Discourse

Discourse

Overview
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

". The following are three more specific definitions:
  • In semantics
    Semantics
    Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

     and discourse analysis
    Discourse analysis
    Discourse analysis , or discourse studies, is a general term for a number of approaches to analyzing written, spoken, signed language use or any significant semiotic event....

    : A generalization of the concept of conversation
    Conversation
    Conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette.Conversation analysis is a branch of sociology which studies the structure and organization of human interaction, with a more specific focus on conversational...

     to all modalities and contexts.
  • "The totality of codified linguistic usages attached to a given type of social practice. (E.g.: legal discourse, medical discourse, religious discourse.)"
  • In the work of Michel Foucault
    Michel Foucault
    Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

    , and social theorists inspired by him: "an entity of sequences of signs in that they are enouncements (enoncés)." An enouncement (l'énoncé - often translated as "statement") is not a unity of signs, but an abstract matter that enables signs to assign specific repeatable relations to objects, subjects and other enouncements.
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Quotations

A discourse is "a language or system of representation that has developed socially in order to make and circulate a coherent set of meanings about an important topic area."

John Fiske (1987). Television Culture. New York: Methuen. ISBN 0415039347.

We can no longer maintain any distinction between music and discourse about music, between the supposed object of analysis and the terms of analysis.

Bruce Horner (1999). Discourse. Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture. Malden, Massachusetts. ISBN 0631212639.

It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974), Ch. 3
Encyclopedia
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

". The following are three more specific definitions:
  • In semantics
    Semantics
    Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

     and discourse analysis
    Discourse analysis
    Discourse analysis , or discourse studies, is a general term for a number of approaches to analyzing written, spoken, signed language use or any significant semiotic event....

    : A generalization of the concept of conversation
    Conversation
    Conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette.Conversation analysis is a branch of sociology which studies the structure and organization of human interaction, with a more specific focus on conversational...

     to all modalities and contexts.
  • "The totality of codified linguistic usages attached to a given type of social practice. (E.g.: legal discourse, medical discourse, religious discourse.)"
  • In the work of Michel Foucault
    Michel Foucault
    Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

    , and social theorists inspired by him: "an entity of sequences of signs in that they are enouncements (enoncés)." An enouncement (l'énoncé - often translated as "statement") is not a unity of signs, but an abstract matter that enables signs to assign specific repeatable relations to objects, subjects and other enouncements. Thus, a discourse constitutes sequences of such relations to objects, subjects and other enouncements. A discursive formation is defined as the regularities that produces such discourses. Foucault used the concept of discursive formation in relation to his analysis of large bodies of knowledge, such as political economy and natural history.


Discourse in the first sense is studied in corpus linguistics
Corpus linguistics
Corpus linguistics is the study of language as expressed in samples or "real world" text. This method represents a digestive approach to deriving a set of abstract rules by which a natural language is governed or else relates to another language. Originally done by hand, corpora are now largely...

. Analysis of discourse in the second and third senses is carried out within a variety of traditions that investigate the relations between language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

, structure and agency
Structure and agency
The question over the primacy of either structure or agency in human behavior is a central debate in the social sciences. In this context, "agency" refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. "Structure", by contrast, refers to the recurrent...

, including sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, feminist studies
Feminist Studies
Founded in 1972, Feminist Studies was the first scholarly journal in women’s studies and remains a premier journal in the field. It is currently an independent nonprofit publication housed at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland....

, anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, ethnography
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

, cultural studies
Cultural studies
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its historical foundations, conflicts, and defining traits. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural...

, literary theory
Literary theory
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of...

, and the philosophy of science
Philosophy of science
The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science. It is also concerned with the use and merit of science and sometimes overlaps metaphysics and epistemology by exploring whether scientific results are actually a study of truth...

. Within these fields, the notion of "discourse" is itself subject to discourse, that is, debated on the basis of specialized knowledge. Discourse can be observed in multimodal/multimedia forms of communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

 including the use of spoken, written and signed language in contexts spanning from oral history to instant message conversations to textbooks.

Discourses being corpuses of texts or communication have internal relations to themselves as well as external to other discourses. Thus, a discourse is not locally isolated, rather interdiscourse and interdiscusivity
Interdiscourse
Interdiscourse is the implicit or explicit relations that a discourse has to other discourses. Interdiscursivity is the aspect of a discourse that relates it to other discourses. Norman Fairclough prefers the concept "orders of discourse". Interdiscursivity is often mostly an analytic concept, e.g....

 takes part in the constitution of a discourse.

In the humanities


In the humanities
Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 and sometimes the social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

, 'discourse' refers to a formalized way of thinking that can be manifested through language, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic, or, as Judith Butler
Judith Butler
Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.Butler received her Ph.D...

 puts it, "the limits of acceptable speech"—or possible truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

.

Discourses are seen to affect our views on all things; it is not possible to avoid discourse. For example, two notably distinct discourses can be used about various guerrilla movements describing them either as "freedom fighters
Resistance movement
A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to opposing an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign state. It may seek to achieve its objects through either the use of nonviolent resistance or the use of armed force...

" or "terrorists". In other words, the chosen discourse provides the vocabulary, expressions and perhaps also the style
Stylistics (linguistics)
Stylistics is the study and interpretation of texts from a linguistic perspective. As a discipline it links literary criticism and linguistics, but has no autonomous domain of its own...

 needed to communicate.

Discourses are embedded in different rhetorical genres and metagenres that constrain and enable them. That is language talking about language, for instance the American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States. It is the world's largest association of psychologists with around 154,000 members including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. The APA...

's DSMIV manual tells which terms have to be used in talking about mental health, thereby mediating meanings and dictating practices of the professionals of psychology and psychiatry.

Discourse is closely linked to different theories of power
Power (communication)
Power can be described as the capacity of an individual or a group to exert their will over another or others or influence the goals of a relationship. Power is not a characteristic of any one individual, rather, it is defined in terms of relationships and transactions between people...

 and state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

, at least as long as defining discourses is seen to mean defining reality itself. This conception of discourse is largely derived from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault (see below).

Modernism


Modern theorists were focused on achieving progress and believed in the existence of natural and social laws which could be used universally to develop knowledge and thus a better understanding of society. Modernist theorists were preoccupied with obtaining the truth and reality and sought to develop theories which contained certainty and predictability. Modernist theorists therefore viewed discourse as being relative to talking or way of talking and understood discourse to be functional. Discourse and language transformations are ascribed to progress or the need to develop new or more “accurate” words to describe new discoveries, understandings, or areas of interest. In modern times, language and discourse are dissociated from power and ideology and instead conceptualized as “natural” products of common sense usage or progress. Modernism
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

 further gave rise to the liberal discourses of rights, equality, freedom, and justice; however, this rhetoric masked substantive inequality and failed to account for differences, according to Regnier.

Structuralism


Structuralist
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 theorists, such as Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

 and Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

, argue that all human actions and social formations are related to language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 and can be understood as systems of related elements. This means that the “…individual elements of a system only have significance when considered in relation to the structure as a whole, and that structures are to be understood as self-contained, self-regulated, and self-transforming entities.” In other words, it is the structure itself that determines the significance, meaning and function of the individual elements of a system. Structuralism has made an important contribution to our understanding of language and social systems. Saussure’s theory of language
Course in General Linguistics
Course in General Linguistics is an influential book compiled by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye that is based on notes taken from Ferdinand de Saussure's lectures at the University of Geneva between the years 1906 and 1911...

 highlights the decisive role of meaning and signification in structuring human life more generally.

Postmodernism


Following the perceived limitations of the modern era, emerged postmodern
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

 theory. Postmodern theorists rejected modernist claims that there was one theoretical approach that explained all aspects of society. Rather, postmodernist theorists were interested in examining the variety of experience of individuals and groups and emphasized differences over similarities and common experiences.

In contrast to modern theory, postmodern theory is more fluid and allows for individual differences as it rejected the notion of social laws. Postmodern theorists shifted away from truth seeking and instead sought answers for how truths are produced and sustained. Postmodernists contended that truth and knowledge is plural, contextual, and historically produced through discourses. Postmodern researchers therefore embarked on analyzing discourses such as texts, language, policies and practices.

French social theorist Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

 developed a notion of discourse in his early work, especially the Archaeology of knowledge (1972). In Discursive Struggles Within Social Welfare: Restaging Teen Motherhood, Iara Lessa summarizes Foucault's definition of discourse as “systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak." Foucault traces the role of discourses in wider social processes of legitimating and power, emphasizing the construction of current truths, how they are maintained and what power relations they carry with them.” Foucault later theorized that discourse is a medium through which power relations produce speaking subjects. Foucault (1977, 1980) argued that power and knowledge are inter-related and therefore every human relationship is a struggle and negotiation of power. Foucault further stated that power is always present and can both produce and constrain the truth. Discourse according to Foucault (1977, 1980, 2003) is related to power as it operates by rules of exclusion. Discourse therefore is controlled by objects, what can be spoken of; ritual, where and how one may speak; and the privileged, who may speak. Coining the phrases power-knowledge Foucault (1980) stated knowledge was both the creator of power and creation of power. An object becomes a "node within a network." In his work, The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault uses the example of a book to illustrate a node within a network. A book is not made up of individual words on a page, each of which has meaning, but rather "is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences." The meaning of that book is connected to a larger, over-arching web of knowledge and ideas to which it relates.

Feminism


Feminists have explored the complex relationships that exist among power, ideology, language and discourse. Feminist theory
Feminist theory
Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, or philosophical discourse, it aims to understand the nature of gender inequality...

 talks about "doing gender" and/or "performing gender
Gender performativity
Gender Performativity is a term created by post-structuralist feminist philosopher Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble. In it, Butler characterizes gender as the effect of reiterated acting, one that produces the effect of a static or normal gender while obscuring the contradiction and...

". It is suggested that gender is a property, not of persons themselves but of the behaviours to which members of a society ascribe a gendering meaning. “Being a man/woman involves appropriating gendered behaviours and making them part of the self that an individual presents to others. Repeated over time, these behaviours may be internalized as "me"—that is, gender does not feel like a performance or an accomplishment to the actor, it just feels like her or his "natural" way of behaving." Feminist theorists have attempted to recover the subject and "subjectivity." Chris Weedon, one of the best known scholars working in the feminist poststructuralist tradition, has sought to integrate individual experience and social power in a theory of subjectivity. Weedon defines subjectivity as "the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of herself, and her ways of understanding her relation to the world. Judith Butler
Judith Butler
Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.Butler received her Ph.D...

, also another well known post structuralist feminist scholar, explains that the performativity of gender offers an important contribution to the conceptual understanding of processes of subversion. She argues that subversion occurs through the enactment of an identity that is repeated in directions that go back and forth which then results in the displacement of the original goals of dominant forms of power.

See also



  • Foucault's episteme
    Episteme
    Episteme, as distinguished from techne, is etymologically derived from the Greek word ἐπιστήμη for knowledge or science, which comes from the verb ἐπίσταμαι, "to know".- The Concept of an "Episteme" in Michel Foucault :...

  • Critical discourse analysis
    Critical discourse analysis
    Critical discourse analysis is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of discourse that views language as a form of social practice and focuses on the ways social and political domination are visible in text and talk....

  • Political discourse analysis
  • Postcolonial literature
  • Parrhesia
    Parrhesia
    In rhetoric, parrhesia is a figure of speech described as: to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking. The term is borrowed from the Greek παρρησία meaning literally "to speak everything" and by extension "to speak freely," "to speak boldly," or "boldness." It implies not only...

  • Discourse Community
    Discourse community
    The term discourse community links the terms discourse, a concept describing all forms of communication that contribute to a particular, instructionalized way of thinking; and community, which in this case refers to the people who use, and therefore help create, a particular discourse.Some examples...

  • Analysis of subjective logics
    Analysis of subjective logics
    Analysis of subjective logics is an original method of discourse analysis developed and taught by the French psychoanalyst Jean-Jacques Pinto.- Definition :A.S.L...

  • Interdiscursivity
    Interdiscourse
    Interdiscourse is the implicit or explicit relations that a discourse has to other discourses. Interdiscursivity is the aspect of a discourse that relates it to other discourses. Norman Fairclough prefers the concept "orders of discourse". Interdiscursivity is often mostly an analytic concept, e.g....


External links