LINGUIST List 14.2285

Sun Aug 31 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis: Weiss & Wodak, ed. (2002)

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  1. Mekki Elbadri, Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity

Message 1: Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity

Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2003 14:15:35 +0000
From: Mekki Elbadri <>
Subject: Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity

Weiss, Gilbert and Ruth Wodak, eds. (2002) Critical Discourse
Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity, Palgrave Macmillan.

Announced at

Mekki Elbadri, Vienna, Austria


This book is a collection of articles edited by Gilbert Weiss and Ruth
Wodak. It is principally the result of a conference held in Vienna in
July 2000. According to the editors, contributors were requested to
revise their papers and reflect their positions, in order to answer
some of the unresolved questions during the conference. Several other
scholars in the field were also invited 'to discuss the central
notions of ''inter/trans/multidisciplinarity'' in the Social Sciences
... as well' (p. vii). The book is divided into three parts and
consists of 14 chapters including the introduction. Part I (Critical
vs. Critical vs. Critical), consists of three chapters (2-4); Part
II, 'Debating and Practising Interdisciplinarity', consists of 6
chapters (5-10); and Part III, 'From Theory to Social and Political
Practice', consists of 4 chapters (11-14).


The editors wrote the Chapter I, 'Introduction: Theory,
Interdisciplinarity and Critical Discourse Analysis'. This is mainly a
reflection on the foundations, characteristics and prospects of
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). The authors state at the very
beginning that the 'aim of the volume is to critically examine the
foundation and basic elements of discourse-analytical research as it
has been developing for roughly two decades' (p. 1). They present an
outline of the main concepts dealt with in the book, i.e. theory,
discourse, ideology, power, interdisciplinarity, context, etc. These
questions are discussed with an overview of the historical, scholarly
and academic development of the major concepts since the antiquity
until modern times. The last part of this chapter is a brief
description of the volume's structure and a brief summary of the
content of each chapter.

In Chapter 2, 'Critical Discourse Analysis and Rhetoric of Critique',
Michael Billig acknowledges the academic success of Critical Discourse
Analysis. He traces the historical development of the term as well as
the history of academic critical research in general. However, he
poses the question of whether CDA is not becoming a victim of its
success. He sees this danger in the establishment of CDA as a
full-fledged discipline competing in the academic 'marketplace',
together with the 'brand name' abbreviation: CDA. He wonders whether
the discipline is not developing into the same power relations and
institutional settings that it criticizes. He calls for a return from
this direction in order to continue the revolutionary, critical,
self-reflexive 'lower case' approach and to avoid compromising the
critical enterprise.

In Chapter 3, 'Critical Discourse Analysis and the Development of the
New Science', Carlos A. M. Gouveia outlines the crisis of modern
science paradigm marked by the Cartesian, mechanistic and reductionist
methodology, which is constructed in opposition to common sense in
understanding reality. The author considers the theory and methodology
of CDA as examples of tentative responses to key factors in this
general crisis. He points out the emergence of a new science
represented by Einstein's theory that revolutionized the conceptions
of space and time, followed by other theories in physics, and
particularly the concept of complex self-organizing systems. These
approaches maintain that 'when an object, a system, is dissected
either physically or theoretically into isolated elements, its
systemic properties are destroyed' (p.52). He predicts a second
epistemological break of modern science characterized by bringing
together scientific knowledge and common sense, adopting
transdisciplinarity and refusing the reduction of reality to an
arbitrary simplification beyond which other aspects of reality are
dismissed, and producing an emancipatory knowledge. He thinks that CDA
is theoretically well-placed and methodologically equipped to lead
this second epistemological break of the New Science.

In Chapter 4, Marianne W. Jorgensen discusses 'Reflexivity and the
Doubles of Modern Man: The Discursive Construction of Anthropological
Subject Positions'. She starts by confirming that scientific knowledge
is situated. She states that 'knowledge is not just a passive
reflection on an object 'out there', but also a projection of forces
working from 'within' the author, the academy or Western culture at
large' (p. 63). She suggests that a discourse analytical approach can
give new input to the investigation of scientific subject positions,
though more by reformulating the question, than by providing an

Taking as a starting point Michel Foucault's diagnosis of 'modern man,
she argues that an interdisciplinary approach to the question of
reflexivity provides a common denominator for the discussion of
knowledge in a number of disciplines, making possible the analysis of
a range of contributions as solutions to the same problem concerning
the status of knowledge. She then turns to the discipline of
anthropology, putting the developed tools at work in a closer analysis
of one example, namely Talal Asad's article on the concept of cultural
translation in British social anthropology. She introduces Asad's
criticism of the cultural translation conception of ethnographic task
as adopted by British anthropologist. She, then, criticizes Asad's
alternative approach using concepts proposed by Foucault and Asad

In Chapter 5, 'The Discourse-Knowledge Interface', Teun A. van Dijk
discusses discourse and knowledge as multidisciplinary phenomena. He
maintains that many contemporary directions in pragmatics and
discourse studies show that knowledge is not only mental, but also
social, with an important cultural dimension, and, hence, needs an
anthropological or ethnographic account. He points out that 'similar
remarks may be made of the notion of discourse, which also has
philosophical, linguistic, cognitive, social and cultural dimensions
-- and of course historical ones' (p. 87). He maintains that in order
to study power and its abuse, it is crucial to understand how exactly
powerful groups and institutions manage and express their knowledge in
public discourse. A critical approach to knowledge is characterized by
questions such as 'which groups or institutions have preferential
access to various kinds of knowledge, which groups or institutions set
the criteria for the very definition or legitimization of knowledge,
and which are specially involved in the distribution of knowledge --
or precisely in the limitation of knowledge in society' (p. 88). He
thinks that a sociocognitive interface, rather than an individual
approach, is needed for studying knowledge. After classifying
knowledge in categories according to this model, he sets on anlysing a
New York Times' editorial entitled 'Setback on Medical Marijuana'
showing how knowledge, cognition and discourse are interrelated.

In Chapter 6, 'Critical Discourse Analysis and Evaluative Meaning:
Interdisciplinarity as a Critical Turn', Phil Graham looks at the pre-
disciplinary and post-disciplinary periods in the development of
modern disciplines. He examines the use of evaluative resources for
proposals and propositions justifying the birth of each new
discipline. He uses editorial introductions to first issues of
journals in newly emerging disciplines in order to focus on the
intertextual discourse of their separation from their 'parent
fields'. Taking examples from the disciplines of economics, political
science, psychology and ethics, he illustrates how each new social
science attempted to grasp the whole human experience as its domain of
authority armed with a number of evaluative resources. These same
resources are deployed in contemporary discourse of power. As an
example of what he calls 'Latterday Princes', the author analyses a
speech by Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States,
demonstrating the use of evaluative resources derived from diverse,
and some times conflicting, disciplines. He concludes by affirming
that no 'critical social science can function from within any of the
isolated bunkers created by disciplinarity' (p. 126). He maintains
that a genuine CDA is merely a beginning for any future critical
social science, not an end.

In Chapter 7, 'Texts and Discourses in Technologies of Social
Organization', Jay L. Lemke tries to identify emerging forms of social
control in the era of globalization. He proposes to sketch a complex-
systems model of semiotically mediated social ecosystems (ecosocial
systems) and discuss the general role of texts and other semiotic-
material artifacts in producing the coherence of such systems across
time and space. He argues that complex systems are 'characterized by a
hierarchical organization across multiple levels, each with its
characteristic timescales and spatial-extensional scales' (131). These
new systems have a number of distinct manifestations that the author
calls 'transversals'. They include hypertexts, web-surfing, channel
surfing, mall-cruising, transgenre and transinstitutional traversals.
He calls for CDA to find ways of addressing this new mode of
'transversals' taking account of different time scales, social control
and social power relations.

In Chapter 8, Marcelo Dascal discusses the question of 'Identities in
Flux: Arabs and Jews in Israel'. At the onset, he states that he
approaches this question from an abstract, philosophical viewpoint
(i.e. conceptual analysis). He sees interdisciplinarity as an
opportune approach for surmounting difficulties and awaking hopes. As
an example he chooses to analyse the concept of identity. After a
short etymological definition of the term 'identity', he presents two
opposing conceptions thereof. A 'coherent', 'pure' and 'homogenous'
identity, as opposed to a pluralistic, multiple and diversified
identity. He gives a number of examples in support of the latter. He
claims that if this conception was adopted, this would open new
horizons for relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel, which would
eventually lead to transcending the current conceptual and political

In Chapter 9, 'Political and Somatic Alignment: Habitus, Ideology and
Social Practice', Suzanne Scollon discusses theory and
interdisciplinarity as an eclectic approach. She starts by tracing her
scholarly itinerary leading to adopting and developing Mediated
Discourse Analysis (MDA), together with Ron Scollon. She explains how
MDA differs from CDA in its focus on action. Presenting an example of
studying habitus as embodied ideology, she focuses on one basic social
practice that reflects the different ideologies of two groups
practicing 'taijiquan' in Kunming (China) and in Hong Kong. She shows
how the two groups are separated ideologically and hence opted for
distinctive practices. The simple practice of placing one's bag or
other personal possessions is symbolic of one's membership in the
group. This type of action has further ideological implications which
are reflected in different training style, language choice and face
relations (egalitarian vs. hierarchical). Changes in political climate
accentuate differences in habitus. Members of the group choose certain
somatic alignment practices to express their political alignments.

In Chapter 10 'Voicing the 'Other': Reading and Writing Indigenous
Australians', Jim R. Martin draws on systemic functional linguistics
and social semiotics (Multimodal Discourse Analysis) to analyse
modernist and poststructuralist representations of Indigenous peoples
in Australia. He reproduces extracts from a number of books written
about Aboriginal Australians. These extracts depict different
approaches reflecting their authors' ideological standpoints. Some use
reported speech to speak on behalf of the peoples concerned, others
quote them directly, giving them voice, while in a third example, a
multimodal medium is used.

In Chapter 11, 'Activist Sociolinguistics in a Critical Discourse
Analysis Perspective', Patricia E. O'Connor studies how people
'agentively present themselves in autobiographical discourses' and
'narratively constructing past selves and potentially new selves in
society' (p. 224). Through analyzing prisoners stories of their
experiences with drugs and crime, she suggests that elements of
agentive discourse are clustered in sites of reflexive language,
particularly in frame breaks and in meta-talk or evaluative references
to one's knowledge state. Considering autobiographical recollection to
be a useful source for capturing reflexivity, with therapeutic
potential, she calls for the researcher's involvement in analysing the
data and contributing for positive change in the life of speaker and
of the community. She suggests a collaboration between CDA and
participatory action research with the aim of removing 'the distancing
of scholars from the subjects of research by forming 'reciprocal'
zones of proximal development as researcher-learner' (p. 237).

In Chapter 12, 'Discourse at Work: When Women Take On the Role of
Manager', Luisa Martin Rojo and Conception Gomez Esteban study the
role of gender in organizations and try to place it within a broader
consideration of power and authority. The authors adopt
interdisciplinarity as an attitude for examining modern management
models, gender-specific attitudes and stereotypes, and female managers
attitudes towards these questions. They find that masculine practices
and models continue to predominate organizations. They remark that
women are in 'no-win' situations. On the one hand, behaviours
identified as 'typically female' are disadvantageous for women, even
when they are positively valued by new management models. On the other
hand, the adoption of features traditionally associated with men by
women managers is also considered negatively, because such features
are associated with old models of management. They conclude that male
centred conceptions of power and authority are dominant not only in
everyday discourses, but also in academic research and training

In Chapter 13, 'Cross-Cultural Representation of 'Otherness' in Media
Discourse', Carmen Rosa Caldas-Clouthard studies the social, political
and educational role of news. She examines the news
recontextualization of events, key cultural themes related to the
representation of otherness and criteria for news worthiness (news
values). Focusing on 3 news values, which are: reference to elite
nations, personalization and negativity, the author analyses news
articles taken from the Bank of English Corpus, a case study of the
British media treatment of a Brazilian immigrant in the United Kingdom
and the Brazilian media counter-discourse. She shows that the Western
media tend to reproduce, through text and image, a colonial discourse
of denigration, reinforcing stereotypical developing countries,
opposed to a positive civilized image of Western countries, through
legitimating their own superiority, and emphasising the distance
between 'us' and 'them'. The counter-discourse, for its part,
endeavours to reflect a beautiful, attractive image of Brazil in a
defensive approach that also parody elite nations.

In Chapter 14, 'Interaction between Visual and Verbal Communication:
Changing Patterns in the Printed Media', Christine Anthonissen draws
on multimodal grammar of visual design to demonstrate how the verbal
and visual modes complement each other, rather than being fully
identical or totally opposed. She remarks that 'a verbal text that
pays lip service to media regulations, may be contradicted and
corrected by a visually linked image' (p. 301). Examining newspapers
under South Africa's apartheid censorship regulations and practices,
she analyses visual design in news representation: typeface choices,
layout and use of different semiotic modes, attempting to map their
respective interrelations. She concludes that censorship provokes the
use of semiotic modes other than language, in a way that the printed
media find ways to defy censorship and to convey their message without
resorting to, or in addition, to words.


'Theory' and 'interdisciplinarity' are the key themes of the book. It
is clear that the volume was conceived and designed in a manner that
lays down the theoretical foundations of CDA, illustrating its
interdisciplinary orientation(s) and presenting corresponding
applications of both themes; hence the division into three parts. The
question of theory received the least treatment in the book. This
reflects an ongoing problem of research in CDA (Meyer, 2001). It is
not easy to discern a coherent theoretical thread linking the
different approaches. However, this might be a sacrifice needed to
accommodate the second theme: interdisciplinarity. Here, we come to a
cherished approach in CDA (van Djik, 2001). The volume is a genuine
example of 'inter/trans/multidisciplinarity' by virtue of questions
discussed, disciplines visited/revisited and tools applied. However,
the main question of 'critically examining the foundation and basic
elements of discourse-analytical research' (p. 1) has not been
sufficiently accounted for. With the exception of Billig's article,
beside a few other brief remarks, the volume lacks critical, reflexive
criticism of CDA's critical endeavour. This might be the result of the
fact that all the authors are enthusiastic theoreticians/practitioners
of CDA. A completely opposing viewpoint like Widdowson's
(e.g. Widdowson, 2000), would have enriched the debate and helped
shedding more light on other aspects of CDA from outside the circle of
researchers in the field.


Meyer, M. (2001) 'Between theory, method, and politics: positioning of
the approaches to CDA', in Wodak and Meyer (2001) (eds), pp. 14-31.

van Dijk, T. (2001) 'Multidisciplinary CDA, a plea for diversity', in
Wodak and Meyer (2001) (eds), pp. 95-120.

Widdowson, H. G. (2000) 'On the Limitations of Linguistics Applied'.
Applied Linguistics, 21/1: 3-25.

Wodak, R. and Meyer, M. (2001) (eds.) Methods of Critical Discourse
Analysis. London: Sage Publications.


Mekki Elbadri is a translator and researcher with interests in
translation studies, terminology and discourse analysis, and is
currently conducting a doctoral research in Critical Discourse
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