LINGUIST List 11.1413

Sun Jun 25 2000

Review: Chouliaraki & Fairclough: Discourse in Late Mod

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  1. Elisabeth Le, Book review: Chouliaraki & Fairclough (1999)

Message 1: Book review: Chouliaraki & Fairclough (1999)

Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2000 10:42:07 -0600
From: Elisabeth Le <>
Subject: Book review: Chouliaraki & Fairclough (1999)

Chouliaraki, Lilie & Fairclough, Norman (1999). Discourse in Late
Modernity. Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press. 168 p.

Reviewed by: Elisabeth Le, University of Alberta


In this book, the first in a Critical Discourse Analysis series published
by Edinburgh University Press, Chouliaraki and Fairclough establish the
theoretical bases of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). CDA, whose object
is the 'discursive aspects of contemporary social change' (p.113), 'starts
from the perception of discourse (language but also other forms of
semiosis, such as visual images) as an element of social practices, which
constitutes other elements as well as being shaped by them' (p.vii). Thus,
the authors attempt to locate CDA first within a version of critical social
sciences (Chapters 2-4), and second within critical research on social
change in contemporary society (Chapters 5-7); then, they link it with
linguistics (Chapter 8). They see CDA as both a theory and a method for
analyzing social practices.

The authors' goal in the first part of the book is to provide a coherent
rationale for theorizing and analyzing language. Chapter 2 looks at the
object of social studies, social life. It is composed of social practices
bearing three characteristics. First, these practices are forms of
production of social life, economic but also cultural and political.
Second, they are located within a network of relationships (the
'structures') to other practices, whose articulations within and across
networks are defined by relations of power, more precisely of domination
(economic, gender, racial). Third, they have a reflexive dimension, which
first implies a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice (and
therefore positions practices as resources and stakes in social struggles),
and second entails that practices contain an irreducible discursive aspect.
Discursive practices that depend on their reflexive self-constructions to
sustain relations of domination are called ideologies. In this respect, the
role of critical social science is to study 'the dialectic relationship
between objective relations and structures on the one hand, and the
practical dispositions of subjects engaged in practices on the other' (p.30). 

Chapter 3 focuses on discourse, defined as the semiotic elements of social
practice (written and spoken language, nonverbal communication, and visual
images). Thus, the study of discourse allows for insights into social
interaction and the construction of social identities. Modern societies
have developed mediated quasi-interaction (characterized by the limited
size of the producers and the unlimited size of the receivers, i.e. mass
communication) that introduces the social system of the producers into the
everyday life of the receivers. As those have no control over the
producers' social system, it has been argued that 'social identities are
defined in terms of positions in and access to the mode of information
rather than the mode of production' (p.44). Discursive interaction is an
open and dialectical process between structural resources (the networks of
relationships) and social action. 

On the basis of the role of critical social science as exposed in chapter 2
and the view of discourse presented in chapter 3, chapter 4 builds a
framework for CDA that includes a 'structural' dimension (the constraints)
as well as an 'interactional' dimension (the use of resources within the
constraints). And as interaction is made possible by drawing upon a network
of orders of discourse ('the socially ordered set[s] of genres and
discourses associated with a particular social field, characterised in
terms of the shifting boundaries and flows between them', p.58), a
framework for CDA must allow for an interdiscursive analysis. This
framework is structured in the following way: a discourse-related problem
in social life; the obstacles to its being tackled (analysis of the
conjuncture, of the practice, of the discourse); the function of the
problem in the practice; possible ways past the obstacles; reflection on
the analysis (p.60).

The second part of the book aims to provide a coherent critical account of
late modern society and its transformations, and to show how critical
social research and CDA can help each other develop. Chapter 5 reviews from
a linguistic perspective different critical theories of modern social life
(by Harvey, Giddens, Habermas, Foucault, and Haraway, among others), and
argues that the increasing part that language occupies in them is due to
the realization that language has always been significant and becomes even
more significant in modern social life. These theories outline a research
agenda for CDA, each theme of which poses the questions of power and
hybridity: colonization / appropriation, globalization / localization,
reflexivity / ideology, identity / difference. 

Chapter 6 deals with more specific theories, and emphasizes discourse
tendency to maintain and sustain structures. A complementarity between
Bourdieu's concept of social fields and the notion of 'order of discourse'
appears in that the latter represents the discursive facet of the social
order of the former. With its interdiscursive analysis, CDA brings out the
potential for social change within fields. The use of Bernstein's concept
of voice, linked with the notion of 'order of discourse', allows CDA 'to
explore relations and tensions between the discursive practices in place
within a particular conjuncture, and the specific discursive endowments of
agents operative within them' (p.117). Overall, the combination of
Bourdieu's and Bernstein's theories and CDA gives a framework for the study
of discursive practices in their structural constraints (with the concept
of field) and in the interactions between structures and agents (with the
concept of voices). 

Chapter 7 focuses upon postmodern theories (in particular by Laclau and
Mouffe, but also by Derrida, Foucault, Gee, Haraway, Bhabha, and Lury). It
underlines how their conceptual resources (more specifically of
'articulation' and 'difference/equivalence') can be used to show the way
social practice can be transformed and diversified by the openness and
hybridity of discourse, which are characteristic of the instability in late

Finally, the third part of the book (Chapter 8) links CDA and linguistics,
in particular systemic functional linguistics (SFL) (among others, Halliday
and Hasan). In SFL, language is conceived as both structured by the set of
possibilities in each of its strata (semantics, phonology, and
lexicogrammar), and structuring by its choice of values for variables that
relate it to its social environment (the field, the tenor, and the mode).
In this respect, SFL is in harmony with the general perception of language
on which CDA is based. However, CDA extends and completes SFL view of
language. Indeed, SFL limitations by its insufficient emphasis on the
social in general vis-a-vis the semiotic, on the instance (the text) as
opposed to the system, and by its lack of recognition of a system
corresponding to the 'order of discourse' do not allow for an adequate
explanation of hybrid texts, that mix discourses, genres, and registers.
Moreover, SFL cannot conceive the evolution of a particular discourse (the
example of scientific English is given) as a recontextualisation within
orders of discourse, which would allow for the development of grammar to be
seen in connection with processes of modern social transformations. CDA, in
contrast, by its more balanced approach, makes it possible to assess the
role of semiotic in social practices, while 'anchoring its analytical
claims about discourses in close analysis of texts' (p.152). It still has,
however, to add quantitative analysis of large corpuses to qualitative
analysis of particular texts.


Put into very simple words, this book's thesis is that discourse is an
integral part of the social world, and as one of its elements, is shaped by
it and shapes it. As discourse and social life have given rise to different
theories in several disciplines, the theoretical basis of CDA is 'a
shifting [transdisciplinary] synthesis of other theories' (p.16). And this
is where the book's main interest resides. Indeed, by bringing together
different views pertaining to discourse, CDA puts discourse under the light
of different perspectives, allows for the mutual enrichment of the theories
brought together, and contributes to the development of a more encompassing
methodology. In this respect, it is important that it does not become a
'static' theory, but keeps on evolving as the theories on which it is based
keep evolving (which could theoretically partly result from their
interaction with CDA). This, of course, can have its drawback, that of
resulting in a body of eclectic studies with little connections between
them, but it seems rather a small risk. 

CDA's theory is not neutral. Its premise is that social relations are based
on the notion of power, more specifically of domination. Thus, discourse as
an integral part of social life is an instrument of domination, and also an
instrument of change, and this change can only be one of domination,
because by definition, all social relations are based on domination. If we
study discourse in a CDA perspective, it means that we want to bring to
light the type of domination in force in a particular discourse so as to
change it. Then the question is: what type of domination do we want
(because domination there must be)? And we could continue: once a relation
of domination has been replaced by another, shall new CDA studies aim to
bring it down? And with which other one? The old one or a new one? In this
sense, CDA's theory can be considered 'revolutionary'. Moreover, if its
goal is to replace existing relations of domination by others that would
remain in place, then it can be called ideological, because it would give
rise to discursive practices whose goal would be to sustain particular
relations of domination. However, that would not take away the real
theoretical and methodological interest of CDA.

Elisabeth Le, Assistant Professor
Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies
University of Alberta
Research interests: Mass-media discourse, political discourse,
argumentative writing, coherence

Elisabeth Le
Modern Languages & Cultural Studies
200 Arts, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E6 Canada
Phone: (780) 492-5947
Fax: (780) 492-9106
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