One of my areas of expertise is critical discourse analysis (CDA), I credit the amazing professors I had during my masters and doctoral programs. Over the years, I have been able to develop a “gut feeling,” a sense, that something is hidden from me. Everyday interactions have become out of the ordinary for me. Attending group events has been amazingly exciting for me, in a geekish way. It is awesome to be able to “read” between the lines and see practices that stand out to me, but not to others.
A simplest understanding is that critical discourse analysis (CDA) shows us that language is a form of social practice. At the micro level, an individual writes and speaks beliefs and norms that have been imposed upon said individual. at first glance, we cannot recognize that those spoken beliefs are not anything more than individual. At the macro level, groups of people (also individuals) come together to write and speak beliefs and norms with such emphasis that these beliefs manifest as taken-for-granted common sense and dominant practices. This is the age old understanding of the power of a person vs the power of the people, liberalism vs. socialism, etc.
van Dijk (1993) stated:
Dominance is defined here as the exercise of social power by elites, institutions or groups, that results in social inequality, including political, cultural, class, ethnic, racial and gender inequality. This reproduction process may involve such different modes of discourse power relations as the more or less direct or overt support. enactment, representation, legitimation, denial, mitigation or concealment of dominance, among others. More specifically, critical discourse analysts want to know what structures, strategies or other properties of text, talk, verbal interaction or communicative events play a role in these modes of reproduction (p. 249-250).
This still is an accurate statement, one that continues to highlight historically that changes and exchanges of power from one dominant group to the next. What the analysis comes down to is to identify a dominant ideology and how is manifests itself through discourse that is seen through text, talk, images, actions and social practices.
Fairclough, Mulderrig, and Wodak (2011) highlighted how CDA has evolved as a field in the social sciences:
CDA is not a discreet academic discipline with a relatively fixed set of research methods. Instead, we might best see CDA as a problem-oriented interdisciplinary research movement, subsuming a variety of approaches, each with different theoretical models, research methods and agenda. What unites them is a shared interest in the semiotic dimensions of power, injustice, abuse, and political-economic or cultural change in society (p. 357).
CDA works to break down and dismantle the social (e.g. gender, sexual orientation, race), political (e.g. conservatism, liberalism, socialism), cultural (e.g. American, European), economic (e.g. globalization, consumer cultures), epistemological (e.g. schooling, culture of assessment) and other dominant ideologies to identify, see, recognize the discourses (e.g. text, talk, social actions, social practices) that support them.
Fairclough, Mulderrig, and Wodak (2011) break down a typical process for using CDA. They stated:
Unlike some forms of discourse-based research, CDA does not begin with a fixed theoretical and methodological stance. Instead, the CDA research process begins with a research topic; for example, racism, democratic participation, Middle East politics, globalization, workplace literacy, consumer cultures, and so forth. Methodology is the process during which, informed through theory, this topic is further refined so as to construct the objects of research (pinpointing specific foci and research questions). The choice of appropriate methods (data collection and mode of analysis) depends on what one is investigating. Thus, for example, it is likely that a different set of analytical and theoretical tools will be required to investigate neoliberal ideology in welfare policy from those needed to explore workplace sectarianism in Northern Ireland. (p. 358-359).
What guides an analyst is an interest and/or stake in a particular topic and the presence of some form of dominance and/or power shifts occurring. For example, as a female, I have a stake in how conservative Republicans in the United States dictates what power I have over my own body. I could investigate the origins of this political ideology and its connection to a specific gender ideology.
From what I have read, CDA is still going strong as a field. What concerns me is the frequency of its use in times when dominant ideologies are powerful enough to stay “hidden” and have the ability to force the blocking of any attempt to dismantle it (e.g. court cases where powerful organizations are fighting the use of freedom of speech; the omission of information in politics that never is realized). Such power is evil and of major concern for the people who have become oblivious to such efforts. I ask you to stop, look and listen this week. Begin to learn how to “read” and “see” what has been hidden to you because of who you are.
Fairclough, N., Mulderrig, J., and Wodak, R. (2011). “Critical discourse analysis.” In T. A. van Dijk (ed.) Discourse Studies: A multidisciplinary introduction. London: SAGE, 357+.
van Dijk, T.A. (1993). “Principles of critical discourse analysis.” Discourse & Society, 4(2): 249-283. London: SAGE.