LINGUIST List 24.2737|
Sun Jul 07 2013
Review: Discourse Analysis; Sociolinguistics: Berlin & Fetzer (2012)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: James Murphy <james.murphymanchester.ac.uk>
Subject: Dialogue in Politics
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-5208.html
EDITOR: Lawrence N. Berlin
EDITOR: Anita Fetzer
TITLE: Dialogue in Politics
SERIES TITLE: Dialogue Studies 18
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
REVIEWER: James Murphy, University of Manchester
The book under review considers dialogue in politics as existing on a
continuum -- with one end where participants are able to contribute to the
dialogic action freely and collaboratively, to the other where participants
are restricted to participating in the dialogue in strictly pre-defined ways.
The individual chapters in the volume highlight case studies at different
points on the continuum, from a variety of political traditions, media, and
using different theoretical approaches, including but not limited to
semiotics, (critical) discourse analysis and cognitive linguistics. I first
summarise each chapter and then provide an evaluation of the contribution that
the volume makes as a whole to the field.
The first chapter is an introduction by the editors, Lawrence Berlin and Anita
Fetzer, outlining Chilton’s (2004) view, which they share, that politics is an
action which is essentially co-operative in the Gricean sense. As a result,
the desire to share a vision for the future leads to interactants seeking to
persuade through dialogue. It is noted, though, that this persuasion can be
self-serving, meaning participants in a political dialogue possess ‘the
potential to obfuscate coercion as cooperation’ and ‘the ability to exploit or
violate the Cooperative Principle without necessarily being readily detected
within the verbal interaction’ (3). The editors go on to discuss the
continuum already mentioned: with free contribution to a dialogue at one end
(what the editors call ‘politics as interaction’), and the opposite end where
hegemony is the order of the day (‘politics as imposition’). The remaining
chapters are divided into parts under these headings. Berlin & Fetzer survey
the main methods employed to analyse political discourse, summarising their
own previous work, as well as some of Fairclough’s work on mediatisation,
hybridisation and recontextualisation (i.a. Fairclough 1995, 1998).
The first chapter under ‘Politics as interaction’ is Titus Ensink’s ‘Internet
newspaper discussion lists: A virtual political arena?’. Ensink discusses
how newspaper discussion lists give the impression to readers of having the
opportunity to directly contribute to current societal and political
arguments. Ensink analyses discussion boards from three different websites
and on different news stories. He shows that the format of the board affects
the type of responses posted thereon -- for instance, ‘The Times’ website does
not allow participants to respond directly to one another’s comments and thus
messages posted there only really respond to the article itself. The other
websites allow for such direct replies, and comments on these sites not only
discuss the issues arising from the article, but also matters stemming from
earlier postings on the discussion board.
Marjut Johansson’s chapter, ‘Political videos in digital news discourse’, also
looks at the presentation of news in the online sphere, but with a focus on
the functions of videos presented alongside written news articles. Johansson
looks at twelve videos from French, British and Finnish news sources (with a
heavy bias towards French news sources, with eight videos). The videos serve
a variety of purposes -- the main ones discussed are: videos which resemble
news packages found on broadcast news and contain quotes from the actors in
the article; videos which contain press conferences or political speeches
which allow readers to access the newsworthy item directly and become active
participants in the dialogue (rather than passive recipients of the
journalist’s interpretation of the news event); first hand footage (captured
by ‘citizen journalists’ on mobile phones) which function as evidence for the
claims of an article. These videos give readers an opportunity to become
immersed in the news, and more emotionally engaged in it, Johansson argues.
Peter Bull’s chapter, ‘Watch dogs or guard dogs? Adversarial discourse in
political journalism’, reviews existing research in the microanalysis of three
areas of political journalism: broadcast interviews, press conferences, and
news broadcasts. He does this in order to conclude whether journalists act as
watch dogs, by holding governments to account, or guard dogs, who seek only to
savage and attack politicians. The chapter sees Bull summarising Clayman &
Heritage’s extensive work in this area (e.g. Clayman & Heritage 2002a,b;
Clayman et al. 2006, 2007, 2010), in the main discussing their work on
presidential press conferences which showed, using extensive multivariate
analyses, an increase in adversialness in journalists’ questions. Work by
Eriksson (2011) and Ekström (2001), finding that news reports move from
mediating political stories to critically interpreting what is happening in
the political sphere, is also summarised. Bull adduces these studies as
background for his own work. A number of his studies find high rates of
conflictual questions in British news interviews. These conflictual questions
lead to equivocation on the part of the politician (Bull et al. 1996, Bull &
Elliott 1998, Bull 2003). Bull describes the advantages and disadvantages of
the increasing ‘guard dog’ role of journalists -- advantages being protecting
the public from government abuses and disadvantages including increased
cynicism and political apathy amongst the public at large.
‘Types of positioning in television election debates’ by Verena Minow analyses
four television election debates from the US, Britain and Australia between
2008 and 2010. Minow gives details of constraints on interaction at such
debates, including the presence of a moderator or live audience, whether the
interactants are allowed to address one another directly and whether the
politicians can make opening/closing statements. Minow then gives details of
Positioning Theory (Harré & van Langenhove 1991; van Langenhove & Harré 1994),
which asserts that speakers often refer to their personal attributes and
personality traits in order to position themselves in conversation (and this
implicitly positions conversational partners, too). Examples of positioning
are given from the four election debates analysed, with personal narratives or
other explicit positioning strategies used by politicians to highlight their
likeability, ability, honesty and achievements. These positioning strategies
either implicitly suggest that the converse is true of the political opponent,
or these undesirable traits are somehow made explicit. Whilst the examples
chosen were both interesting and informative, one would have liked to see an
indication of the frequency that these strategies are employed, so that one
does not have to trawl through the transcripts of the debates.
‘Personal marketing and political rhetoric’ by Vladimir Dosev analyses how
Bulgarian politicians utilise marketing strategies to sell their images, as
well as their messages. Dosev first describes the importance placed on the
accents of the two candidates in the 2005 Sofia mayoral election. Tatyana
Doncheva had a strong provincial accent which marked her as not being from
Sofia; her campaign utilised this aspect of her ‘image’ to show her as being
different from, and preferable to, her ‘tight-styled native Sofian’ (116)
opponent. Dosev also notes the importance of footballing metaphors in
Bulgarian political discourse: ‘football match’ (= election campaign),
‘injured players’ (= disappointing political colleagues), ‘significant
transfers’ (= potential coalition partners), etc. This adds, Dosev suggests,
to the view that political media genres are under pressure to entertain, as
well as inform. In the final section, Dosev suggests how recurrent ‘political
myths’ are manifest in the Bulgarian public sphere: ‘the myth of the
Conspiratorial Enemy’, ‘the Valiant Leader myth’, and ‘the United We Stand
myth’ (121-3), all played on by politicians and their spin-doctors.
Eric Anchimbe’s ‘Private dialogue in public space: ‘Motions of support’
letters as response to political action’ explores a discourse type common in
Cameroon (and Francophone West Africa more generally) but not really found in
Western politics -- the ‘motions de soutien’ (motions of support) -- public
letters written by (senior) members of regional, ethnic or social groups to
the President praising him or pledging support. Recurrent patterns are found
in the letters, to the extent that these actions have become routinized.
Firstly, authors introduce themselves and express why they are ratified to
speak on behalf of others (133-4). The senders seek to establish common
cause between themselves and the President, by praising his policies and
previous achievements (134-5). This is followed by thanking the President
for various actions which have benefited the group(s) they represent (135-6).
The groups then commit themselves to supporting the President further
(136-7). The previous strategies serve as mitigation for the requests for
further beneficial actions which follow (137-8). A prayer for the long life
of the President forms the subsequent part of the MoS, since ‘the job of the
president is interpreted as a divine mission and he alone is viewed as the
only one who can achieve it’ (138). An optional element of attacking the
President’s opponents follows (139). The final act is the signature of the
MoS, which gives it authenticity, especially if it is signed by a large number
In the first chapter in Part III ‘Politics as imposition’, Liliana
Ionescu-Ruxăndoiu explores how authority can be called into question and
dialogue made persuasive in the Romanian parliament in ‘Perspectivation in the
Romanian parliamentary discourse’. Ionescu-Ruxăndoiu discusses how quotation,
rhetorical questions and irony are used in speeches made before the Romanian
parliament during a debate about whether the President should be suspended
from office for various breaches of the Constitution (the conclusion of the
debate saw him suspended for thirty days). She shows how quotations in the
debate were used as arguments of authority (‘argumentum ad verecundiam’), and
took the President’s previous utterances and turned them into a source of
ridicule (158-9). Rhetorical questions were used, Ionescu-Ruxăndoiu argues,
to ‘implicitly claim a similarity of views between the speaker and a large
part of the audience’ (160). This type of strategy is an attempt to align the
speaker with the audience. The final strategy explored in this paper is the
use of irony. Irony can be seen to bring criticism of the President into even
starker focus. The author argues that all of these strategies have in common
the Bakhtinian notion of ‘double-voicedness’, which allows speakers to be
highly critical but, at the same time, dissociate themselves from the
responsibility of what is said.
‘The making of a new American revolution or ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’:
“It’s time to reload”’ is the contribution of one of the editors, Lawrence
Berlin. In it he uses Positioning Theory to analyse Sarah Palin’s speech to
explain her appeal to Tea Party supporters and show what he believes to be a
lack of substance in her discourse. Berlin also uses his Multilayered Model
of Context (Berlin 2007, 2011) to analyse the extrasituational, situational,
interactional and linguistic contexts of two Palin speeches. He notes the
importance of Palin speaking on Ronald Reagan’s birthday, in Republican
states, at important points in the stages of the passing of the ‘Obamacare’
healthcare reforms. Analysing her interactional practices, Berlin notes how
Palin is quick to relate to her audience: discussing her credentials as a wife
and mother, contrasting herself with ‘a bunch of elites in Washington’ (179),
as well as inclusivization with ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ (180). In the analysis
of her discourse, Berlin finds a great deal of evidence of redundancy (that
is, flouting Grice’s quantity maxim), as well as instances of logorrhea (the
flouting of quantity, manner and relation maxims). Berlin uncovers much
evidence of contradiction in Palin’s speeches, too. She derides Obama for
focusing on ‘that hopey, changey thing’ (186) but spends much of her speech
referring to the need for change. Berlin argues that Palin’s use of
positioning in her speeches (i.e. positioning herself as just like the Tea
Party activists she is speaking to), outweighs the contradictions in her
speech for her audience. She does not represent, in their view, the
Washington elite which has left them feeling disenfranchised, and this
explains, to some extent, her popularity amongst Tea Party members.
Ibrahim El-Hussari’s chapter, ‘Remaking U.S. foreign policy for a new
beginning with the Arab and Muslim worlds: Linguistic and discursive features
of President Obama’s Cairo speech’, explores how Barack Obama constructs the
need for a ‘new beginning’ in relations between the U.S. and Muslim world and
how he seeks a constructive dialogue between the two countries. The paper
explores the speech because it can be seen as a firebreak between George W.
Bush’s approach to the Middle East and the approach which Obama sets out.
El-Hussari also argues that Obama is trying to cast himself as a man of peace
in light of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (198) -- this seems dubious to
me, since the prize was awarded on 9 October 2009 and the speech being
analysed took place some months before on 4 June 2009. Critical discourse
analysis (CDA), it is argued, allows the analyst to not only give a deeper
understanding of the text itself, but also what is not said by Obama (201).
In his analysis, El-Hussari suggests that the speech follows a sequence of
‘situation-problem-solution’ (202). A number of examples support the idea
that Obama seeks to be the willing peacemaker to facilitate solutions to
problems between the West and the Muslim world (206). El-Hussari then goes on
to describe how Obama cannot be the honest peacemaker he portrays himself as
-- suggesting that Obama is biased in favour of the Israelis. It is here that
El-Hussari makes increasingly political points, rather than focussing on the
analysis on the speech itself, suggesting that Palestinian violence is akin to
that found in the American War of Independence (209), for instance.
El-Hussari also analyses matters not found in the speech at hand, as further
evidence that Obama is not an honest broker. Those include the idea that the
Crusades were religious wars; the reasons violent extremists are adversaries
of the US; the violations by Israel (which he describes as ‘inspired by a myth
2000 years old’ (214)) of the conditions set out at its founding; the increase
in illegal Israeli settlements; the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons; and
US laws which prevent Arab and Muslim contributions to humanitarian charity
funds. In the conclusion, El-Hussari states that his work ‘as a CDA analyst’
(217) has guided the interpretation of the Cairo speech; the feeling that one
gets from the chapter is that his political views have, to some extent, been
the primary driving force of the analysis, rather than the linguistic content
of the speech at hand.
‘War-normalizing dialogue (WND): The Israeli case study’ by Dalia
Gavriely-Nuri looks at how political and military figures use discursive
strategies broadly described as war-normalizing to gain the support of the
public for (new) wars. The chapter describes various types of WND and where
it occurs, as well as giving examples from previously published studies
(Gavriely-Nuri 2008, 2009, 2010; Gavriely-Nury & Balas 2010) of such discourse
from Israeli public discourse. According to Gavriely-Nuri, WND has four main
functions: i) euphemization, giving a positive ‘spin’ on war, e.g. giving an
opportunity for bravery, a feeling of self-worth, etc.; ii) naturalization,
representing war as a natural force, e.g. the naming of Operation Blue Sky;
iii) legitimation, representing war as a moral and rational act, e.g.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was worthy since it had the aim of delivering freedom;
iv) symbolic annihilation, excluding war and some of its components from the
discourse, e.g. the avoidance of mentioning death and destruction. These
discursive functions are joined with discursive elements -- naming, framing
and metaphors -- to form discursive strategies.
These discursive strategies are found in Israeli war-normalizing discourse.
For instance, more than a quarter of Israeli military operations were named
after natural phenomena (e.g. Lightning, Cypress, The Poplar’s Song) (230). A
number of war-normalizing metaphors are also discussed, including WAR IS
SPORT, WAR IS A MEDICINE, and WAR IS BUSINESS. Gavriely-Nuri suggests that WND
is used to turn an event that needs the consent and support of the public
(war) into a normal event that causes as little disruption to the public as
possible. Scope for comparative analyses on normalizing discourses around the
world is noted.
The final chapter is Christoph Sauer’s ‘Multimodality and performance:
Britain’s first Holocaust Memorial Day (BBC on January 27, 2001)’. Sauer
analyses how informational and commemorative discourses are combined in the
presentation of the ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day on the BBC’s Memorial
Day live broadcast. Informed by multimodal semiotics, audience design, and
participation framework (Goffman 1981), Sauer discusses how two dialogues are
maintained -- one for those present in Westminster Central Hall (where the
commemoration took place) and one for the television audience who see the
ceremony, which is supplemented by voice-over commentary. Sauer discusses in
great detail how the images shown, the language used by the contributors and
commentators, and the music which accompanies these aspects were frequently
congruent, which aids viewers in their comprehension of the memorial and the
events which are being commemorated. A substantial appendix provides a
multimodal transcript of the event.
This volume is, to use a hackneyed phrase, a mixed bag. Anchimbe’s chapter is
particularly welcome as a thorough study of a genre not found in Western
political culture which has been the main source of research in political
discourse analysis. Berlin’s chapter is a reminder of the importance of a
multitude of different contexts to the interpretation of a text (situational,
extrasituational, interactional and discourse). Sauer’s chapter is the result
of a painstaking analysis of a multimodal piece of data, and is a model for
the amount of detailed work which needs to be carried out to have a thorough
understanding of what is going on in televised events of this type.
However, the overall impression this volume gives is of a collection of
studies published before enough empirical work has been carried out -- many
appear to be pilot studies which give interesting interim findings, but these
are tentative ones more suited to a conference environment, and not a book
which claims to offer ‘illuminating and persuasive analyses of dialogue in
In addition, there is evidence of an overly passive editorial approach, with
some chapters suffering from issues with respect to clarity of expression
(e.g. ‘We should look at where and how these discussion points are addressed
in the discussion, and if the discussion has relevance to the discussion about
these points’ (29)). Proof-reading could also have been more thorough: on the
same page, one can find: ‘In about half of the reactions posters define there
[sic] own identity’ (29).
The introduction contains some useful suggestions for how political dialogue
can be studied (ethnomethodology, speech-act theory, facework and empirical
political science are all mentioned (5)). If studies using these approaches
were also found in the book, a more thorough exploration of dialogue in
politics might have been provided. As it is, what is offered here is an
occasionally interesting book demonstrating the importance of looking at
dialogic data in political discourse analysis. However, a great deal more
work needs to be done before we have a comprehensive understanding of this
area of public communication.
Bull, Peter. 2003. The microanalysis of political communication: Claptrap and
ambiguity. London: Routledge.
Bull, Peter & Judy Elliot. 1998. Level of threat: Means of assessing
interviewer toughness and neutrality. Journal of Language and Social
Psychology 17. 220-244.
Bull, Peter, Judy Elliott, Derrol Palmer & Libby Walker. 1996. Why politicians
are three-faced: The face model of political interviews. British Journal of
Social Psychology 35. 267-284.
Clayman, Steven & John Heritage. 2002a. The news interview. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Clayman, Steven & John Heritage. 2002b. Questioning presidents: Journalistic
deferences and adversarialness in the press conferences of U.S. Presidents
Eisenhower and Reagan. Journal of Communication 52. 749-775.
Clayman, Steven, Marc Elliot, John Heritage & Laurie McDonald. 2006.
Historical trends in questioning the presidents, 1953-2000. Presidential
Studies Quarterly 36. 561-583.
Clayman, Steven, Marc Elliot, John Heritage & Laurie McDonald. 2007. When does
the watchdog bark? Conditions of aggressive questioning in presidential news
conferences. American Sociological Review 72. 23-41.
Clayman, Steven, Marc Elliott, John Heritage & Megan Beckett. 2010. A
watershed in White House journalism: Explaining the post-1968 rise of
aggressive presidential news. Political Communication 27. 229-247.
Chilton, Paul. 2004. Analysing political discourse: Theory and practice.
Ekström, Mats. 2001. Politicians interviewed on television news. Discourse &
Society 12. 563-584.
Eriksson, Göran. 2011. Adversarial moments: A study of short-form interviews
in the news. Journalism 12. 51-69.
Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of
language. London: Longman.
Fairclough, Norman. 1998. ‘Political discourse in the media: An analytic
framework’. In: Bell, Allen & Peter Garret (eds). Approaches to media
discourse. 142-162. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gavriely, Nuri, Dalia. 2008. The ‘metaphorical annihilation’ of the second
Lebanon war (2006) from the Israeli political discourse. Discourse & Society
Gavriely, Nuri, Dalia. 2009. Friendly fire: War-normalizing metaphors in the
Israeli political discourse. Journal of Peace Education 6. 153-169.
Gavriely, Nuri, Dalia. 2010. Rainbow, snow, and the Poplar’s Song: The
‘annihilative naming’ of Israeli military practices. Armed Forces and Society
Gavriely, Nuri, Dalia & Tiki Balas. 2010. ‘Annihilating framing’: How Israeli
television framed wounded soldiers during the second Lebanon war (2006).
Journalism 11. 409-423.
Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Harré, Rom & Luk van Langenhove. 1991. Varieties of positioning. Journal for
the Theory of Social Behaviour 21. 393-407.
van Langenhove, Luk & Rom Harré. 1994. Cultural stereotypes and positioning
theory. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 24. 359-372.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
James Murphy is a PhD candidate in the Linguistics and English Language
department at The University of Manchester. His PhD research explores the
pragmatics of political apologies, focussing on those produced by British
politicians. He uses speech act theory, conversation analysis, (neo-)Gricean
pragmatics, and politeness theory in his work.
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