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Review of  Critical Discourse Analysis

Reviewer: Mekki B. Elbadri
Book Title: Critical Discourse Analysis
Book Author: Gilbert Weiss Ruth Wodak
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 14.2285

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Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2003 12:24:50 +0200
From: Mekki Elbadri
Subject: Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity

Weiss, Gilbert and Ruth Wodak, eds. (2002) Critical Discourse
Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity, Palgrave Macmillan.

Mekki Elbadri, Vienna, Austria


This book is a collection of articles edited by Gilbert Weiss and Ruth
Wodak. It is principally the result of a conference held in Vienna in
July 2000. According to the editors, contributors were requested to
revise their papers and reflect their positions, in order to answer
some of the unresolved questions during the conference. Several other
scholars in the field were also invited 'to discuss the central notions
of "inter/trans/multidisciplinarity" in the Social Sciences ... as
well' (p. vii). The book is divided into three parts and consists of 14
chapters including the introduction. Part I (Critical vs. Critical vs.
Critical), consists of three chapters (2-4); Part II, 'Debating and
Practising Interdisciplinarity', consists of 6 chapters (5-10); and
Part III, 'From Theory to Social and Political Practice', consists of 4
chapters (11-14).


The editors wrote the Chapter I, 'Introduction: Theory,
Interdisciplinarity and Critical Discourse Analysis'. This is mainly a
reflection on the foundations, characteristics and prospects of
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). The authors state at the very
beginning that the 'aim of the volume is to critically examine the
foundation and basic elements of discourse-analytical research as it
has been developing for roughly two decades' (p. 1). They present an
outline of the main concepts dealt with in the book, i.e. theory,
discourse, ideology, power, interdisciplinarity, context, etc. These
questions are discussed with an overview of the historical, scholarly
and academic development of the major concepts since the antiquity
until modern times. The last part of this chapter is a brief
description of the volume's structure and a brief summary of the
content of each chapter.

In Chapter 2, 'Critical Discourse Analysis and Rhetoric of Critique',
Michael Billig acknowledges the academic success of Critical Discourse
Analysis. He traces the historical development of the term as well as
the history of academic critical research in general. However, he poses
the question of whether CDA is not becoming a victim of its success. He
sees this danger in the establishment of CDA as a full-fledged
discipline competing in the academic 'marketplace', together with the
'brand name' abbreviation: CDA. He wonders whether the discipline is
not developing into the same power relations and institutional settings
that it criticizes. He calls for a return from this direction in order
to continue the revolutionary, critical, self-reflexive 'lower case'
approach and to avoid compromising the critical enterprise.

In Chapter 3, 'Critical Discourse Analysis and the Development of the
New Science', Carlos A. M. Gouveia outlines the crisis of modern
science paradigm marked by the Cartesian, mechanistic and reductionist
methodology, which is constructed in opposition to common sense in
understanding reality. The author considers the theory and methodology
of CDA as examples of tentative responses to key factors in this
general crisis. He points out the emergence of a new science
represented by Einstein's theory that revolutionized the conceptions of
space and time, followed by other theories in physics, and particularly
the concept of complex self-organizing systems. These approaches
maintain that 'when an object, a system, is dissected either physically
or theoretically into isolated elements, its systemic properties are
destroyed' (p.52). He predicts a second epistemological break of modern
science characterized by bringing together scientific knowledge and
common sense, adopting transdisciplinarity and refusing the reduction
of reality to an arbitrary simplification beyond which other aspects of
reality are dismissed, and producing an emancipatory knowledge. He
thinks that CDA is theoretically well-placed and methodologically
equipped to lead this second epistemological break of the New Science.

In Chapter 4, Marianne W. Jorgensen discusses 'Reflexivity and the
Doubles of Modern Man: The Discursive Construction of Anthropological
Subject Positions'. She starts by confirming that scientific knowledge
is situated. She states that 'knowledge is not just a passive
reflection on an object 'out there', but also a projection of forces
working from 'within' the author, the academy or Western culture at
large' (p. 63). She suggests that a discourse analytical approach can
give new input to the investigation of scientific subject positions,
though more by reformulating the question, than by providing an answer.

Taking as a starting point Michel Foucault's diagnosis of 'modern man,
she argues that an interdisciplinary approach to the question of
reflexivity provides a common denominator for the discussion of
knowledge in a number of disciplines, making possible the analysis of a
range of contributions as solutions to the same problem concerning the
status of knowledge. She then turns to the discipline of anthropology,
putting the developed tools at work in a closer analysis of one
example, namely Talal Asad's article on the concept of cultural
translation in British social anthropology. She introduces Asad's
criticism of the cultural translation conception of ethnographic task
as adopted by British anthropologist. She, then, criticizes Asad's
alternative approach using concepts proposed by Foucault and Asad

In Chapter 5, 'The Discourse-Knowledge Interface', Teun A. van Dijk
discusses discourse and knowledge as multidisciplinary phenomena. He
maintains that many contemporary directions in pragmatics and discourse
studies show that knowledge is not only mental, but also social, with
an important cultural dimension, and, hence, needs an anthropological
or ethnographic account. He points out that 'similar remarks may be
made of the notion of discourse, which also has philosophical,
linguistic, cognitive, social and cultural dimensions -- and of course
historical ones' (p. 87). He maintains that in order to study power and
its abuse, it is crucial to understand how exactly powerful groups and
institutions manage and express their knowledge in public discourse. A
critical approach to knowledge is characterized by questions such as
'which groups or institutions have preferential access to various kinds
of knowledge, which groups or institutions set the criteria for the
very definition or legitimization of knowledge, and which are specially
involved in the distribution of knowledge -- or precisely in the
limitation of knowledge in society' (p. 88). He thinks that a
sociocognitive interface, rather than an individual approach, is needed
for studying knowledge. After classifying knowledge in categories
according to this model, he sets on anlysing a New York Times'
editorial entitled 'Setback on Medical Marijuana' showing how
knowledge, cognition and discourse are interrelated.

In Chapter 6, 'Critical Discourse Analysis and Evaluative Meaning:
Interdisciplinarity as a Critical Turn', Phil Graham looks at the pre-
disciplinary and post-disciplinary periods in the development of modern
disciplines. He examines the use of evaluative resources for proposals
and propositions justifying the birth of each new discipline. He uses
editorial introductions to first issues of journals in newly emerging
disciplines in order to focus on the intertextual discourse of their
separation from their 'parent fields'. Taking examples from the
disciplines of economics, political science, psychology and ethics, he
illustrates how each new social science attempted to grasp the whole
human experience as its domain of authority armed with a number of
evaluative resources. These same resources are deployed in contemporary
discourse of power. As an example of what he calls 'Latterday Princes',
the author analyses a speech by Al Gore, the former Vice President of
the United States, demonstrating the use of evaluative resources
derived from diverse, and some times conflicting, disciplines. He
concludes by affirming that no 'critical social science can function
from within any of the isolated bunkers created by disciplinarity' (p.
126). He maintains that a genuine CDA is merely a beginning for any
future critical social science, not an end.

In Chapter 7, 'Texts and Discourses in Technologies of Social
Organization', Jay L. Lemke tries to identify emerging forms of social
control in the era of globalization. He proposes to sketch a complex-
systems model of semiotically mediated social ecosystems (ecosocial
systems) and discuss the general role of texts and other semiotic-
material artifacts in producing the coherence of such systems across
time and space. He argues that complex systems are 'characterized by a
hierarchical organization across multiple levels, each with its
characteristic timescales and spatial-extensional scales' (131). These
new systems have a number of distinct manifestations that the author
calls 'transversals'. They include hypertexts, web-surfing, channel
surfing, mall-cruising, transgenre and transinstitutional traversals.
He calls for CDA to find ways of addressing this new mode of
'transversals' taking account of different time scales, social control
and social power relations.

In Chapter 8, Marcelo Dascal discusses the question of 'Identities in
Flux: Arabs and Jews in Israel'. At the onset, he states that he
approaches this question from an abstract, philosophical viewpoint
(i.e. conceptual analysis). He sees interdisciplinarity as an opportune
approach for surmounting difficulties and awaking hopes. As an example
he chooses to analyse the concept of identity. After a short
etymological definition of the term 'identity', he presents two
opposing conceptions thereof. A 'coherent', 'pure' and 'homogenous'
identity, as opposed to a pluralistic, multiple and diversified
identity. He gives a number of examples in support of the latter. He
claims that if this conception was adopted, this would open new
horizons for relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel, which would
eventually lead to transcending the current conceptual and political

In Chapter 9, 'Political and Somatic Alignment: Habitus, Ideology and
Social Practice', Suzanne Scollon discusses theory and
interdisciplinarity as an eclectic approach. She starts by tracing her
scholarly itinerary leading to adopting and developing Mediated
Discourse Analysis (MDA), together with Ron Scollon. She explains how
MDA differs from CDA in its focus on action. Presenting an example of
studying habitus as embodied ideology, she focuses on one basic social
practice that reflects the different ideologies of two groups
practicing 'taijiquan' in Kunming (China) and in Hong Kong. She shows
how the two groups are separated ideologically and hence opted for
distinctive practices. The simple practice of placing one's bag or
other personal possessions is symbolic of one's membership in the
group. This type of action has further ideological implications which
are reflected in different training style, language choice and face
relations (egalitarian vs. hierarchical). Changes in political climate
accentuate differences in habitus. Members of the group choose certain
somatic alignment practices to express their political alignments.

In Chapter 10 'Voicing the 'Other': Reading and Writing Indigenous
Australians', Jim R. Martin draws on systemic functional linguistics
and social semiotics (Multimodal Discourse Analysis) to analyse
modernist and poststructuralist representations of Indigenous peoples
in Australia. He reproduces extracts from a number of books written
about Aboriginal Australians. These extracts depict different
approaches reflecting their authors' ideological standpoints. Some use
reported speech to speak on behalf of the peoples concerned, others
quote them directly, giving them voice, while in a third example, a
multimodal medium is used.

In Chapter 11, 'Activist Sociolinguistics in a Critical Discourse
Analysis Perspective', Patricia E. O'Connor studies how people
'agentively present themselves in autobiographical discourses' and
'narratively constructing past selves and potentially new selves in
society' (p. 224). Through analyzing prisoners stories of their
experiences with drugs and crime, she suggests that elements of
agentive discourse are clustered in sites of reflexive language,
particularly in frame breaks and in meta-talk or evaluative references
to one's knowledge state. Considering autobiographical recollection to
be a useful source for capturing reflexivity, with therapeutic
potential, she calls for the researcher's involvement in analysing the
data and contributing for positive change in the life of speaker and of
the community. She suggests a collaboration between CDA and
participatory action research with the aim of removing 'the distancing
of scholars from the subjects of research by forming 'reciprocal' zones
of proximal development as researcher-learner' (p. 237).

In Chapter 12, 'Discourse at Work: When Women Take On the Role of
Manager', Luisa Martin Rojo and Conception Gomez Esteban study the role
of gender in organizations and try to place it within a broader
consideration of power and authority. The authors adopt
interdisciplinarity as an attitude for examining modern management
models, gender-specific attitudes and stereotypes, and female managers
attitudes towards these questions. They find that masculine practices
and models continue to predominate organizations. They remark that
women are in 'no-win' situations. On the one hand, behaviours
identified as 'typically female' are disadvantageous for women, even
when they are positively valued by new management models. On the other
hand, the adoption of features traditionally associated with men by
women managers is also considered negatively, because such features are
associated with old models of management. They conclude that male
centred conceptions of power and authority are dominant not only in
everyday discourses, but also in academic research and training

In Chapter 13, 'Cross-Cultural Representation of 'Otherness' in Media
Discourse', Carmen Rosa Caldas-Clouthard studies the social, political
and educational role of news. She examines the news recontextualization
of events, key cultural themes related to the representation of
otherness and criteria for news worthiness (news values). Focusing on 3
news values, which are: reference to elite nations, personalization and
negativity, the author analyses news articles taken from the Bank of
English Corpus, a case study of the British media treatment of a
Brazilian immigrant in the United Kingdom and the Brazilian media
counter-discourse. She shows that the Western media tend to reproduce,
through text and image, a colonial discourse of denigration,
reinforcing stereotypical developing countries, opposed to a positive
civilized image of Western countries, through legitimating their own
superiority, and emphasising the distance between 'us' and 'them'. The
counter-discourse, for its part, endeavours to reflect a beautiful,
attractive image of Brazil in a defensive approach that also parody
elite nations.

In Chapter 14, 'Interaction between Visual and Verbal Communication:
Changing Patterns in the Printed Media', Christine Anthonissen draws on
multimodal grammar of visual design to demonstrate how the verbal and
visual modes complement each other, rather than being fully identical
or totally opposed. She remarks that 'a verbal text that pays lip
service to media regulations, may be contradicted and corrected by a
visually linked image' (p. 301). Examining newspapers under South
Africa's apartheid censorship regulations and practices, she analyses
visual design in news representation: typeface choices, layout and use
of different semiotic modes, attempting to map their respective
interrelations. She concludes that censorship provokes the use of
semiotic modes other than language, in a way that the printed media
find ways to defy censorship and to convey their message without
resorting to, or in addition, to words.


'Theory' and 'interdisciplinarity' are the key themes of the book. It
is clear that the volume was conceived and designed in a manner that
lays down the theoretical foundations of CDA, illustrating its
interdisciplinary orientation(s) and presenting corresponding
applications of both themes; hence the division into three parts. The
question of theory received the least treatment in the book. This
reflects an ongoing problem of research in CDA (Meyer, 2001). It is not
easy to discern a coherent theoretical thread linking the different
approaches. However, this might be a sacrifice needed to accommodate
the second theme: interdisciplinarity. Here, we come to a cherished
approach in CDA (van Djik, 2001). The volume is a genuine example of
'inter/trans/multidisciplinarity' by virtue of questions discussed,
disciplines visited/revisited and tools applied. However, the main
question of 'critically examining the foundation and basic elements of
discourse-analytical research' (p. 1) has not been sufficiently
accounted for. With the exception of Billig's article, beside a few
other brief remarks, the volume lacks critical, reflexive criticism of
CDA's critical endeavour. This might be the result of the fact that all
the authors are enthusiastic theoreticians/practitioners of CDA. A
completely opposing viewpoint like Widdowson's (e.g. Widdowson, 2000),
would have enriched the debate and helped shedding more light on other
aspects of CDA from outside the circle of researchers in the field.


Meyer, M. (2001) 'Between theory, method, and politics: positioning of
the approaches to CDA', in Wodak and Meyer (2001) (eds), pp. 14-31.

van Dijk, T. (2001) 'Multidisciplinary CDA, a plea for diversity', in
Wodak and Meyer (2001) (eds), pp. 95-120.

Widdowson, H. G. (2000) 'On the Limitations of Linguistics Applied'.
Applied Linguistics, 21/1: 3-25.

Wodak, R. and Meyer, M. (2001) (eds.) Methods of Critical Discourse
Analysis. London: Sage Publications.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Mekki Elbadri is a translator and researcher with interests in translation studies, terminology and discourse analysis, and is currently conducting a doctoral research in Critical Discourse Analysis.

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