing’ of categories, ie a text may be hybrid with respect to genres, discourses and/or styles (for instance, the ‘marketization’ of higher education is partly a matter of texts which ‘mix’ the genres and styles, as well as more obviously the discourses, of education and of the market, Fairclough 1993).
Analysis of texts also includes linguistic analysis, and semiotic analysis of for instance visual images (contemporary texts are characteristically, and increasing, ‘multimodal’ with respect semiotic systems, Kress & van Leeuwen 2000). Interdiscursive analysis is a central and distinctive feature of this version of CDA.
It allows one to incorporate elements of ‘context’ into the analysis of texts, to show the relationship between concrete occasional events and more durable social practices, to show innovation and change in texts, and it has a mediating role in allowing one to connect detailed linguistic and semiotic features of texts with processes of social change on a broader scale. Social change includes change in social practices and in the networking of social practices, how social practices are articulated together in the constitution of social fields, institutions and organizations, and in the relations between fields, institutions and organisations.
This includes change in orders of discourse and relations between orders of discourse (and so changes in genres, discourses and styles and relations between genres, discourses and styles). Moreover, changes in semiosis (orders of discourse) are a precondition for wider processes of social change – for example, an elaborated network of genres is a precondition for ‘globalisation’ if one understands the latter as including enhancement of possibilities for ‘action at a distance’, and the spatial ‘stretching’ of relations of power (Giddens 1990).
And in many cases, wider processes of social change can be seen as starting from change in discourse, as I argue below. I said above that the relationship between semiosis and other elements of social practices is a dialectical relationship – semiosis internalises and is internalised by other elements without the different elements being reducible to each other. They are different, but not discrete. If we think of the dialectics of discourse in historical terms, in terms of processes of social change, the question that arises is the ways in which and the conditions under which processes of internalisation take place.
Take the concept of a ‘knowledge-based economy’. This suggests a qualitative change in economies such that economic processes are primarily knowledge-driven, and change comes about, at an increasingly rapid pace, through the generation, circulation, and operationalisation (including materialization)of knowledge in economic processes. Of course knowledge (science, technology) has long (indeed, one might say always) been ignificant in economic change, but what is being suggested is a dramatic increase in its significance in comparison with other factors (including financial capital and labour force) – though the extent to which this is an actual change in reality rather than a fashionable rhetorical construal of reality remains contentious. The relevance of these ideas here is that ‘knowledge-driven’ amounts to ‘discourse-driven’: knowledge is generated and circulates as discourses, and the process through which knowledge (as discourses) become operationalised in economies is precisely the dialectics of semiosis.
Discourses include representations of how things are and have been, as well as imaginaries – representations of how things might or could or should be. The ‘knowledge’ of the knowledge-based economy includes imaginaries in this sense – projections of possible states of affairs, ‘possible worlds’. In terms of the concept of social practice, they imagine possible social practices and networks of social practices – possible articulations of activities, social subjects, social relations, instruments, objects, space times, values.
These imaginaries may be operationalized as actual (networks of) practices – imagined activities, subjects, social relations etc can become real activities, subjects, social relations etc. Operationalization includes materialization of discourses – economic discourses become materialized for instance in the instruments of economic production, including the ‘hardware’ (plant, machinery, etc) and the ‘software’ (management systems, etc). Discourses as imaginaries also come to be enacted in new ways of acting and interacting, and such enactments are in part ‘intra-semiotic’: discourses become enacted as genres.
Consider for instance new management discourses which imagine management systems based upon ‘teamwork’, relatively non-hierarchical, networked, ways of managing organisations. They may become enacted semiotically as new genres (within new networks of genres), for instance genres for team meetings. Such specifically semiotic enactments are embedded within their more general enactment as new ways of acting and interacting in production processes. Discourses as imaginaries may also come to be inculcated as new ways of being, new identities.
It is a commonplace that new economic and social formations depend upon new subjects – for instance, ‘Taylorism’ as a production and management system depended upon changes in the ways of being, the identities, of workers (Gramsci 1971). The process of ‘changing the subject’ can be thought of in terms of the inculcation of new discourses – Taylorism would be an example. Inculcation is a matter of people coming to ‘own’ discourses, to position themselves inside them, to act and think and talk and see themselves in terms of new discourses.
A stage towards inculcation is rhetorical deployment: people may learn new discourses and use them for certain purposes (eg procuring funding for regional development projects or academic research) while at the same time self-consciously keeping a distance from them. One of the complexities of the dialectics of discourse is the process in which what begins as self-conscious rhetorical deployment becomes ‘ownership’ – how people become un-self-consciously positioned ‘within’ a discourse.
Inculcation also has its material aspects: discourses are dialectically inculcated not only in styles, ways of using language, they are also materialised in bodies, postures, gestures, ways of moving, and so forth (which are themselves semioticized to various degrees, but without being reducible to semiosis). There is nothing inevitable about the dialectics of semiosis (the ‘dialectics of discourse’, Harvey 1996) as I have described it. A new discourse may come into an institution or organisation without being enacted or inculcated. It may be enacted, yet never be fully inculcated.
Examples abound. For instance, managerial discourses have been quite extensively enacted within British (as well as other national) universities (eg as procedures of staff appraisal, including a new genre of ‘appraisal interview’), yet arguably the extent of inculcation is limited – many if not most academics do not ‘own’ these management discourses. We have to consider the conditions of possibility for, and the constraints upon, the dialectics of discourse in particular cases. This has a bearing on theories of ‘social constructionism’ (Sayer 2000).