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Data analysis through Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA)

Juan Carlos Valencia Rincn

Analytical methods are magnifying glasses between researchers and the reality being studied. However, the reality changes when we change the research approach, or lens, through which we look at it (Saukko 2003 p.9). There are different methods available to analyze the data collected but the selection of any method carries a set of particular assumptions and researcher preferences. Given the discursive focus of my research (my interest in audience targets understood not as facts to be simply described but as constructed objects in a field of power relations), an obvious choice for data analysis was Discourse Analysis.

However this umbrella term applies to a wide range of methods with very different assumptions and approaches. The version of Discourse Analysis associated with Linguistics could certainly have produced valuable insights into the topic under study here. The same could be said of the approach commonly described as Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Traditional linguistic Discourse Analysis however has been based on a belief in the existence of fixed a priori transcendental meanings in words and texts, and has largely ignored context and the relationship between language and power (ArribasAyllon and Walkerdine 2007). CDA has moved away from these beliefs but both approaches are inexorably textually oriented (Richardson and Sharp 2001 p.199), and they share a deep concern with the intricacies of language that may not be the most useful approach when looking at the ordering of objects in a discourse:

The analysis of lexical contents defines either the elements of meaning at the disposal of speaking subjects in a given period, or the semantic structure that appears on the surface of a discourse that has already been spoken; it does not concern discursive practice as a place in which a tangled plurality of objects is formed and deformed, appears and disappears (Foucault 1972 p.48-49).

CDA has been criticized in recent years by some of its practitioners for relying too much on Systemic Functional Linguistics, a model closer to functionalist approaches to social theory than to critical ones (O'Regan 2006 p.180) and for subscribing to a negative view of power that is only concerned with domination, manipulation and control, forgetting that power is also productive, constructive and knowledge forming (O'Regan 2005). Nevertheless, CDA might have been a valid approach for the topic of this thesis as there is a diversity of possible levels of analysis. But the type of discourse analysis used here is one influenced by the ideas of Michel Foucault. I subscribe to his view of discourses as practices in a field of power relations that systematically form the objects of which they speak (Foucault 1972). Discourse involves practices and actions.

There is a growing interest in critical sectors of the Social Sciences in using Foucaults methods (Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine 2007 ; Hook 2001 ; Nez and Tani 2005 ; Ruiz Ruiz 2009 ; Sharp and Richardson 2001). This interest stems from his innovative conception of power, his expansion of the concept of discourse, his decentering of the subject, his take on subjectivity, his skepticism regarding the claims of scientificity and objectivity of Western knowledge and his concern with the historicity of knowledge.

However, as much as his ideas seem to create an exciting and useful base from which to carry out endeavors such as the analysis of discourses, researchers have to bear in mind that there exists no strictly Foucauldian method of discourse analysis ... the various methodological injunctions prioritized by Foucault can be better accommodated within the ambit of critical genealogical work (Hook 2001 p.542). But the especially close, visible link between discourses and practices that became apparent while researching targeted radio programming begged for the application of a Foucault-inspired type of Discourse Analysis: the Foucauldian approach allows a shift of emphasis, where texts may be significant and require close scrutiny, but where other practices, actions or events may in fact be as important (Sharp and Richardson 2001 p.200). Foucault (1972) explained his approach to Discourse Analysis in the following way:

It does not question things said as to what they are hiding, what they were really saying, in spite of themselves, the unspoken element that they contain, the proliferation of thoughts, images, or fantasies that inhabit them; but, on the contrary, it questions them as to their mode of existence, what it means to them to have come into existence ... what it means to them to have appeared when and where they did they and no others (p.109).

Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine (2007) point out three broad dimensions for a Foucauldian analysis of discursive practices. One is genealogical and it entails a historical inquiry into the conditions of possibility for the emergence and the subsequent transformations of a discursive object. The second dimension has to do with the analysis of the mechanisms of power and offers a description of their functioning. The last dimension pertains to subjectivation and studies the material/signifying practices in which subjects are made up (Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine 2007 p.91).

In this research, the genealogical dimension of an FDA was carried out at an abstract, general level in Chapters 2 and 3. There I explained how and why the practice of audience targeting came into being. A specific genealogical analysis of the emergence and transformations of targets constructed in Bogot is beyond the scope of this thesis. I deal with the present. The analysis of the mechanisms of power was also carried out at a general level in Chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 4 offered more specific descriptions of their functioning in commercial radio. The subjectivation dimension is the one that will be explored in detail by analyzing the empirical data collected. The use of FDA in the analysis of subjectivation enables the understanding of how meaning is produced symbolically through signifying practices of language and sound within the material and institutional contexts of targeted radio (Barker and Galasinski 2003 p.12).

The study of the interviews with PDs using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) allowed me to determine the audience targets constructed and what specific programming practices are directed to each target and what subject positions are created.

Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine (2007) propose useful methodological guidelines for conducting FDA. A first step is the selection of a corpus of statements. In this research, the corpus is the data collected from the interviews and station audio recordings and organized in the data collection sheets already described. This corpus includes text that constitutes the discursive objects (targets) under study. Vocabulary, grammar, voices, songs and sounds could be articulated to produce an infinite wealth of contents but in fact, they are not: At a given period, there are, in total, relatively few things that are said (Foucault 1972 p.119). The apparently infinite potential for creating ideas and thoughts, and their expression in language and actions, is controlled and constrained by discourses (Richardson and Sharp 2001 p.197). Meaning may formally proliferate endlessly in the world of texts but this is not so in social practice where meaning is regulated and stabilized for pragmatic purposes (Barker and Galasinski 2003 p.12).

The corpus of statements could include references to expert discourses that legitimize the construction of objects (targets). I take those expert discourses to be all the explanations, interactions and formal audience research results and techniques that attribute truth to the targets constructed.

A second step in FDA has to do with describing the specific technologies that seek to govern audience conduct directly (discipline) or by enabling and encouraging selfregulation (biopower). I relate these technologies with the targeted programming practices implemented by the stations in the sample to interpellate each target.

However, media organizations are sites of struggle, and the bargaining process between different groups and individuals shape what the media produce (Williams 2003 p.100). Immaterial production is exploding, cultural difference and popular creativity transcend efforts to control and co-opt them. The construction of audience targets attempts to introduce scarcity and hierarchies where there is diversity, cultural difference and struggle. Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine (2007) propose that another step in FDA

involves studying problematizations, instances and conflicts between different discourses that make discursive objects and practices problematic and therefore visible and knowable. The study of problematizations allows the analyst to trace how discursive objects are constituted and governed (Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine 2007 p.99). I take the analysis of problematizations to refer to instances in which the discourse about the constructed targets collides with other discourses and reveals its precariousness, but results in practices that are either contradictory or that exclude other ways of reasoning about listeners as unintelligible.

A final step in FDA has to do with identifying the subject positions created by the constituted objects. This is, the cultural repertoire of discourses available to speakers (Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine 2007 p.99). I take this to mean the roles attributed to the target audiences and the stations in their interaction by discourses that shape the problems that need to be solved, the methods to be used and the solutions that can be considered (Richardson and Sharp 2001 p.202).

FDA has potential difficulties and problems (Sharp and Richardson 2001 p.201): it is a reflexive tool that problematizes the role of the researcher in the selection of the corpus of statements and discourses, making mandatory the reflexive consideration of the role of the researcher. The last section of this chapter offers some relevant biographical information. All my theoretical and methodological choices in this thesis have been explained and justified and the analysis chapter reveals my personal positions explicitly. But it is clear that:

... despite attempts at reflexivity in Discourse Analysis procedure, typically the researchers reading carries the most weight ... ones own less than explicitly contextualized political position comes to assume the anchoring-position once provided by the provision of the notion of truth (Hook 2001 p.542).

My research tried to do justice to the perspectives of PDs, announcers, listeners and other researchers through polyvocality so that they, in the main, may agree with the results (Saukko 2003).

Another issue with FDA is that it is not directed towards the generation of normative advice on practices. However, the generation of advice and recommendations on practices are not an appropriate expectation of all research (Sharp and Richardson 2001 p.207). My intention here is to challenge practitioners to think critically about their own practice.