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Review of Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science
AUTHOR: Christopher Hart TITLE: Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science SUBTITLE: New Perspectives on Immigration Discourse PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2010
Philip T. Duncan, Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas
What is the future of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)? Responding to earlier calls to interdisciplinarity (Wodak & Chilton 2005) and cognitively oriented research (O’Halloran 2003; Chilton 2005), Christopher Hart’s “Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science: New Perspectives on Immigration Discourse” lays important groundwork for prospective CDA work that displays a strong theoretical foundation. Specifically, Hart’s theoretical development extends beyond social theory, merging recent developments in cognitive science with methods and concepts from well-established CDA approaches. Based in part on an analysis of media discourse on immigration and asylum in UK national newspapers from 2000 to 2006, Hart grounds discursive manipulation in evolutionary psychology and cognitive linguistics and provides an explicit theoretical account for the need to maintain a critical stance in discourse analytic research.
“Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” is organized into three major parts. In Part I (the Introduction and Chapter 1), Hart introduces various approaches to CDA, and particularly builds on van Dijk’s socio-cognitive approach. This draws attention to the need to incorporate an explicit cognitive perspective in CDA, which Hart supplies by integrating approaches within cognitive science. Part II (Chapters 2-5) elaborates common CDA themes through the application of evolutionary psychology, which Hart proposes can augment the explanatory power of CDA approaches to analyzing strategic discourse. Part III (Chapters 6-8) introduces cognitive linguistics by paying special attention to metaphor, force-dynamics, and epistemic modality function in discourse interpretation. The book closes with a Concluding Remarks section wherein Hart provides summaries and areas where future research is needed.
The field of CDA is a diverse and interdisciplinary research program aimed at understanding the relationship between language and society. Since its inception, CDA proponents have been particularly interested in the notions of power, ideology, manipulation, and various forms of syncretic racism manifest through language use. Among European researchers, a rich body of literature has emerged that has addressed media discourse on immigration and asylum seekers, especially in the UK and Austria (e.g. van Dijk 1991, 2000; van Leeuwen & Wodak 1999; Wodak & Sedlak 2000; Krzyżanowski & Wodak 2008). In line with “mainstream” CDA research that engages social inequality with critique that is “socio-diagnostic” and “prospective” (Reisigl & Wodak 2009: 88), these works attempted to challenge anti-immigration and -asylum discourses through discourse. Methodologically, this engagement – one of the major roles of the ‘critical’ discourse analyst – is achieved in part by ‘demystifying’ latent qualities of prejudicial and racist language use.
However, this ‘critical’ role of the CDA researcher has been increasingly disputed, which has generated debates that have opened up opportunities for the development of innovative approaches to CDA theory and methods. Christopher Hart’s “Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” is an example of this. Hart responds to critics and addresses some of his own dissatisfaction with the current state of theory in mainstream CDA by drawing from recent developments in evolutionary psychology and cognitive linguistics. In particular, one of the more recent (and serious) challenges to CDA comes from Paul Chilton (2005), who questions both its relevance and its efficacy. Much of the argumentation in Hart’s book is developed in response to the polemical stance outlined by Chilton, whose criticism is essentially twofold: 1) he maintains that CDA research has by and large ignored cognition; and 2) he argues that, through evolutionary processes, modern humans are by default endowed with mechanisms that gain them critical awareness for use in discourse production and comprehension. This gives rise to a potentially damning question for CDA: If humans already possess modules that enable the discovery of tacit manipulation through discourse then what is the need of the critical discourse analyst? Although Hart agrees with the lacking emphasis on human cognition in CDA research, he offers a nuanced apologetic of the program in general by developing a prospective vision of future work enriched by cognitive science. In doing so, he defends the CDA program while simultaneously offering a more robust theoretical perspective that validates (and, perhaps, necessitates) its continued existence.
Hart contends that CDA, despite its deficiencies, nevertheless operates on worthwhile assumptions, and it is these very assumptions that he endeavors to make theoretically explicit in a coherent, cognitively oriented paradigm. Hart first situates certain core elements of CDA in terms of evolutionary psychology, which functions as a sort of metatheory that informs his approach to understanding the role of various cognitive architectures in discourse production and reception. Of particular import -- both in CDA, generally, as well as Hart’s book, specifically -- is the concept of (discursive) manipulation. Hart notes that manipulation is problematic from the perspective of evolutionary psychology because the eventual development of a domain-specific ‘cheater-detection module’ or a ‘logico-rhetorical module’ would seem to render manipulation impossible. That is, discourse recipients would become immune to manipulation because human cognition has adapted in response to certain selectional pressures, enabling discourse participants to overcome manipulative language use. Moreover, manipulation is somewhat problematic from the perspective of Gricean Pragmatics because it depends upon violations of several conversational maxims, which are necessary for successful communication.
Notwithstanding, Hart proposes that manipulation is indeed effective because the development of a theory of mind in combination with social inference provided fertile grounds for an evolutionarily based account of ‘Machiavellian intelligence.’ This type of intelligence allows for deception, which underlies discourse strategies, that, intentional or otherwise, make manipulation possible. Furthermore, this deception characteristically relies on violating Gricean maxims. Hart argues that discursive use of Machiavellian intelligence arose from altruistic, cooperative communication, and that manipulation initially emerged as an exploitation of cooperation for a positive social function, namely, the formation and safeguarding of ‘coalitional groups.’ Such ‘strategic discourse’ was apparently realized early on among human ancestors in the binary categorization of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ providing the nascent foundations of discriminatory discourse. According to Hart’s evolutionary narrative, modern humans eventually evolved to be ‘biologically prepared’ to link threat and fear to the out-group. For example, one characteristic of immigration discourses is the utilization of referential and predicational strategies to create a polarized schema differentiating the outsider/alien immigrants (they/them/their) from the in-group (we/us/our) under (perceived) threat. Hart does, however, distinguish between ancestral and modern identity formation through the means of binary conceptualization. For ancient humans, Hart proposes that such effortful discursive strategies arose for survival based on adaptive responses. On the other hand, for modern humans, prejudicial and racist language use relies on automatic processing of binary social categorization. Thus, the nature of contemporary racist discourse is so potent precisely because antonymies are difficult to detect and counter. As Hart notes, the emergence of a logico-rhetorical module does not render discriminatory discourse ineffective, since human cognition developed and can continue to develop more refined counter-measures.
In addition to drawing from principles in evolutionary psychology, Hart considers his model to be a modified expansion of the socio-cognitive approach (SCA) to CDA. The main thesis of the SCA is that language/discourse and society are mediated by a socio-cognitive interface rather than being in direct relation (van Dijk 2008). Yet, even though the role of cognition is increasingly acknowledged among proponents of CDA -- particularly ones investigating metaphor -- Hart echoes Chilton’s (2005) critique and maintains that approaches to CDA (including SCA) are lacking in terms of integrating relevant theory from Cognitive Linguistics.
One of the main developments in Hart’s effort to begin filling this gap is his appropriation of Conceptual Blending Theory (BT; Fauconnier & Turner 2002) in order to investigate the discursive function of semantic categorization. In doing this, Hart develops yet another aspect of CDA research that he believes to be found wanting, namely, proper emphasis given to the construction of mental spaces and cognitive models by discourse recipients and not just producers of discourse. In applying BT, the processual notion of ‘conceptualisation’ comes to the forefront, which Hart treats as an ‘inherently ideological’ means of how discourse participants form mental representations of objects of discourse. Conceptualization involves the formation of mental spaces as discourse is produced and consumed, which both generates and builds from mental spaces that are socially shared. These, in turn, gain structure by the cognitive models, which are essentially ‘discourse’ for Hart: ‘frames,’ ‘image schemas,’ and ‘conceptual metaphors.’
Not surprisingly, Hart devotes special attention to metaphor because of its relevance in BT as well as contemporary approaches to developing more cognitively explicit CDA research paradigms. In Hart’s analysis, metaphors ‘project’ four types of mental spaces that “undergo a conceptual blending operation whereby they are manipulated in an integrated network, producing inferential structure” (Hart 2010: 115). The four projected spaces include ‘two input spaces’ that share “counterpart connections,” a ‘generic space’ that “contains abstract structure” common to the input spaces, and a composite ‘blended space’ that has a distinctive “emergent structure” (Hart 2010: 116). For example, Hart proposes that the phrase ‘full up,’ as predicated of Britain in immigration discourses, leads to inferential structure that “seems to justify a restrictive immigration policy” (Hart 2010: 134). The effectiveness of this ‘lexical trigger’ derives from the conceptual blending of a ‘CONTAINER schema’ with an ‘IMMIGRATION frame’ along with their respective components. Consequently, the unique blended space informs the inference wherein Britain is represented as “hav[ing] limited capacity” that is threatened by the influx of immigrants and asylum seekers (Hart 2010: 134). Moreover, this and other blends have added potency because the nature of metaphors as characterized by multiple input spaces necessarily entails intertextuality and interdiscursivity. Ultimately, Hart proposes that metaphor has immediate relevance in strategic discourse because metaphors evidence Machiavellian intelligence in the modern mind, with nation-states serving as examples of contemporary coalition groups.
Also significant for Hart’s analysis is a second process, known as ‘entrenchment.’ Hart considers this to be a “cognitive-cultural process” with two principal consequences (Hart 2010: 123). In the cognitive dimension, entrenchment enables dynamically created structures to pass from working memory to long-term memory. Culturally, entrenchment allows conceptual blends to become ‘normalized.’ Taken together, these eventually lead to “the promotion of particular representations of reality” (Hart 2010: 123). With regard to coercion, this is significant because it provides a cognitively based account for why metaphors carry such weight in discriminatory discourses. In particular, ‘conventional metaphors’ are essentially entrenched blends, and these give rise to recurring themes that communicate particular ideologies. Metaphors, then, can be viewed as one type of linguistic expression that are manifested through representation and legitimization strategies, which can be used by text-producers to achieve cognitive and emotive coercion.
“Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” revisits common CDA themes and attempts to situate them in an explicitly cognitive and evolutionarily based model. Readers who are well versed in CDA research – both traditional approaches and emerging ones – will encounter much that is familiar within the integrative framework that Hart advocates. In particular, in the section devoted to evolutionary psychology, Hart dedicates three chapters to some of the most salient discursive strategies of positive self- and negative other-presentation (Reisigl & Wodak 2001: 44) that recur in CDA literature: ‘referential,’ ‘predication,’ ‘proximisation,’ and ‘legitimising’ strategies. The main drawback of this characteristic is that some of the content that Hart presents does not break new ground per se, but rather repackages standard CDA fare.
On the other hand, Hart is not simply regurgitating CDA principals. Instead, the familiar tone of the content is indeed quite germane to the aim of his work, which in turn informs one of its most significant theoretical contributions. As a result, Hart is able to propose a more unified framework of well-attested discursive strategies aimed at positive self- and negative other-presentation (e.g. ‘reference,’ ‘predication’), which he considers to be instances of coercion that are manifest by various linguistic elements (e.g. metaphor). By addressing resonant CDA themes CDA from the unique perspective of cognitive science, Hart presents a coherent model imbued with explanatory force. Therefore, in addition to furthering theoretical development that is complementary to CDA research, a strength of Hart’s work is that it moves more in the direction of explaining discriminatory discourse and their effectiveness with regard to human cognition rather than being chiefly descriptive.
A second principal strength of Hart’s book is its future-oriented vision; Hart does not consider his model to be definitive but instead provides a more unified framework from which further CDA research can be conducted. The concluding chapter even alludes to certain possibilities for such directions, such as exploring additional semantic categories that have been investigated in cognitive linguistics (Hart 2010: 191).
Potentially problematic, however, is the manner in which Hart constructs the evolutionary narrative as the basis for modern strategic discourse and the binary division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ On the one hand, while linking modern discriminatory discourse to properties of ancestral discourses (as projected by evolutionary psychology) may add to the explanatory dimension, there remains much to be discovered in the gap between these points. This leaves much to be explicated, which would seem to only enrich explanation. At present, without further evidence from intervening periods, the explanatory force of the argument is mitigated because it only pushes discriminatory discourses back on the timeline of human history, even though this may effectively account for the emergence of discursive discrimination.
Moreover, Hart’s evolutionary account is dangerously poised to rigidify the common tendency among CDA work of simplistically portraying the structure of othering as binary, rather than allowing for more complex and dynamic architecture in self- and other-presentation. Finally, while Hart successfully motivates the rationale for both the role of the critical discourse analyst as well as the validity of many CDA assumptions, he does not account for the ethical dimension of CDA. That is, he defends the necessity of the analyst, but not the analyst’s moral stance(s), which is also indispensible to the CDA program and its ‘critical’ nature.
Hart’s “Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” should prove an excellent resource for graduate students and researchers interested in pursuing critical discourse analytic approaches to understanding language, society, and cognition. In particular, those who are more experienced in and with CDA work, and who are more familiar with recent debates surrounding the field of CDA, will find the book especially useful. This includes both CDA advocates as well as opponents, since the latter will find a well-argued response to multiple criticisms pertaining to relevance and efficacy. Moreover, graduate students and researchers in cognitive science will also find compelling reasons to attend to CDA perspectives, since Hart contends that maintaining a ‘critical’ stance is not just essential for exercises in CDA, but also necessary for understanding how strategic discourses operate more generally. Hart not only presents a novel perspective on how to approach and understand immigration discourses, but also successfully outlines a new agenda for CDA research that focuses on manipulation and ideology in discourse. Moreover, he does this in a way that explicitly encourages further theoretical development.
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Wodak, Ruth & Sedlak, Maria. 2000. “We demand that the foreigners adapt to our lifestyle”: Political discourse on immigration laws in Austria and the United Kingdom. In E. Appelt & M. Jarosch (eds.), Combating Racial Discrimination: Affirmative Action as a Model for Europe. Oxford: Berg, 217-237.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Phil Duncan holds an MA in Indigenous Studies, and is currently a graduate
student in Linguistics at the University of Kansas. His research interests
include language documentation, (critical) discourse analysis, language and
ideology, discourse and memory, and the linguistic representation of
Indigenous peoples, especially in non-Indigenous contexts.