Discourse Analysis of Welfare Reform

I was one of the discussion leaders this week in APLNG 581.  My discussion centered on Fairclough’s (2000) application of critical discourse analysis (CDA) to the discourse of welfare reform under Tony Blair and his New Labor party circa 1997.

Because this article was quite dense — both conceptually and empirically — my summary drew attention to three areas of focus.

  1. First is the issue of genre.  Who has control and how is it framed (unilateral vs. shared)?
  2. Second is the issue of discourse.  Who is present and who is absent?  Of those present, who is speaking and who is silenced?
  3. Third is the issue of style?  How are the positions among participants related.  


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Citation: Fairclough, N. 2000. “Discourse, social theory, and social research: The discourse of welfare reform.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4: 163-195.

This, That, And It

One of this week’s APLNG 581 Discourse Analysis readings deals with the use of demonstratives (this, that, and it) in the context of spontaneous oral discourse between native English speakers.

The article’s main argument is that traditional explanations for choice of demonstrative (this, that, it) as a function of the proximity/distance of a referent from the speaker do not adequately explain the distribution of demonstrative tokens in natural conversations. An alternative dynamic explanation is proposed which accounts for choice of demonstrative as a function of a speaker’s personal stance towards their listeners, and the referents being discussed. According to the model, demonstratives provide an index of the degree of focus a speaker is asking of listener and in so doing disclose assumptions speakers have of their listeners.

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Citation: Strauss, S. 2002. “This, that, and it in spoken American English: A demonstrative system of gradient focus.” Language Sciences, 24: 131-152.

Seeing, Speaking, Knowing

This week’s PHIL 557 readings started with Husserl’s “Phenomenology,” an article first published in Encyclopedia Britannica (1927).  The edition I read was from The Essential Husserl

I followed this reading with an excerpt from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus and Deleuze’s chapter on “Foldings, or the Inside of Thought” from Foucault.  This latter reading considers Foucault’s confrontation of Heidegger and phenomenology.  Some passages of note:

‘There is’ light, and ‘there is’ language.  All intentionality collapses in the gap that opens up between these two monads, or in the ‘non-relation’ between seeing and speaking.  This is Foucault’s major achievement: the conversion of phenomenology into epistemology. For seeing and speaking means knowing [savoir]… Everything is knowledge… [T]here is nothing beneath or prior to knowledge.  But knowledge is irreducibly double, since it involves speaking and seeing, language and light, which is the reason there is no intentionality (p. 109).

In truth, one thing haunts Foucault — thought.  The question: ‘What does thinking signify?  What do we call thinking’ is the arrow first fired by Heidegger and then again by Foucault.  He writes a history, but a history of thought as such.  To think means to experiment and to problematize.  Knowledge, power and the self are the triple root of a problematization of thought…  Thinking is neither innate nor acquired.  It is not the innate exercise of a faculty, but neither is it a learning process constituted in the external world (pp. 116-117).

To think means to be embedded in the present-time stratum that serves as a limit: what can I see and what can I say today?  But this involves thinking of the past as it is condensed in the inside, in the relation to oneself…  Thought thinks its own history (the past), but in order to free itself from what it thinks (the present), and be able finally to ‘think otherwise’ (the future) (p. 119).

The world is thus knowledge…the articulable and the visible on each stratum, the two irreducible forms of knowledge, Light and Language, two vast environments of exteriority where visibilities and statements are respectively deposited (pp. 120-121).