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Review of  Discourse and Practice

Reviewer: Judith Leah Cross
Book Title: Discourse and Practice
Book Author: Theo van Leeuwen
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Philosophy of Language
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 19.3676

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AUTHOR: van Leeuwen, Theo
TITLE: Discourse and Practice
SUBTITLE: Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2008

Judie Cross, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong in NSW

This book is a revisited and augmented collection of the author's main work on
critical discourse analysis from the last 15 years. Van Leeuwen's analytical
framework for critical discourse analysis derives from Michel Foucault's concept
of discourses as well as from Michael Halliday's of ''register''. However, the
approach adopted is based on Bernstein's theory (1990: 184):
recontextualizations ''selectively appropriate, relocate, refocus and relate to
other discourses to constitute its [their] own order and orderings.'' Each of the
papers in this collection is based on the premise that all discourses (not only
pedagogic) are the recontextualizations of social practices; in other words, all
knowledge is grounded in practice. The nine chapters comprising this book (three
of which are completely new) detail the principles for describing how social
actors and practices in English discourse are recontextualized in a range of
contexts and in various semiotic modes. The text types included are nearly all
based on the same fundamental social practice; that is, ''the first day of
school''. Van Leeuwen's explicit and critical methodology is a succinct but
comprehensive guide for anyone involved in analyzing discourse.

In Chapter 1, ''Discourse as the Recontextualization of Social Practice'', the
introductory chapter and the first of the three new papers in this book, van
Leeuwen reflects on and develops work he first began in his PhD thesis: he
presents his model of social practice whereby elements of social practices can
be seen to enter into English and Western texts. The elements (participants,
actions, performance modes, presentation styles, times, locations, resources as
well as eligibility conditions for participants, locations and resources) of
social practices and their recontextualizations (transformations via
substitutions, deletions, rearrangements and/or additions) are introduced,
defined and discussed via reference to a short newspaper article from the
''family pages'' of Sydney's ''Daily Mirror''. It is stressed that discourses may
not only represent what is happening, but also evaluate and justify it, perhaps
even giving it new purposes so that a representation can become more important
than the practice itself.

Chapter 2, ''Representing Social Actors'', presents a sociosemantic inventory of
the many ways by which the participants of social practices can be represented
in English discourse. Van Leeuwen explicates the chosen categories in his system
network by using examples from a leading feature article, ''Our Race Odyssey'',
published in the Saturday supplement for the ''Sydney Morning Herald'' on 12 May
1990. Owing to the complexity involved in realizing the representations of
social actors, the system network includes both lexicogrammatical and
discourse-level linguistic systems that have traditionally been kept separate;
however, each major type of transformation is associated with distinct
linguistic systems (as in the case of rearrangement which principally involves

Van Leeuwen, in Chapter 3, ''Representing Social Action'', continues his analysis
of the ''Race Odyssey'' text, but shifts his focus to an examination of how social
actions (rather than actors) can be represented in English discourse. Once
again, the author's findings are summarized via a generic system network as well
as more specifically as observations on and interpretations of the text.
Either-or choices (such as abstraction which can be a generalization or
distillation) as well as simultaneous ones (for example, actions can be
activated and abstracted or activated and concretized) are accounted for.

In the fourth chapter, ''Time in Discourse'', van Leeuwen refers to a range of
school related genres such as newsletters, internal communications and articles
from the ''Employment Gazette'' in July and September 1993. Continuing his main
argument that discourses are grounded in social practices, van Leeuwen explains
that the activity of timing is what conditions the way we think and talk about
time, and that timing itself is an integrative social practice. The author
describes the various semiotic resources of timing (time summonses,
synchronization and punctuality), concluding from his analysis of the texts thus
studied that the recontextualization of time proceeds largely on the basis of power.

The following chapter, ''Space in Discourse'', is the second new one in this
collection, drawing on both linguistic and visual examples from the ''first day
at school'' corpus. As with his references to time in the previous chapter, van
Leeuwen now distinguishes between subjective and objective representations of
space and how the use of space is indicative of power relations. Van Leeuwen
argues that discourses about space provide normative understandings that need to
be studied via a ''grammar of space'' since the material environment itself can
predispose us in ''very specific, important and lasting ways in our doings and
sayings'' (Iedema 2000: 65).

''The Discursive Function of Legitimation'', Chapter 6, provides a framework for
analyzing how social practices are intricately related and legitimized in
discourse: according to van Leeuwen legitimation is constructed via
authorization, moral evaluation, rationalization or mythopoesis.

''The Discursive Construction of Purpose'', the seventh chapter, again supplies an
analytical framework; in other words, a systemic network tool for analyzing how
purposes in discourses are constructed, negotiated and interpreted. As with
legitimation, van Leeuwen argues that purpose is not inherent in social action,
but discursively constructed so that it is possible to posit ''a grammar of
purpose''. As analysis has revealed for the concepts focused on in many of the
previous chapters, the different types of purpose that can be constructed (such
as goal-oriented or means-oriented action) reveal both a class and power
dimension. Using systemic network frameworks and applying them to a discussion
of a similar corpus of texts, van Leeuwen repeatedly demonstrates how ''discourse
is a place where relations of power are exercised and enacted'' (Fairclough 1989:

In the next chapter, ''The Visual Representation of Social Actors'', the framework
from Chapter Two is adapted and then applied to visual representations in
Western media. The critical questions van Leeuwen considers here are ''How are
people depicted?'' and ''How are people depicted in relation to the viewer?'' The
visual representation and viewer network, as well as the social actor network,
that van Leeuwen (and Kress) have created for the purpose of answering these
questions reveal parallels with networks for describing verbal discourses, but
the options available belong more specifically to the ''language of images''.

The final and also new chapter, ''Representing Social Actors with Toys'', follows
on from Chapters Two and Eight by providing a framework to analyze toys (rather
than verbal or image discourses) as a semiotic resource for representing roles
and identities. Here van Leeuwen illustrates how the impact of design affects
the ways in which children play with their toys, the roles they assign to them,
the identities and meanings acquired. Kinesis and interactivity are critical
concepts that are explored in order to show how the tools of critical discourse
analysis can be applied to other semiotic resources.

This book sets out to describe the main recontextualizing principles for a
diverse range of discourses. The corpus of texts used to demonstrate the
validity of this framework has been largely well chosen in that a variety of
genres have been selected and most of these are concerned with ''the first day at
school'' or race and gender.

As can confidently be claimed about van Leeuwen's writing in general, the style
of this collection of papers is accessible, relevant and yet scholarly and
cohesive. Further, van Leeuwen's method of analysis models new ways, categories
and systems for explaining and interpreting how, not only written discourses,
but also other semiotic modes, such as image, and even sound and movement, can
be studied using largely similar critical discourse methods. In this way, van
Leeuwen is able to demonstrate links between disciplines that were previously
kept distinct and separate; thus, he introduces new ways of knowing with their
tools explicitly detailed.

Van Leeuwen's broad assertion that all knowledge is ultimately grounded in
practice, no matter how slender that link may often seem, is a bold but
compelling assumption for which he provides ample evidence and which, I believe,
has valuable implications for teaching and learning. This is also a claim that
is gaining popularity among other linguists, such as Wierzbicka, who brings
different tools to uncover related findings; that is, by studying ways of doing,
we discover ways of thinking, whilst ''the study of social practices, including
linguistic practices, is best seen not as a goal in itself but rather as a path
to understanding society's attitudes and values'' (Wierzbicka 2006: 23).

Interestingly, the final chapter does not provide a diagrammatic summary of the
system network that has been individually constructed for each of the topics in
other chapters. Perhaps this is because representing social actors with toys is
an even more complex and multimodal discourse than is addressed elsewhere in the
collection and/or perhaps because this is the area that still needs to be
further researched before it can be mapped out more thoroughly.

Such a comprehensive project is, by the author's own admission, not yet complete
as the study of non-linguistic representations of social practices is still in
its infancy. However, van Leeuwen has put essential issues regarding critical
discourse analysis on the agenda and created valuable system networks, inviting
others to elaborate, critique and develop.

Fairclough, N. 1989. _Language and Power_. London: Longman.

Iedema, R. 2000. Bureaucratic Planning and Resemiotisation. In E. Ventola (Ed.),
_Discourse and Community_ (pp. 47-70). Tübingen: Gunter Nar Verlag.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen. 1990. _Reading Images_. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen. 1996. _Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design_.
London: Routledge.

Van Leeuwen, Theo. 1999. _Speech, Music, Sound_. London: Macmillan.

Wierzbicka, A. 2006. _English: Meaning and Culture_. New York: Oxford University

Judith (Judie) Leah Cross was awarded her PhD by Macquarie University in 1999
for her thesis ''Textual Realisations'', which built on Kress and van Leeuwen's
(1990) seminal text in order to examine how meaning-making is affected when
printed children's image texts are recontextualized as films, photonovellas,
comics, or as CDs. Multimodality was a focus for her thesis and continues to be
of increasing relevance to her present work in curriculum design, critical
discourse analysis, pragmatics and the blended delivery of training for TESOL
and overseas trained teachers.

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