Critical Discourse Analysis

Jan Blommeart is an Africanist, ethnographer, and synergistic critical discourse analyst. Taking the terms in reverse:
Discourse &emdash; “language in society”, not just language use but also the sum of communicative acts, and these acts situated in context.
Critical &emdash; the performance of analyses that “expose and critique existing wrongs in one’s society &emdash; analyses that should be ‘brought home’” (4).
Synergistic &emdash; drawing from multiple sources, e.g., Hymes, Fairclough, Bauman, Bernstein, Bourdieu, Wallerstein, Bahktin, Foucault, Habermas, Hall, Hanks, Scollon. He particularly notes Norman Fairclough, British Cultural Studies (the Birmingham School), and French poststructuralism (23).
Ethnography &emdash; “an approach in which the analysis of small phenomena is set against an analysis of big phenomena . . . and both . . . can only be understood in terms of one another” (16).
An Africanist perspective: “in the age of globalization, it is worth having a look at materials from the peripheries of the world system” (20).
The central problem of this approach is to locate the relationship between a text (the microsocial) and its context (the macrosocial).


Blommaert asserts: “an event becomes ‘a problem’ as soon as it is being recognized as such” (4). The epistemology is that discourse “can become a site of meaningful social differences, of conflict and struggle . . . result[ing] in all kinds of socio-structural effects” (4). There is an assumption that discourse is both socially constitutive and socially conditioned &emdash; it must be studied as an ecology of cultural forms in which culture and language are firmly set “in the whole of the system in which a group operates” (8). In sum, critical discourse analysis explores “the intersection of language/discourse/speech and social structure” (25) with the goal of identifying and illustrating a position from which to analyze the social facts of globalization (17).
Core assumptions relate power, inequality, and difference.
The main target of analysis is inequality: its nature, dynamics, and modes. Thus, it engages notions of choice and determination. Constraints on choice must be taken seriously. Determination via the world system indicates that people are not becoming more free. [Hence, by default, perhaps raising the need for and stakes of control in those few venues where we feel we do have some choices?] Globalization is the highest level of context determining language usage in any interaction at any time in any situation within any society (18). In other words, what is determinative are “the historical conditions under which particular forms of communication become meaningful or not” (18).
In sum, critical discourse analysis is less a school than a network of scholars who integrate various linguistic methods with social theory, conduct empirical studies of objects of analysis within a set of paradigms, and maintain overt political commitments to social action (24). Institutional settings are arguably one of the best sites in which to apply CDA, education being a primary (perhaps even preferred?) example.
A condition of possibility and a caveat:
For CDA to be utilized as a methodology one must have access to “real, and often extended, instances of social interaction” (25).
Additionally, “it may subvert the practices it analyzes” (25).
[Notes written on the flight; temporally posted on May 13 and backdated.]

2 thoughts on “Critical Discourse Analysis”

  1. Jan Blommaert is a professor at the Department of African Languages and Cultures … somewhere! Can’t seem to get the urls to go through today. But I’m glad you asked, because I see he has written on language ideology in Europe (which might tie in nicely with my current study!):
    “Jan Blommaert and Jef Vershueren’s essay on the role of language in European nationalist ideologies makes the intriguing observation, based on the authors’ reading of German, Belgian, and French newspapers, that in Europe, multilingualism is acceptable and praiseworthy as a feature of an individual but is a more dangerous and corrosive force when part of a nation or society. They argue that the media they surveyed overwhelmingly assume an ideology of one nation, one culture, and one language. Their sample was small, however, and their conclusion might have been stronger had they reviewed, for the sake of contrast, some of Europe’s minority-language newspapers.”
    This essay is in Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory. Bambi B. Schieffelin, Kathryn A. Woolard and Paul V. Kroskrity. Oxford United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1998. Reviewed by Joel Kuipers.

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