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Review of  Analysing Identities in Discourse

Reviewer: Natasha Azarian
Book Title: Analysing Identities in Discourse
Book Author: Rosana Dolón Júlia Todolí
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 19.3847

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EDITORS: Dolón, Rosana; Todolí, Júlia
TITLE: Analyzing Identities in Discourse
SERIES: Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Natasha Azarian, Department of English, University of Nice, France

This volume is a compilation of articles resulting from the first International
Conference on Critical Discourse Analysis held in Valencia, Spain in 2004. The
volume's premise is the illustration of examples where the discursive
construction of identity is bounded by forms of domination and the abuse of
power. The volume is essentially divided into three sections: Discursive
constructions of identity in educational contexts, National and cultural
identity, and Identity construction and human suffering.

The volume unfolds with an introductory chapter in which Héctor Grad and Martin
Rojo present the theoretical frame from which the volume is built, entitled,
''The integrative view of identities in discourse.'' The authors define identity
as a, ''unifying framework of research about the individual's processes of
creation of meaning whilst participating as a social actor in the spheres of
social activity '' (p.4). Critical discourse analysis is viewed as a valuable
tool of analysis for the problematization of identity in social,
anthropological, and cultural contexts. Grad and Rojo concur that analyses which
are based on a critical perspective illustrate how discourse is linked to
identitary categories which are linked to situated contexts in which
relationships between participants and rhetorical strategies are adopted.
Furthermore, the authors of this chapter consider identity to be a
socio-historically anchored category arising from modern societies (Giddens,
1991). Identity is perceived as open, and subject to reproduction and
innovation, where the social context at hand has inherent mechanisms of
transformation. After presenting the reader with an ''identity blueprint,''
tracing concepts from monism, hybridity, and multiplicity, to notions of
structure and agency, the authors underscore their critical perspective which
focuses on the discursive processes of categorization, rejection, and contrast
as it is revealed through discourse. They conclude by underscoring what they
deem to be the goal of a critical perspective to discourse, that is to break the
habits and preconceived ways of thinking and acting. This is done through
illustration of the techniques implicit in the production and perpetration of
knowledge, the processes of domination, and the control of discourses.

PART 2: Discursive construction of identity in educational contexts

The second part of this volume contains three chapters relevant to the
discursive constructions of identities in educational contexts. Rojo's chapter
focuses on the imposition and resisting of ethnic categorization in
multicultural classrooms in Spanish schools. She asks how identities of local
and immigrant students are constructed in these milieus, how the establishment
of knowledge regarding the contrast in identity categories is produced,
circulated, and perpetuated. Finally she seeks to understand the implications of
identity categorizations.

Rojo suggests that critical approaches to discourse are distinguished from other
discursive approaches through problematizing the process of the knowledge at
hand, as well as through commitment to analyzing and monitoring the social
effects of discourse. Research was carried out by linguists during a six year
period, from 2000-2006, the focus of the research observations was on how
cultural and linguistic diversity were handled within Spanish classrooms and if
the actions observed either encouraged integration or discriminated against it.
Through the illustration of several examples taken from observations in
secondary schools in Spain which house a large population of immigrant students,
Rojo found that while the educational context was multicultural, pedagogic and
instructional, concessions were not made to conform to the diversity of the
population. Rather, categories of identity contrasts emerged in the discourse
produced in classrooms, or through interviews conducted with the teachers
themselves in which stark dichotomies were drawn between ''us'' versus ''them.''
Explanations of students' scholarly behavior or performance were explained as
characteristic of students' ethnic origin. Rojo points out that while these
particular educational establishments have diverse and rich populations,
homogeneity is privileged and the only legitimate language is the local variety.
Furthermore she suggests that cultural and linguistic resources which could be
considered as catalysts for conversation, comparison and funds of knowledge,
(Moll, 2000) were decapitalized and viewed as deficient. Rojo's analysis
includes instances of opposition and resistance on behalf of students through
laughter which she suggests to be the impetus for the production of new and
provocative identity discourses.

Yongbing Liu's chapter examines the construction of patriotic discourse in
Chinese basal readers. Taking the position that cultural knowledge or categories
are discursively constructed in texts, Liu looks at how national identity is
constructed and transmitted to Chinese elementary school children through the
medium of standardized textbooks in the mist of a transformation from a
socialist to a capitalist social order. Data consisted of examination of 99
texts, which represented 32% of the total curriculum related to national
identity. By examining lexical choices such as over-wording, pronouns, and
metaphors, as well as grammatical choices such as transitivity, Liu concludes
that children are urged to identify with their country through a discursive (and
desired) construction of Chinese identity in which social and racial class
differences are omitted, and an imagined, ideological world is presented. In
this way children are indoctrinated to love and to be loyal to an imagined and
beautiful country without any acknowledgement of the social and ideological
tensions at hand. In this manner, the discourse of the textbooks disempowers
children in their learning processes, as the Chinese world presented in the
readers is distorted from reality, given the period of rapid capitalist
transformation that China is experiencing. Liu thus calls for the construction
of national identities in textbooks which is open, rather than closed. She calls
for a selection of articles in these basal readers which would allow for
critical pedagogy (Alvermann, 1999) in which the negotiation of national
identities can take place as a social practice, and in which the students' lives
and voices reverberate as part of the national identity that is presented to them.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan's article examines the denial of Palestinian national and
territorial identity in Israeli schoolbooks. Through the examination of ten
Geography and History textbooks, the author examines verbal and textual
discourses from a critical perspective which accentuate the textbooks' implicit
ideological assumptions regarding Jewish national identity and territory .
Through analysis of these textbooks, Peled-Elhanan posits that Palestinians are
inherently represented as ominous and as a problem to be solved. She shows how
Palestinian identity is denied through the omission of its name. For example,
visuals such as maps and graphs presented in the textbooks, exclude cities which
are both Jewish and Arabic; Palestinian territories are represented as part of
Israel and the inhabitants of these territories are either neglected or
portrayed as foreign workers. Other discursive devices include the use of
genericization in which Palestinians are defined as a non-entity without any
human face within the schoolbooks. Peled-Elhanan points out for example how a
picture of a flooded empty refugee camp appears under the caption, ''Palestine
problem,'' without detail or specificity to explain who lives in the camp or why.
This type of generic and ''objective'' representation , Peled-Elhanan argues,
leads to viewing Palestinian refugees not as a people with emotion, but rather
as a universal, if not environmental problem. This depiction is juxtaposed with
similar reports on other peoples across time and space in which their tragedies
are explicitly explained in the textbooks. This article stands as a testament to
the importance of a critical approach to discourse especially as it relates to
textbooks. While schoolbooks have the notoriety of unbiased truth, this study
points to the ways in which critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2001)
serves to uncover the denial of other identities as well as the suppression and
exclusion of narratives which do not necessarily mesh with the narrative truth
of the nation (White, 1981) and which, she argues, leads to hostility and racism.

PART 3: National and cultural identity

In the first chapter of part three which deals with national and cultural
identity, Hector Grad takes as his point of departure the building processes of
social identities and its implications with respect to the geopolitical identity
which is associated with the European Union. He examined the construction and
articulation of European identity through the analysis of interviews with 54
young adults in both Spain and the United Kingdom. Interviews were transcribed
in their entirety and specific attention was paid to lexical units and semantic
relations, syntactic devices, and the argumentative strategies in the discourse
of interviewees. Grad's findings illustrate how compatible or contradictory
mechanisms of EU identity are articulated and constructed through discourse
analysis. Overall, participants did not illustrate objective knowledge of
national or European categories as uncomplicated. He found for example, that it
is the meaning which participants attributed to the categories which then
underscored their subjective articulation of national identity. Grad
distinguished two forms of discursive articulations: automatic and
non-automatic. Automatic articulation refers to participants whose responses
were, what he calls ''Cartesian'' in their logic, that is, related to geopolitical
categories as a result of a consequence argumentative schema. That is, ''I am
Spanish, because Spain is part of the European Union.'' Non-automatic
articulation relates to what Grad considers to be ''subjective'' logic, that is, a
sense of belonging which is exemplified by an internal attribution of European
Union identity. The implications of Grad's research findings are useful for the
construction of educational, political, and social categorical frames which are
useful for the articulation of group diversity within the on-going construction
of EU identity.

The second chapter in section three considers the discursive responses of three
online Arab-American groups in the wake of September 11, 2001. In particular,
Lutfi Hussein investigated the social and political impact of the 2001 terrorist
attacks on these three groups by using the tools of critical discourse analysis.
Building on Systemic Functional Linguistics, group identity was analyzed in
terms of theme, modality, transitivity, wording, and word meaning. Hussein
examined the discursive responses of these three advocacy groups committed to
promoting the human rights of Arab-Americans; their responses were found on each
groups' respective web pages. Data was amassed from the Site for the Arab Gay
and Lesbian Society, the Arab Women's Solidarity Association and the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Hussein concludes that while the
mass media often portrays group identity in the singular, in this particular
example, the response of Arab Americans to the attacks of September 11, 2001,
(much even to the researcher's surprise) relied heavily on the groups'
organizational, political, and ideological positions and interests. Initially,
Hussein's research question considered an Arab-American response in the
singular, the conclusions of this research however illustrate the multiplicity
of responses within this very heterogeneous community. This article is thus an
illustration of the multiplicity of discourses which swim within what others
might be tempted to deem a monolithic community (i.e. Arab-American), but which
are in reality, pluralistic and diverse communities.

PART 4: Identity Construction and Human Suffering

Part four turns to the construction of identity and human suffering. The first
chapter within this last section of the volume is entitled, Sexual Assault
Trials, discursive identities and institutional change. This article by Susan
Ehrlich is one of the most illuminating chapters within this volume. Drawing on
philosophers of language such as Butler (1990) and Cameron (2000), Ehrlich
focuses on the power that cultural discourses have in regulating the identities
individuals are permitted to put forth as it relates to Canadian civil sexual
assault trials. Ehrlich lays a theoretical and practical framework of the
language of sexual assault which illustrates the importance of research in this
domain. She distinguishes categories associated with sexual abuse and the
language employed in the justice system. For example, ''legitimate victims'' are
women assaulted by strangers carrying a weapon, and the language employed by
judges of what she refers to as ''stranger rapes'' is one of assault and violence;
Ehrlich suggests this, in contrary to victims who knew their perpetrators for
which judges employed language referring to consensual sex. Ehrlich draws on
examples from civil sexual abuse trials in which the victims themselves had
difficulty in their verbal production of discourse, as victims of brutality and
abusive sex, when in fact their perpetrators were individuals they knew. Ehrlich
suggests that the naming of sexually abusive experiences is a complex notion in
general, however she points out that the women in her sample have trouble naming
themselves as victims of abuse in particular, because of the lack of a
well-developed discourse for the representation of sexual abuse by strangers
whom women trust. Ehrlich's chapter is testament to the power and exclusion of
dominant discourses as they relate to the discursive construction of identities.

The final chapter of this section is entitled The representation of people
living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and the dangerous other. In this chapter, Mei Li
Lean and Stella Meng Hui draw on a corpus of Time magazine articles during a
twenty year span between 1983, when the magazine first began reporting on AIDS,
to 2004.The authors investigated how the media recontextualizes scientific
discourse as it relates to people living with HIV/AIDS, (PLWHA) and People
associated with the disease (PAWD). The intertextual analysis, which is based on
the critical analysis of discourse suggests a division within a paradigm of
innocent versus guilty victims. PLWHA and PAWD are delineated as social actors
through various variables which have social significance and which construct the
''innocent'' versus ''guilty'' paradigm which the magazine portrays. It is through
critical discourse analysis that forms of foregrounding and impersonalization,
as well as the use of derogatory and biblical diction are brought to light. The
authors suggest that value laden identities are so implicitly conveyed that the
media absolves itself of any culpability with respect to the negative
articulation of people living with, and those associated with AIDS/HIV.

This edited volume is a meaningful contribution to the field of discourse,
identity and critical discourse analysis. The chapters presented in this volume
are multiple, allowing for introspection and reference to a wide variety of
research interests for the students of language analysis, and would thus be
beneficial to reading lists for a wide range of courses and syllabi.

The book's preface clearly outlines and underscores the rationale for a volume
of this nature, and its commitment to discourse analysis as a means for social
change. As already mentioned, the diversity and multiplicity of the subjects
investigated are an advantage. While the book is divided into three separate
sections, the manner in which the articles are structured is not uniform and at
times leads to confusion on behalf of the reader. While analysis of this sort is
always a matter of choices made on behalf of the researcher, these choices
should be clearly articulated and defended. There are times throughout the
volume however when examples are presented without a clear indication of exactly
how the data was collected or how the excerpts were selected. The examples
selected always support the assertion being made, however in a field such as
critical discourse analysis sustaining the choices that are made by clearly
indicating the research paradigm and methods is paramount. Though all of the
articles in this volume have as a unifying theme, the discursive construction of
identities in multifarious contexts, the volume ends rather abruptly. Thus, a
concluding piece which nicely knits the importance of all the articles together,
would have better bound the volume as a whole.

Overall this edited volume is an asset to the field of discourse analysis as it
is testament to the various applications of critical discourse analysis to a
wide range of subjects dealing with power and identities.

Alvermann, D. (1999) _Popular Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and
Researching_. Critical Media Literacy. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Butler, J. (1990). _Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity_.
London: Routledge.

Cameron, D. (2000). _Good to Talk: Living and working in a communication
culture_. London: Sage.

Fairclough, N. (2001). _Language and Power_. Harlow, London: Longman.

Giddens, A. (1991). _Modernity and Self Identity_. Palo Alto: Stanford
University Press.

Moll, L.C. (2000). Inspired by Vygotsky: Ethnographic Experiments in Education.
In C. Lee and P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), _Vygotskian Perspectives on Literacy
Research_ (pp.256-268). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

White, H. (1981). The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality. In
W.Mitchell (Ed.), _On Narrative_ (pp.1-24). Chicago: University of Chicago

Natasha Azarian received her PhD in Education from UC Berkeley in 2007. She is
currently working in the department of English at the University of Nice,
France. Her interests include the role that narrative transmission plays in
collective remembering.