LINGUIST List 23.1011

Wed Feb 29 2012

Review: Cognitive Science; Discourse Analysis; Socioling: Hart (2010)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 29-Feb-2012
From: Philip Duncan <>
Subject: Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science
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AUTHOR: Christopher HartTITLE: Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive ScienceSUBTITLE: New Perspectives on Immigration DiscoursePUBLISHER: Palgrave MacmillanYEAR: 2010

Philip T. Duncan, Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas


What is the future of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)? Responding to earliercalls to interdisciplinarity (Wodak & Chilton 2005) and cognitively orientedresearch (O'Halloran 2003; Chilton 2005), Christopher Hart's "Critical DiscourseAnalysis and Cognitive Science: New Perspectives on Immigration Discourse" laysimportant groundwork for prospective CDA work that displays a strong theoreticalfoundation. Specifically, Hart's theoretical development extends beyond socialtheory, merging recent developments in cognitive science with methods andconcepts from well-established CDA approaches. Based in part on an analysis ofmedia discourse on immigration and asylum in UK national newspapers from 2000 to2006, Hart grounds discursive manipulation in evolutionary psychology andcognitive linguistics and provides an explicit theoretical account for the needto maintain a critical stance in discourse analytic research.

"Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science" is organized into threemajor parts. In Part I (the Introduction and Chapter 1), Hart introduces variousapproaches to CDA, and particularly builds on van Dijk's socio-cognitiveapproach. This draws attention to the need to incorporate an explicit cognitiveperspective in CDA, which Hart supplies by integrating approaches withincognitive science. Part II (Chapters 2-5) elaborates common CDA themes throughthe application of evolutionary psychology, which Hart proposes can augment theexplanatory power of CDA approaches to analyzing strategic discourse. Part III(Chapters 6-8) introduces cognitive linguistics by paying special attention tometaphor, force-dynamics, and epistemic modality function in discourseinterpretation. The book closes with a Concluding Remarks section wherein Hartprovides summaries and areas where future research is needed.

The field of CDA is a diverse and interdisciplinary research program aimed atunderstanding the relationship between language and society. Since itsinception, CDA proponents have been particularly interested in the notions ofpower, ideology, manipulation, and various forms of syncretic racism manifestthrough language use. Among European researchers, a rich body of literature hasemerged that has addressed media discourse on immigration and asylum seekers,especially in the UK and Austria (e.g. van Dijk 1991, 2000; van Leeuwen & Wodak1999; 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 worksattempted to challenge anti-immigration and -asylum discourses throughdiscourse. Methodologically, this engagement - one of the major roles of the'critical' discourse analyst - is achieved in part by 'demystifying' latentqualities of prejudicial and racist language use.

However, this 'critical' role of the CDA researcher has been increasinglydisputed, which has generated debates that have opened up opportunities for thedevelopment of innovative approaches to CDA theory and methods. ChristopherHart's "Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science" is an example ofthis. Hart responds to critics and addresses some of his own dissatisfactionwith the current state of theory in mainstream CDA by drawing from recentdevelopments in evolutionary psychology and cognitive linguistics. Inparticular, one of the more recent (and serious) challenges to CDA comes fromPaul Chilton (2005), who questions both its relevance and its efficacy. Much ofthe argumentation in Hart's book is developed in response to the polemicalstance outlined by Chilton, whose criticism is essentially twofold: 1) hemaintains that CDA research has by and large ignored cognition; and 2) he arguesthat, through evolutionary processes, modern humans are by default endowed withmechanisms that gain them critical awareness for use in discourse production andcomprehension. This gives rise to a potentially damning question for CDA: Ifhumans already possess modules that enable the discovery of tacit manipulationthrough discourse then what is the need of the critical discourse analyst?Although Hart agrees with the lacking emphasis on human cognition in CDAresearch, he offers a nuanced apologetic of the program in general by developinga prospective vision of future work enriched by cognitive science. In doing so,he defends the CDA program while simultaneously offering a more robusttheoretical perspective that validates (and, perhaps, necessitates) itscontinued existence.

Hart contends that CDA, despite its deficiencies, nevertheless operates onworthwhile assumptions, and it is these very assumptions that he endeavors tomake theoretically explicit in a coherent, cognitively oriented paradigm. Hartfirst situates certain core elements of CDA in terms of evolutionary psychology,which functions as a sort of metatheory that informs his approach tounderstanding the role of various cognitive architectures in discourseproduction and reception. Of particular import -- both in CDA, generally, aswell as Hart's book, specifically -- is the concept of (discursive)manipulation. Hart notes that manipulation is problematic from the perspectiveof evolutionary psychology because the eventual development of a domain-specific'cheater-detection module' or a 'logico-rhetorical module' would seem to rendermanipulation impossible. That is, discourse recipients would become immune tomanipulation because human cognition has adapted in response to certainselectional pressures, enabling discourse participants to overcome manipulativelanguage use. Moreover, manipulation is somewhat problematic from theperspective of Gricean Pragmatics because it depends upon violations of severalconversational maxims, which are necessary for successful communication.

Notwithstanding, Hart proposes that manipulation is indeed effective because thedevelopment of a theory of mind in combination with social inference providedfertile grounds for an evolutionarily based account of 'Machiavellianintelligence.' This type of intelligence allows for deception, which underliesdiscourse strategies, that, intentional or otherwise, make manipulationpossible. Furthermore, this deception characteristically relies on violatingGricean maxims. Hart argues that discursive use of Machiavellian intelligencearose from altruistic, cooperative communication, and that manipulationinitially emerged as an exploitation of cooperation for a positive socialfunction, namely, the formation and safeguarding of 'coalitional groups.' Such'strategic discourse' was apparently realized early on among human ancestors inthe binary categorization of 'us' versus 'them,' providing the nascentfoundations of discriminatory discourse.

According to Hart's evolutionary narrative, modern humans eventually evolved tobe 'biologically prepared' to link threat and fear to the out-group. Forexample, one characteristic of immigration discourses is the utilization ofreferential and predicational strategies to create a polarized schemadifferentiating the outsider/alien immigrants (they/them/their) from thein-group (we/us/our) under (perceived) threat. Hart does, however, distinguishbetween ancestral and modern identity formation through the means of binaryconceptualization. For ancient humans, Hart proposes that such effortfuldiscursive strategies arose for survival based on adaptive responses. On theother hand, for modern humans, prejudicial and racist language use relies onautomatic processing of binary social categorization. Thus, the nature ofcontemporary racist discourse is so potent precisely because antonymies aredifficult to detect and counter. As Hart notes, the emergence of alogico-rhetorical module does not render discriminatory discourse ineffective,since human cognition developed and can continue to develop more refinedcounter-measures.

In addition to drawing from principles in evolutionary psychology, Hartconsiders 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 societyare mediated by a socio-cognitive interface rather than being in direct relation(van Dijk 2008). Yet, even though the role of cognition is increasinglyacknowledged 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 fromCognitive Linguistics.

One of the main developments in Hart's effort to begin filling this gap is hisappropriation of Conceptual Blending Theory (BT; Fauconnier & Turner 2002) inorder to investigate the discursive function of semantic categorization. Indoing this, Hart develops yet another aspect of CDA research that he believes tobe found wanting, namely, proper emphasis given to the construction of mentalspaces and cognitive models by discourse recipients and not just producers ofdiscourse. In applying BT, the processual notion of 'conceptualisation' comes tothe forefront, which Hart treats as an 'inherently ideological' means of howdiscourse participants form mental representations of objects of discourse.Conceptualization involves the formation of mental spaces as discourse isproduced and consumed, which both generates and builds from mental spaces thatare 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 itsrelevance in BT as well as contemporary approaches to developing morecognitively explicit CDA research paradigms. In Hart's analysis, metaphors'project' four types of mental spaces that "undergo a conceptual blendingoperation whereby they are manipulated in an integrated network, producinginferential structure" (Hart 2010: 115). The four projected spaces include 'twoinput 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 Britainin immigration discourses, leads to inferential structure that "seems to justifya 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 isrepresented as "hav[ing] limited capacity" that is threatened by the influx ofimmigrants and asylum seekers (Hart 2010: 134). Moreover, this and other blendshave added potency because the nature of metaphors as characterized by multipleinput spaces necessarily entails intertextuality and interdiscursivity.Ultimately, Hart proposes that metaphor has immediate relevance in strategicdiscourse because metaphors evidence Machiavellian intelligence in the modernmind, 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" withtwo principal consequences (Hart 2010: 123). In the cognitive dimension,entrenchment enables dynamically created structures to pass from working memoryto long-term memory. Culturally, entrenchment allows conceptual blends to become'normalized.' Taken together, these eventually lead to "the promotion ofparticular representations of reality" (Hart 2010: 123). With regard tocoercion, this is significant because it provides a cognitively based accountfor why metaphors carry such weight in discriminatory discourses. In particular,'conventional metaphors' are essentially entrenched blends, and these give riseto recurring themes that communicate particular ideologies. Metaphors, then, canbe viewed as one type of linguistic expression that are manifested throughrepresentation and legitimization strategies, which can be used bytext-producers to achieve cognitive and emotive coercion.


"Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science" revisits common CDA themesand attempts to situate them in an explicitly cognitive and evolutionarily basedmodel. Readers who are well versed in CDA research - both traditional approachesand emerging ones - will encounter much that is familiar within the integrativeframework that Hart advocates. In particular, in the section devoted toevolutionary psychology, Hart dedicates three chapters to some of the mostsalient 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 drawbackof this characteristic is that some of the content that Hart presents does notbreak new ground per se, but rather repackages standard CDA fare.

On the other hand, Hart is not simply regurgitating CDA principals. Instead, thefamiliar 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. Asa result, Hart is able to propose a more unified framework of well-attesteddiscursive strategies aimed at positive self- and negative other-presentation(e.g. 'reference,' 'predication'), which he considers to be instances ofcoercion that are manifest by various linguistic elements (e.g. metaphor). Byaddressing resonant CDA themes CDA from the unique perspective of cognitivescience, Hart presents a coherent model imbued with explanatory force.Therefore, in addition to furthering theoretical development that iscomplementary to CDA research, a strength of Hart's work is that it moves morein the direction of explaining discriminatory discourse and their effectivenesswith regard to human cognition rather than being chiefly descriptive.

A second principal strength of Hart's book is its future-oriented vision; Hartdoes not consider his model to be definitive but instead provides a more unifiedframework from which further CDA research can be conducted. The concludingchapter even alludes to certain possibilities for such directions, such asexploring additional semantic categories that have been investigated incognitive linguistics (Hart 2010: 191).

Potentially problematic, however, is the manner in which Hart constructs theevolutionary narrative as the basis for modern strategic discourse and thebinary division between 'us' and 'them.' On the one hand, while linking moderndiscriminatory discourse to properties of ancestral discourses (as projected byevolutionary psychology) may add to the explanatory dimension, there remainsmuch to be discovered in the gap between these points. This leaves much to beexplicated, which would seem to only enrich explanation. At present, withoutfurther evidence from intervening periods, the explanatory force of the argumentis mitigated because it only pushes discriminatory discourses back on thetimeline of human history, even though this may effectively account for theemergence of discursive discrimination.

Moreover, Hart's evolutionary account is dangerously poised to rigidify thecommon tendency among CDA work of simplistically portraying the structure ofothering as binary, rather than allowing for more complex and dynamicarchitecture in self- and other-presentation. Finally, while Hart successfullymotivates the rationale for both the role of the critical discourse analyst aswell as the validity of many CDA assumptions, he does not account for theethical dimension of CDA. That is, he defends the necessity of the analyst, butnot the analyst's moral stance(s), which is also indispensible to the CDAprogram and its 'critical' nature.

Hart's "Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science" should prove anexcellent resource for graduate students and researchers interested in pursuingcritical discourse analytic approaches to understanding language, society, andcognition. 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, willfind the book especially useful. This includes both CDA advocates as well asopponents, since the latter will find a well-argued response to multiplecriticisms pertaining to relevance and efficacy. Moreover, graduate students andresearchers in cognitive science will also find compelling reasons to attend toCDA perspectives, since Hart contends that maintaining a 'critical' stance isnot just essential for exercises in CDA, but also necessary for understandinghow strategic discourses operate more generally. Hart not only presents a novelperspective on how to approach and understand immigration discourses, but alsosuccessfully outlines a new agenda for CDA research that focuses on manipulationand ideology in discourse. Moreover, he does this in a way that explicitlyencourages further theoretical development.


Chilton, Paul. 2005. Missing links in mainstream CDA: Modules, blends and thecritical instinct. In R. Wodak & P. Chilton (eds.), A New Agenda in CriticalDiscourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins,19-52.

Fauconnier, G & Turner, M. 2002. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and theMind's Hidden Complexities. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Krzyżanowski, Michał & Wodak, Ruth. 2008. The Politics of Exclusion: DebatingMigration in Austria. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

O'Halloran, Kieran. 2003. Critical Discourse Analysis and Language Cognition.Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Reisigl, Martin & Wodak, Ruth. 2001. Discourse and Discrimination: Rhetorics ofRacism and Antisemitism. London: Routledge.

Reisigl, Martin & Wodak, Ruth. 2009. The discourse-historical approach (DHA). InR. Wodak and M. Meyer (eds.), Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, 2nd Edn.London: Sage, 87-121.

van Dijk, Teun A. 1999. Racism and the Press. London: Routledge.

van Dijk, Teun A. 2000. On the analysis of parliamentary debates on immigration.In M. Reisigl & R. Wodak (eds.), The Semiotics of Racism: Approaches to CriticalDiscourse Analysis. Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 85-103.

van Dijk, Teun A. 2008. Discourse and Context: A Sociocognitive Approach.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

van Leeuwen, Theo & Wodak, Ruth. 1999. Legitimizing immigration control: Adiscourse-historical analysis. Discourse Studies, 10(1), 83-118.

Wodak, Ruth & Chilton, Paul. (eds.). 2005. A New Agenda in (Critical) DiscourseAnalysis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wodak, Ruth & Sedlak, Maria. 2000. "We demand that the foreigners adapt to ourlifestyle": Political discourse on immigration laws in Austria and the UnitedKingdom. In E. Appelt & M. Jarosch (eds.), Combating Racial Discrimination:Affirmative Action as a Model for Europe. Oxford: Berg, 217-237.


Phil Duncan holds an MA in Indigenous Studies, and is currently a graduatestudent in Linguistics at the University of Kansas. His research interestsinclude language documentation, (critical) discourse analysis, language andideology, discourse and memory, and the linguistic representation ofIndigenous peoples, especially in non-Indigenous contexts.

Page Updated: 29-Feb-2012