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What is Discourse?

Media Analysis 2: Discourse, Ideology & the Media
by

Catriona Miller

on 5 October 2015

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Transcript of What is Discourse?

Media Analysis 2: Discourse, Ideology & the Media
Discourse
Today we'll consider:
What is discourse?
Some vocabulary
An example
The “term ‘discourse’ has become common currency in a variety of disciplines: critical theory, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, social psychology and many other fields, so much so that it is frequently left undefined, as if its usage was simply common knowledge…. It has perhaps the widest range of possible significations of any term in literary and cultural theory and yet it is often the term within theoretical texts which is least defined.” (Mills, 1997/2004: p.1)
"The study of discourse is the study of language in use."
(Wetherell, Taylor & Yates, 2007: p.5)
In this sense of 'discourse', which arises from the discipline of LINGUISTICS, discourse is used as a way of describing what is said; how it is said; to whom it is said etc.
Also applies to the multi-modal aspects of audio visual texts!
Camera - framing, angle, movement etc.
Mise en Scène - costume, make up, setting etc.
Lighting - direction, source, quality etc.
Sound - volume, timbre, speed etc.
Editing - speed, style etc.
(See Bordwell & Thompson's book Film Art for a refresher.)
Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg's 'Shanghai Express' (1932)
Discourse (Meaning 1)
"Language does not mirror an independent object world, but constructs and constitutes it."
(Barker & Galasinski, 2001, p.1)

In this sense, (which becomes increasingly important after Michel Foucault's work in the 1980s) 'discourse' doesn't just describe something, it actually helps to produce it!
Discourse (Meaning 2)
"To enter into the study of discourse... is to enter into debates about the foundations on which knowledge is built... at the heart of discourse studies are some complex but potent and profound discussions on what it means to be human, what counts as 'real' and what the 'social' is. (Wetherell, Taylor & Yates, 2007: p.5)
Knowledge itself (how we know, what we know) is built upon discourses.

Discourses shape attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and power relations. They help individuals understand, make sense of, to construct and to negotiate social reality.

They spontaneously arise from culture BUT they also actively shape culture.
“Words are about the world but they also FORM the world as they represent it. What is the case for humans, what reality is, what the world is, only emerges through human meaning-making…. As accounts and discourses become available and widely shared, they become social realities to be reckoned with; they become efficacious in future events. The account enters the DISCURSIVE ECONOMY to be circulated, exchanged, stifled, marginalized or, perhaps, comes to dominate over other possible accounts and is thus marked as the ‘definitive truth’. … Discourse analysts are much more interested in studying the process of construction…, how truths emerge, how social realities and identities are built and the consequences of these, than working out what ‘really happened." (Wetherell, Taylor & Yates, 2007: p.16)
Doing discourse
analysis?
Taken from: Jäger and Maier - Chapter 2 of Wodak & Maier's (2009) 'Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis'
DISCOURSE PLANE
: the "social location from which speaking takes place" (Wodak & Maier, 2009: p.48) The media is a discourse plane made up of various sectors.
DISCOURSE STRAND
: "flows of discourse that centre on a common topic." (Wodak & Maier, 2009: p.46) They go on to say "Discourse strands have a history, a present and a future." (Wodak & Maier, 2009: p.51)
SYNCHRONIC DIMENSION
DIACHRONIC DIMENSION
syn(together)
+khronos(time)
=
'together time'
or 'at one moment'

Synchronic analysis looks at what is being said in one particular moment. i.e. all the discourse strands circulating in ONE episode of a soap opera.
dia(through)
+khronos(time)
=
'through time'
or 'over a period of time'

Diachronic analysis looks at what is being said across a period of time. i.e. following one discourse strand (racism perhaps) across ALL episodes of a soap opera.
Discourse Fragment
or Text?
Jäger and Maier like the term 'discourse fragment' to show that any given item can contain elements of many different discourse strands at any one time... BUT I think we can just keep using the term text to denote the item under analysis whether it is a film, TV programme, news story, advert etc.
All disability is the exception rather than the rule in the media, but learning disabilities particularly so?
Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988)
Touch (Fox 2012)
American Horror Story (Fox, 2011)
Even back in the medieval period, 'idiocy' was recognised as being different from 'insanity'. It was a permanent condition from birth. Care of such individuals was largely the task of the family.
In the 18th/19th Centuries things began to change. It was perceived as being more desirable to have such individuals segregated from the rest of society in large institutions. Women were disproportionately represented in such places.
The issue of mental impairment then began to be entangled in a number of other circulating discourses, such as Miscengenation (the interbreeding of different races) and Degeneration (which literally means 'no longer of its kind').

This led to an image (idea, concept) of the over-breeding, burdensome, idiot poor, draining the wealth and vitality from the nation and the race.
Then Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, with its concept of 'survival of the fittest' began to cause some other ideas to start circulating.
The term 'eugenics' was coined in 1881 by Francis Galton (Darwin's cousin!). 'The science of improvement of the human race by better breeding.'
And in Germany things took a much darker turn. After the National Socialist party came to power in 1933, one of its first acts was a compulsory sterilisation law 'Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring'.

The idea that such 'useless eaters' should be dealt with severely was circulated by a number of novels and films as well as newspapers, political speeches and academic articles.

In 1939, procedures were put in place to 'euthanise' first children up to the age of 3, then extended to those up to the age of 17, then adults were included, first by lethal injection, then by gassing.

This was possible because there were already ideas circulating about:
the burden of unproductive members of society (the poor, the unemployed, the feeble minded)
the healthiness and genetic vigour of the race which is polluted by the degenerate and genetically sub-normal.
the idea of the sexually promiscuous (feeble minded) woman churning out idiot baby after idiot baby (gender discourses at work here too.)
Ich Klage an (Dir: Wolfgang Liebeneiner, 1941)
Feedback
Write down 3 things you understand by 'man' and 3 things you understand by 'woman' (could be appearance, qualities or characteristics, or role).
Learning Difficulties
Full transcript