Discourse Analysis

~ Because language matters!

(1) Why do Discourse analysis?

~ Why does it matter?

(A) because it has the 'capacity to represent things the way things are' (Brandom)


there is no noumenal world, which 'stands ready-made and complete', i.e., it can be described as it is already.

Example: social contructivism, which looks at norm and intersubjective beliefs as they are expressed in the public sphere by decision makers

~ Most self-styled discourse analysts in IR do not subscribe to this model!

(B) because there is no neat line between how scholars deal with the world and that world. 'The notion that our understanding of the world is grounded in our dealings with it is equivalent to the thesis that this understanding is not ultimately based on representations at all, in the sense of depictions that are separately identifiable from what they are of (Taylor, 1996: 477).

What this means is this:

the notion of an intransitive world existing outside of language goes out of the window

~ Language/representation

Language is the form of the constitution of the world. There is always a world already interpreted, already discursively organised in its basic relations (Gadamer, 1977: 15; Habermas, 2000: 40).

problem with the notion of representation is not that the languages (theories, hypotheses) used in the sciences are too opaque and need to be refined. The problem rather is that there is no structured, self-sustaining reality that could speak to us or be reflected in the mirror of language (Rorty, 1995a: 3-22).

[By the way, this means the following: there is no truth-maker outside man-made vocabularies. Hence, anything can be made to look true or false, good or bad, by being redescribed. Truth, if we have to use the term at all, resides in the intersubjectively validated coherence of webs of belief, not in the correspondence between statements and the world (real or experienced).]

The upshot: Scientific inquiry cannot move beyond the linguisticality of understanding.

~ critical of methodologism (der Drian)


(2) What is discourse?

~ a system of signification that constructs social realities - it is a grid of intelligibility

~ Discourses are not speech()rWIitt~lJ~tat~m~J'1t. They are socio-cultural resources~6i;ruTesuse(n;y~people in the construction of meaning about their worlds. 'As backgrounds, discourses must be distinguished from the verbal productions which readers or listeners piece together. People do not read or listen to a discourse: rather, they employ a discourse or discourses in the processes of reading or listening to a verbal production. Discourses do not present themselves as such; what we observe are people and verbal productions' (Alker and Sylvan, 1986). Discourses are not deep structures to which everything else can be reduced. They have a &tuaL~xis1e_nce. They are assembled and reassembled differently. They.fuse facts with fiction to produce a reasoning where neither is distinguishable from the other (Tuathail and Agnew, 1992: 84). One can infer their existence from their realisations in practices, texts and spe~che~---'--~'---"--'-~-'-"----~'~'~


~ Discourses create their own 'regimes of truth' . They 'create, inter alia, a cast list of political alld economic agents which governments must consider, olJjects~ of concern, agendas for action, preferred narratives for making sense oftlieoiigins of current situations, conceptual and geographical spaces within which problems of government are made recognisable. They also create a series of absent agendas, agents, objects of concerns and counternarratives, which are mobilised out of the discursive picture' (Stenson and Watt, 1999).

~ Discourse is productive:

it defines subjects authorised to speak and act (securitisation theory)

it defines a bounded field of possibilities and reasoning.

it defines logical, reasonable or proper practices

~ discourses can be dominating or hegemonic - but there are also always subjugated counter-discourses


(3) What can be studied by discourse analysis?

~ collective identities: identities are narrative constructs expressing ideas that + define what a group of individuals has in common

+ define the difference between in-group and out-group

+ define, in the case of nation-state identities, just political and social order (Risse et al, 1999: To Euro or not to Euro)

(A) collective identities can be conceived of as variables, together with material interests, that shape foreign policy. They help us to answer 'why-questions': why was a particular decision resulting in a specific course of action made?

Example: Risse et al, 1999: they formulate specific hypotheses:

+ if interests are unclear, the collective identities shape policy

+ if collective identities are contested or in flux, then interests, provided they are stable, will shape policy.

(B) collective identities can be conceived of as conditions of possibility. Then they help us to answer' how-possible questions': 'how meaning are produced and attached to various social subjects/objects, thus constituting particular interpretative dispositions which create certain possibilities and preclude others' (Doty, 1993).

+ such constitutive explanation presupposes the following: why questions are incomplete because they take as unproblematic the possibility that a particular decision or course of action could happen. Why-questions presuppose a particular subjectivity and background meanings which make possible the practices to be explained

Example: the construction of the US national interest in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (Weldes, 1996). She shows how the invocation of the Munich analogy, the metaphor of falling dominoes and of the Trojan horse and other discursive means foregrounds Soviet aggressiveness and duplicity that have to be countered. An alternative story, a priory equally plausible, might have argued that the deployment


of missiles was a defensive move against US imperialist policies and aggression against Cuba since the 1959 revolution; it had among other things severed diplomatic relations, cut Cuba off its oil supplies, eliminated its sugar quota and tried to invade it at the Bay of Pigs.

~ Power

~"i~£2Q_t§~§J2r.oduce effects of truth with regard to specific fields of governance such as madness or crime. They make a particular domain intelligible under certain descriptions and cap-able?f~~ln:g~s~bEc;tedto the ex~emseofpower (Rose and Miller, 1992: 17g~181). By studying discourses as power, researchers cast light on the power of political discourse in making up reality as a series of problematisations that call for governmental interventions. Political discourses objectify reality into a terrain to be governed, i.e., they discursively constitute phenomena as problems the solution of which requires certain policies. In short, discourses make government thinkable.

Example: Arturo Escobar: at first, development discourse did not bother about rural farmers in the third World. They were invisible and thus not dealt with by the development machine. In the second half of the sixties, the productive potential of the farmer was 'discovered' by development discourse. Rural farmers were actually like Western rural entrepren"eufs,' jTlsftnafihey lacked the necessary skills and resources. Provided with both, they could be expected to become market-integrated, profitoriented businessmen contributing to the modernisation of the Third World. Hence, this new discourse problematised farmer, rendering them intelligible as for ahistorical, acultural and acontextual protoentrepreneurs just waiting for the development machine to come to them to tell them to, and aid them in, exploiting land for profit.


(4) How to do Discourse Analysis?

(a) Predicate analysis

focus on predication, i.e., the verbs, adverbs and adjectives attached to nouns

Why? 'Predication of a noun constructs the thing(s) named as a particular sort of thing, with particular features and capacities' (Milliken, 1999: 232).


+ the US is a non-imperialist power

+ the US is determined to stay in Iraq + Iraq is not yet ready to govern itself

+ the US will govern Iraq until the latter is capable of selfgovernment

+ in the meantime the US governs Iraq on behalf of Iraqi

(b) Articulation:

it studies h()w the meaning of sigrlifi~rs is fixed by virtue of their being artlc~lated~int()a particular lingliistics~q\l~I1~~ in such a way that 'contingent and contextually speCific representation of the world' are forged that 'come to be seen as through they are inherently natural' (Weldes, 1999: 154-5).

Example: the signifier democracy is articulated with free enterprise and capitalist market economies.

(c) Relatio~s(11110ngconcepts:

it studies constellations of concepts.

Example: how are the concepts'sta!e'ctnci'Ellrope' linked to each other in national discou!"§~_iIri~_Geiniany-ascompared to -Frarice'Tfhere is an antipower-concept of the state prevalent in Germany according to which the concentration of power in states leads to a return to the balance of power and Machtpolitik, which can only be avoided if states are embedded in the constraining framework of the EU. In the French discourse, at least at a certain time, Europe was considered as a stepping stone for the pursuit of French interests and glory on the world stage (Waever, 2000).


(d) Metaphorical analvsis

, ~ _, ,. ,, __ ._<-= __ ~""" .. '"~".~_~~.~ ,, __ ."e~_~~~ "~~_~_,,_o!_''''_._.~~_ .. ~ .. ,_.,,

studies meta.ph()rsthatar~employed in discourses to make sense of the world

withavfew to highlighting how the metaphors structure possibilites for reasoning and action

Example: the Hobbesian image of states as 'gladiators, having their weapons pointing and their eyesfixed6no~e another; that is their Forts, Garrisons and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes; and continuall spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of War

(e) Historical analogy

studies!he_ use of the eqll~tLQ!l of hif'JQIi£~L~LCjl1JIPk~LQIJn9_<!~J~Lindi;?9g11I§es with a contemporary situation in order to show how such equations render contemP01:arypoiltTcs-TrifeITlgible under a particular description and justify certain actions.

Example: Sadam's Iraq is Hitler Germany. Hence, accommodation is dangerous and pre-emptive attack is the best option.

(f) Deconstruction

This methodseeks to reveal the contingent and arbitrary nature of a text by sho~~l1g--ifl(lt~tr~st()naIl opposition or a series of opposition between concepts such asmod~~tit!ra.clftiQJial, devel()ped/llnderdeyeloped, rural entrepreneur/subsistence farmer. The point is that on.~term in tlJis juxta}2osition is alwaYfpIiYi!~ed atth~~QLtheQther, thus producingaparticular 'tr~t~'~ or meaning.De~()1}?!£~c~i£!l.}!llS8;V~r§th¥§~_ 9P~iti(_)ns ancrihen.ln verts orreverses-Uiem toO-shaw-that the text lacksthe stable foundations it

presupposes. Instead, the dominant reading thus deconstructed emerges as an imposition of meaning, a one-sided construction of reality that could have been constructed differently.

(g) Genealogy

A manner of doing historically-minded research which seeks to render intelligible the constitution of domains of objects and knowledges without making reference to a subject (Foucault, 1980: 117).


it shows the contingency of contemporary discourse by examining its historical traj ~ctory~~its~sliifts and turns, the ruptures an4_<:let1~Gtions

~-~----.---~- ......• --

It 'aims at the construction of intelligible trajectories of events, discourses, and practices with neither a deterministic source nor an unfolding toward finality' (Dean, 1992: 217)

- this methodology proceeds by case-histories or case-studies; it is concerned with the complex conditions of emergence and aims at intelligibility rather than exhaustiveness

(4) A Final Note:

discourse analysis is most fruitful and interesting when it is contexted, i.e., when its embeddness in institutions, administrative practices or policies is brought into focus



Taylor, Charles (1996) 'Overcoming Epistemology', in Kenneth Baynes, James Bohman and Thomas McCarthy (eds.) After Philosophy: End or Transformation? Cambridge, MA, MIT: 464-488.


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