LINGUIST List 14.2750

Sat Oct 11 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis: Coupland & Gwyn (2003)

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  1. Catie Berkenfield, Discourse, the Body, and Identity

Message 1: Discourse, the Body, and Identity

Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 17:40:11 +0000
From: Catie Berkenfield <>
Subject: Discourse, the Body, and Identity

Coupland, Justine and Richard Gwyn, ed. (2003) Discourse, the Body,
and Identity, Palgrave-Macmillan.

Announced at

Catie Berkenfield, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Linguistics,
University of New Mexico.


This book, edited by Justine Coupland and Richard Gwyn, is a selection
of papers from the Cardiff Roundtable in Language and Communication's
theme session on 'Discourses of the Body,' held at the University of
Wales in June, 1999. Two additional papers, those by Woodward and
Lupton & Seymour, were also included. The contents of the book reflect
both the discussion from the theme session and the efforts of
individual authors or collaborators to rework their papers in order to
contribute to an interdisciplinary understanding of 'Discourses of the
Body.' This problem-centered volume draws on multiple disciplines and,
thus, seeks to reach a wide audience of social scientists whose
interests involve the relationships between the body and human
discourses. The book consists of an introduction by the editors and
three thematic sections: The Body as Interactional Resource (3
chapters), Ideological Representations of the Body (5 chapters), and
The Body, Pathology and Constructions of Selfhood (3 chapters).


In the introduction to the book, Coupland and Gwyn provide a brief
historical overview of the problem of embodiment in 20th century
social science. Two important figures in the development of current
perspectives on human bodies in and with discourse are Erving Goffman
and Michel Foucault. Goffman's work on performativity and face led to
a greater understanding of the role of human agency in interaction,
the symbolic means of expressing and managing the body in interaction,
and the relationship between the social body and the construction of
self. Foucault's work on the institutions to which the body is
subject gave us a way to locate the body historically and also to
describe how high modern bodies produce and reproduce discourse. The
editors include each paper as an example ''of how discourses of the
body, as they are revealed in talk, text and other semiotic practices,
sustain a series of moral, ideological and practical positions ... to
show how the body is articulated as discourse, and how, in turn,
discourse articulates the body'' (6). A working definition of
'discourse' is provided:

''the term discourse in the broadly Foucauldian sense of one (or more)
particular, internally coherent set(s) of values and orientations,
which is/are held to be normative, persuasive or simply unexceptional
within specific groups or movements, which guides practical action,
but which is configured around and through a finite set of claims,
statements or accounts, amounting to a stance or (partial)
world-view.'' (6)

The authors explicate several threads that help the reader to
understand, in very general terms, the interdisciplinary nature of
work on 'Discourses of the Body' in this volume. These include the
following ideas: ''ideological analysis needn't be purely speculative
or abstract,'' ''discourse analysis must be multimodal,'' ''analysis
must be culturally aware,'' ''the body itself is not a stable
phenomenon,'' and ''representations and construals of the body impact
directly on people's lives in the form of particular outcomes'' (7-9).

The chapter concludes with an outline of the remaining chapters and a
justification for the organization of the papers into the 3 parts. The
body of the book is followed by an index of names and an index of

Part 1: The Body as an Interactional Resource

Ch. 2 The Body in Action, Charles Goodwin

Using videotaped data from a training at an archaeological field
school, Goodwin describes what he calls ''symbiotic gestures'': these
are action complexes that comprise material objects and cultural
percepts in the world, gesture, and talk. He illustrates how such
gestures involve mutual elaborations of these different semiotic
systems that help to structure communication in a social environment
and to reproduce the practices of archeology as a community
discipline. If understanding is aided by the mutual interdependencies
of semiotic systems, as Goodwin argues, then meaning may be located,
although not exclusively, between systems rather than simply internal
to a single system.

Ch. 3 Transcending the Object in Embodied Interaction, Jon Hindmarsh
and Christian Heath

In this chapter, Hindmarsh and Heath discuss how people create meaning
through talk, gesture, material objects, and the use of their bodies.
Using videotaped data from design class presentations of invented
objects, the authors illustrate how speakers use their bodies to
orient their audience toward the object under discussion in particular
ways. Then using videotaped data from medical consultations, the
authors illustrate how patients use their bodies to show doctors the
position, scope, and intensity of pain from earlier episodes of
experienced pain. Of particular importance, both sources of data show
that there is an interactional component to embodied communication in
which a person will persist in using the body to communicate the
perspective up until the point that the interlocutor acknowledges that

Ch. 4 Flirting, Alan Radley

Using a phenomenological approach to how flirting is embodied, Radley
begins his chapter by arguing that flirting reflects a social
valuation of play, both as a lack of serious commitment in the act of
flirtation and in the sense that flirtation implies a refusal to hold
meaning static in a more general way. Drawing on Goffman's (1951)
discussion of categorical and expressive symbols, Radley argues that
discourse and the body are not really separable when it comes to
flirting because flirting creates a space in which the possible
meaning of delight overlays a more mundane meaning that is
simultaneously experienced by a body. In addition, the experience of
flirting seems to require the acknowledgement of the ''Other.'' Radley
concludes that flirtation occurs through simultaneous denotation and
performance allowing the emergence of non-discursive symbols that may,
but do not have to, become conventionalized.

Part II: Ideological Representations of the Body

Ch. 5 Aging Bodies: Aged by Culture, Mike Hepworth

In this chapter, Hepworth discusses how the Western biomedical model
of aging is primarily a model of decline. One of the main problems
then is how to separate out effects of aging from effects of disease
and Hepworth reviews the work of Gubrium (1986) on this topic. He goes
on to discuss the work of Bytheway (1985) and Woodward (1991, and this
volume) in terms of how people conceptualize old age and, then, looks
at the work of Frank (1996) and Williams (1996) as they deal with the
crises of both sudden and chronic illnesses and the epistemology of
the body. Hepworth suggests that William's work in particular
''offers a useful conceptual framework within which to work towards an
interactive processual perspective on aging and decline'' (95), in
which the meaning of age is located discursively rather than
objectively. In the second half of this chapter, Hepworth turns to the
work of Gullette (1988, 1993, 1997, 1998) and the social construction
of aging as decline at the intersections of biology, psychology, and
culture. Hepworth briefly touches on aspects of aging as decline in
relation to both gender and socioeconomic status. Working with a
social construction model enables intervention in the process of
construction, however Hepworth reminds the reader that, a postmodern
valuation of aging notwithstanding, the aging body has an embodied
reality and must be taken into account.

Ch. 6 Tales of Outrage and the Everyday: Fear of Crime and Bodies at
Risk, Marian Tulloch and John Tulloch

Tulloch and Tulloch discuss the term ''outrage'' in terms of how the
media construct the relationship between public reaction and
perception of risk for violent crime. The authors are interested in
how media construct women as being at risk for crime and in how women
in focus groups and interviews either respond to or challenge such
constructions. In addition, they briefly touch on how such
constructions of the female body negatively affect men. Outrage is
most often expressed upon the violation of a worthy person's rights to
safety. However, within patriarchy, only women who adhere to
particular behavior patterns consistent with women's stereotypical
roles are worthy of outrage. This asymmetry puts women in a position
of conflict: how does she balance her inviolable rights to safety and
the risks to which she may willingly have exposed herself in going
about her life? The analysis here suggests that the women in this
study are adopting discursive strategies to assert their rights to
their bodies, that is, when violent crime occurs, these women evaluate
and assert their right to safety rather than internalizing the
consequences of so-called ''risky'' behavior.

Ch. 7 Ageist Ideology and Discourses of Control in Skincare Product
Marketing, Justine Coupland

In this chapter, Coupland provides an analysis of how the face gains
semiotic significance in women's magazine media, particularly in terms
of advertisements that appeal to readers as having aging skin. In the
first part of the paper, the author discusses how advertisements
rhetorically position themselves and their readers as being in control
of the aging of skin and as having a moral responsibility to
counteract the effects of aging by buying skincare products. Next,
Coupland shows how advertisements lead readers to infer arbitrary
lower boundaries on youth (and the skin quality associated with youth)
and also illustrates implicit ageist ideology in the text that
suggests that women over 30 are already at the stage where skincare
will be 'corrective.' Finally, she details the ways in which skincare
advertisements take advantage of a pseudo-scientific discourse in
order to give their products credibility. In the second part of the
chapter, Coupland turns to a discussion of the embodied contradiction
that women face when they make choices about having a tan or taking
care of their skin. She then deconstructs what it means to have a
''fake'' tan and shows how shifting consumer values in the
relationship between beauty and health have made this a viable option
for women. The general idea is that the skincare product market is at
odds with general consumer needs, both in terms of products that
protect the skin from damage and self-esteem, and the rhetoric of
advertisements aims at concealing this contradiction to encourage
women to buy products that may not really do what they are claimed to

Ch. 8 Talking Bodies: Invoking the Ideal in the BBC Naked Programme,
Adam Jaworski

Jaworski takes a look at the BBC Programme entitled Naked, ''a collage
of interviews about people's own bodies'' (151), in order to look at
the interviewees' conceptions of their own bodies in relation to a
'norm.' He specifically focuses on age and gender/sexuality as themes
around which the interviewees positioned their bodies. He identifies 3
prominent positions in the age discussion: the life-cycle consists of
an aberrant adolescence followed by a 'prime' period followed by the
degeneration of middle-age and onward, a person can 'fix' their body
through hard work and concomitantly a lack of hard work on the body
leads to deviance, and an ideal body is necessary for having a good
sex life. In the discussion of gender/sexuality, people orient their
discussion of their bodies in terms of attracting partners (including
grooming habits, plastic surgery, and size of the male genitals); in
terms of a loss of appeal due to menopause or impotence; in terms of
other activities that are rewarding; and in terms of positive feelings
toward their sex lives or participation in the sex industry. The
general finding is that the people in this series do subscribe to
normative ideals about the body, however a few interviewees challenge
these norms and derive a sense of self-esteem in spite of difference.

Ch. 9 Bodies Exposed: A Cross-cultural Semiotic Comparison of the
'Saunaland' in Germany and Britain, Ulrike Hanna Meinhof

In this chapter, Meinhof compares British and German sauna discourses
from architectural, institutional, and commercial textual
perspectives. The author demonstrates how particular configurations
of these aspects of the sauna experience reproduce cultural attitudes
toward the naked body. Meinhof contrasts the range of British
perception of saunas on a scale of ''sinful and sexually suspect'' to
''a somewhat insignificant aspect of sport and fitness in general''
(185) with the German perception of saunas as exotic, traditional,
mystical, sport- and health-oriented, relaxing, leisurely, and
family-oriented. She attributes these differences to different sets of
expectations of and attitudes toward the naked body in public,
reflecting a generally monolithic British norm of the body as private
and a German norm of the body as public, this last being a result of
and constitutive of the postmodern bricolage that characterizes the
German sauna experience.

Part III: The Body, Pathology and Constructions of Selfhood

Ch. 10 Processes of Refiguration: Shifting Identities in Cancer
Narratives, Richard Gwyn

In this chapter, Gwyn looks at the relationship between identity and
the experience of cancer for John Diamond and Marilyn French, two
people who lived with cancer and produced texts describing that
experience. The author discusses how people who have cancer experience
changes in their identity along with changes in their bodies that the
disease brings. Then he discusses the work of Frank (1993), which
deals with the refiguration of identity through the cancer experience,
and shows how Diamond and French's experiences are in line with
Frank's work on cancer and the heroic journey. Finally, Gwyn briefly
deals with the practice of writing evocative autoethnography as a
method in social science, concluding that the union of more
traditional social science methods and first person subjective
ethnography creates a humane means of theorizing the links between
personal and social identities.

Ch. 11 The Statistical Body, Kathleen Woodward

The focus in this chapter is to look at how bodies become vulnerable
through exposure to statistical probabilities in media. Woodward notes
that the general public has a tendency to take statistics as
predictive of future events or trends rather than as descriptive of
the past or the present and, because of this, ''our bodies are figured
as being in a perpetual state of risk'' (228). She shows how risk has
become a commodity in the sense that we pay for the means to find
relief from stress. Woodward looks at three media representations of
risk and the medical body. In the first she shows how a fictionalized
healthy woman manages her risk of breast cancer from a 'rational'
position when she chooses preventative bilateral mastectomy. In the
second, she discusses how a woman who had breast cancer deals with the
effects of statistics on her choices and timing of treatments before
and during her illness. In the third, Woodward summarizes the
autobiography of a woman whose mother had Huntington's disease and how
the woman dealt with her 50-50 chance of getting the disease as
well. Woodward illustrates the different strategies that each woman
has for dealing with risk and the possibility or fact of living with

Ch. 12 'I am Normal on the Net': Disability, Computerised
Communication Technologies and the Embodied Self, Deborah Lupton and
Wendy Seymour

Using data from internet interviews in 3 case studies, Lupton and
Seymour explore the relationship between computerized communication
technologies (CCTs) and people whose disabilities give them particular
embodied experiences of the technology as well as the social worlds to
which the technology provides access. They ask ''what discourses frame
ways of understanding disability in the context of CCTs?''
(247). Rather than looking at CCT-mediated discourse as an arena for
the performance of any virtual identity, the authors focus in on
performances that are shaped by people living with specifically
disabled bodies. CCTs enable the people from the case studies to
participate in social activities that positively impact their lives
and give them autonomy. But at the same time, each person's experience
of the CCT and what it offers creates an awareness of the limitations
of the specific body in comparison to a 'norm.' Lupton and Seymour
position this finding within a broader politics of disability,
illustrating that discourse can never be truly emancipated from the
body that produces or participates in it.


The focus of this book is on how discourse, the body, and identity
come together in communication and open up new sites of analysis and
new ways of understanding and theorizing what emerges from these
sites. Rather than looking at discourse, the body, or identity as some
variable to be factored out of an analysis, in order to postulate
direct links between meaning and one bounded aspect of the
communicative experience, the main thrust in this research is to
illustrate that multitextual meaning is greater than the sum of its
parts and can only be apprehended at the intersections of texts.

With this in mind, the editors have presented a collection of research
that involves a broad range of data sources from videotape to
phenomenological objects, disciplinary texts in sociology to mass
media, and computer-mediated interviews to statistics. The variety of
texts and the findings in each chapter indicate the potential that
this interdisciplinary topic has for research that deals with the
relationships that hold or shift between embodied individual and
embodied social identities.

The breadth of research sites covered in the book might make it
difficult for the editors and/or authors to explain or provide a
theoretical framework for what they have so thoughtfully
described. But this was not the case. Positioning this volume within
the intellectual traditions of Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault, the
editors and authors successfully linked the particulars of the
research sites to more general theories of personal and social
identity and to theory of historical institutions, contributing to the
stabilization of this field of interdisciplinary inquiry.

Finally, a theme that occurred and recurred for me throughout the
book, which reflects my own preoccupations with the relationship
between individual and social identities, was the theme of
recognition. Given the multitextual nature of meaning as produced by
discourse, the body, and identity, how do we learn to recognize
meaning at these shifting intersections? And if these intersections
are always shifting, even when the shift is slight, what consequences
should this have for a linguistic theory of meaning? In other words,
what are the foundations of recognition that will account for how we
deal with meanings that resist stabilization?


Catie Berkenfield is currently a PhD Candidate in Linguistics at
University of New Mexico. Her interests include language and gender,
corpus linguistics, and discourse analysis and her dissertation
research is on the stylistics of metaphor in discourse.
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