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Review of  Reading Bridal Magazines from a Critical Discursive Perspective


Reviewer: Weimin Toh
Book Title: Reading Bridal Magazines from a Critical Discursive Perspective
Book Author: Ewa Glapka
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 26.3033

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Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Ashley Parker

SUMMARY

This book is a monograph covering the discourse analysis of bridal magazines by combining the three frameworks of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Feminist Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA) and Critical Discursive Perspective (CDP). The book is well structured into two main components. The first three chapters cover the theoretical foundation of the main concepts which the researcher/analyst utilises for the discourse analysis of the bridal magazines. Chapters four through six cover the analytical tools used, that is, interviews that are used to explore the gender-mediating process of the text. There is a high degree of interaction between the material covered in the different chapters, in terms of the relations between the discourse frameworks used and gender (identity) of the interviewees.

The book focuses on the qualitative instead of quantitative analysis of the lived experiences of the interviewees. Due to space constraints, an in-depth discussion of the interview findings of four out of the eleven interviewees are discussed in chapters five and six. The findings are framed using the three discourse analysis frameworks which include both the top-down approach involving the hegemonic discourse, symbolic power (CDA) and the researcher/analyst’s interpretation of the text (bridal magazines) from a discourse analysis perspective and the bottom-up approach which includes the interviewees’ discussion/interpretation of the text, based on their lifeworld experiences (FPDA). There is triangulation of the data analysed in the sense that the findings from the discourse analysis of the text (bridal magazines) is not coming solely from the researcher/analyst’s interpretation/perspective but is as a result of the negotiation between the researcher/analyst and the interviewees during the interviews.

“Introduction” is a very useful quick summary of the book chapters. It also clearly defines the scope of topics discussed in the book.

In Chapter 1, “Discourse and Power,” the author attempted to outline the theory of discourse underpinning the whole volume. These include concepts that are used for the critical inquiry of the discursive mediation of femininity. Although some of the concepts outlined in the chapter - such as Critical Discourse Analysis, hegemony and symbolic power - are purely theoretical constructs, others - such as the interviews discussed in the analysis section - serve in the book as both theoretical insights and as units of analysis. The chapter also emphasises the reduction of the ambiguity of the object of critical discourse studies by the triangulation (Cicourel 1969) of data. The triangulating method consists of relying on more than one method of data collection in the investigation of the same problem (Taylor [2001] 2009:322). The media reproduction of gender is explored from both the sites of production and reception. It is also not a purely linguistic undertaking and is accompanied by a critical appraisal of relevant insights from sociology and feminist theory. Another perspective that a CDA-based view of the relations between discourse and power provides a decentralised view of text, where the authorship of meaning is problematised. This is the reason why the book retains the focus on the socioculturally and historically available discourses. The macro-level investigation is supplemented with the micro-level investigation of how the discourses are drawn upon both in the construction of media texts and in the local contexts of text interpretation.

In Chapter 2, “Women as Subjects of Discourse,” the Feminist Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA) perspective is explored to illuminate the aspects of the discursive mediation of gender that are underplayed in the paradigms presented in Chapter 1. The author explains that poststructuralism has been included in the study as a way of foregrounding the experience of individuals involved in power relations. The focus of analysis using the FPDA perspective is on the local contexts of power negotiation. The use of the FPDA perspective enables a critical mode of research that takes the mechanistic view of media reception. This perspective also implies that media content is not passively absorbed, and that media reception is a process where meanings are negotiated in ways that are related with power. The author regards the lifeworld practices and discourses as necessary for the critical study of gender from this perspective. Thus, in the analysis, there is a confrontation between the media discourses of femininity with the subjectivities that women work up in relation to them and in their accounts of their lifeworld experience. An important distinction this chapter highlights is between two major forms of subjectivity. Readers of media texts can be seen as “subjects-in-discourse” (D. Smith 1990: 192), that is, as prepositioned by socially and culturally shared discourses, or they can be approached as the “subjects of their actions”, that is, as subjects who are able to speak in their capacity as knowledgeable practitioners of the discourse of femininity. The author also highlights that the book is interested in the women’s constructions of their embodied experience of femininity but also cautions that the analyses is unable to render the women’s ‘actual’ actions because of their inevitably mediated character.

In Chapter 3, entitled “Bridal Femininity in Wedding Magazines,” the author provides a critical discourse analysis of bridal magazines based on the investigation of a sample of British wedding magazines. This chapter focuses on the researcher/analyst’s perspective to identify discourses by means of which the magazines address/position their readers. The analysis is separated into two main modes. The first half of the chapter focuses on the discourse analysis of the linguistic mode while the second half of the chapter focuses on the discourse analysis of the non-linguistic mode. These two modes form the “multi-modal” analysis of the text (bridal magazines). For the analysis of the linguistic mode, the author focuses on specific aspects in the bridal magazines such as the editor’s letter, the use of lexis to construct hegemonic femininity, the creation of a heteronormative narrative of romance, the creation of a hybrid identity of the ‘project-manager superbride’ followed by non-traditional brides and the bride as the object of gaze. For the analysis of the non-linguistic mode, the author includes the modalities of the gaze, iconicity in the imagery of the bride in Western popular culture, and the use of colour such as pink traditionally associated with femininity. The distinction between the modes is blurred as there are discussions of both modes in each section, although emphasis is placed more on a specific mode in each section. The remaining portion of the chapter discusses recontextualisation, hybridisation and commodification strategies that are used to identify the role of the local discourses and genres in the formation of the naturalness of the magazines’ local ideologies.

In Chapter 4, “Reading a Magazine: Methodological Considerations,” the author introduces the analytical tools from Critical Discursive Psychology that are used in the study of media reception by the interviewees. Interviewees’ accounts are considered as local, which is contingent on the pragmatic rules of an interview, and also intertextual, that is related with other texts, discourses and contexts. The author concludes the chapter by introducing the interview data and the criteria for selecting the interviewees.

In Chapter 5, “Reading a Magazine: The Interviews,” the author analyses the interviews of four selected interviewees based on the approach outlined in the previous chapter. Selected interview extracts were discussed according to the researcher/analyst’s interpretation. The findings from the first interviewee highlight the ambiguities and contradictions in her accounts of media consumption, marriage and motherhood. The analysis of the first interviewee revealed that media reception cannot be considered in terms of the crude distinction between submission and resistance. Although she was invested in the discourse of the wedding magazines, she was still able to establish a polemical relation to its specific aspects. The second interviewee’s bridal experience and lived identity of getting married was mediated by religious discourse. Because of how she negotiated her gender subjectivity based on the religious discourse, this shows the analytical value of contextualising media reception in the extended self-accounts of the recipient’s lived experiences that are not directly related to the media. The second interviewee added to the study’s findings the subjectivity of a woman who is familiar with the media texts of bridal femininity. Her subjectivity is established by relying mainly on the religious discourse. Similarly, the analysis of the third interviewee highlights that her subject positions do not directly concern her reception of the magazine, but is reflected in her lived experience. For instance, her account about her parents’ divorce concern the social and emotional experiences which accompany getting married but are not discussed in the wedding magazines. The other finding is that even though the third interviewee recognised the media discourse of normative femininity as oppressive, she reproduced it too by drawing on the normative notion of masculinity. The way she defies the stereotypical femininity is also related with how femininity is used to construct the bridal subjectivity in wedding magazines. The analysis of the fourth interviewee also supports the interpretation of the earlier interviewees by highlighting that a complex independent bridal subjectivity can be constructed that is not directly related to the media frame.

In Chapter 6, “Reading a Magazine: Discussion,” the author discusses the findings of the analyses in the previous chapter according to the shared patterns observed in the majority of the interviews conducted for the purpose of the study. The first pattern identified in relation to the interviewees’ reader position was their rare mention of specific articles. This might imply the marginal relevance of the magazine to their lived experience. The findings that the interviewees do not believe in the authenticity and the underlying consumerist ideology of the real-life wedding texts paralleled the author’s critical discourse analysis of the magazines. Next, in general, the cross-analysis of the data presented in the critical discourse examination of the interviews and bridal magazines cautions against the text-centred approaches in eliciting meaning from the formal features of texts. There are two reasons for this cautioning. Firstly, most interviewees constructed a relationship of distance from the texts and secondly, when they relate polemically to the same articles, their critique often differs. This shows a variety of subject positions from which the participants accounted for their criticism based on their lived experiences. Thus, the autobiographical information of the participants are important. Even though they are not strictly related to the prompt texts, they cast some light on the participants’ relationship to the discourses that circulate not only in the media but also in the wider sociocultural circuits of the people’s lifeworlds. Data gathered in the study complicate Foucault’s notion of subjectivity in terms of subjectivation (Foucault 1982, 1988) and subjectification (Foucault 1985). In the data, subjectification was present when the women were able to position themselves in relation to the magazine’s discourse as independent subjects. Subjectivation was present in the participants’ contradictory positioning where women remain anchored in the dominant gender paradigm in spite of their insubordination to its underlying discourses.

“Conclusion” provides a succinct summary of the findings through a review structured according to the three themes of how women are spoken about (and to) in the media, how women speak, and how to approach these two kinds of discourse practices analytically.

EVALUATION

An important merit of this book is that it adopts multiple frameworks to provide a holistic view in the analysis of the bridal magazine texts. That is to say, the analysis of the bridal magazines is examined from the tripartite frameworks of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Feminist Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA) and Critical Discursive Perspective (CDP). This is rarely done in a single study. It also makes this book an excellent resource for scholars who are simply looking for specialised discussions of the analytical approach taken in analysing bridal magazines as a text.

The author opens the book with the chapter on discourse and power which focuses on the top-down perspective in highlighting the specific subject positions that the bridal magazines text constructs for their readers through the use of multi-modal resources. I would be very keen to see the use of multi-modal discourse analysis frameworks used to analyse how the linguistic and non-linguistic semiotic resources such as the visuals interact with each other to provide the subject positions for the readers of the text. In the discourse analysis framework proposed by the author, the discussion of the semiotic resources were mostly isolated. It would be interesting to find out how the intersemiosis between the semiotic resources is related to the construction of specific subject positions for the readers. Furthermore, it would also be interesting to include more visuals in the book for analysis. At present, there are no visuals used in the book and the author simply describes them. As the bridal magazines do not simply consists of the linguistic semiotic resource, but also non-linguistic semiotic resources like visuals, it would be useful to include an equal proportion of visuals to the linguistic analysis for a more balanced analysis of the text.

In Chapter 2, the author focuses on the bottom-up perspective in highlighting how the readers of the bridal magazines are able to subvert or “challenge” the subject positions offered through the multi-modal resources used in the text. The use of the Feminist Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA) framework enables an understanding of the multiplicity and subjectivity of the gender identity of women interviewed by the researcher/analyst. However, one of the limitation of the method used for the study might be that it is overly subjective and it would not be easy to understand why a specific interviewee chooses to distance herself from the text. In using interviews and conversational analysis (CA), it is not easy to access the cognition or emotional standpoint of the interviewee, and there might be personal issues that the interviewee chooses to withhold from the interviewer. Much of the findings would have to depend on the interviewer’s interpretation. The author has noted this limitation in the discussion of the framework’s limitation.

In Chapter 3, the author includes a short section to discuss the role of men in bridal magazines. I would be very keen to see more discussion of men in the bridal magazines and how the traditional role of men and women is inscribed into the magazines and how the interviewees as well as the interviewer/analyst interprets the representation of both men and women in bridal magazines. This would contribute to a more balanced analysis of both men and women instead of simply focusing on women in the textual analysis and interviews.

Another limitation of the study is related to the selection of participants for the data. The author indicated that the interviewees were selected based on their availability for the interview during the period of data collection. As a result, individuals selected did not fulfil all criteria. These criteria include women from diverse background, immediacy of wedding experience, and reading preferences. This means that the study is more of an explorative study and the findings cannot be generalised to the general female population or target audience of the magazines. Perhaps a future study can be conducted to build on the qualitative findings. Specific research questions might be formulated based on the data gathered from the qualitative study.

This book is generally an excellent piece of academic writing and suffers only from very infrequent spelling and formatting errors. Each chapter links to the next chapter cohesively and complements each other very well. This book is meant for more advanced students and scholars of linguistics, specifically discourse analysts and presumes a certain level of familiarity with discourse analysis concepts. Overall, “Reading Bridal Magazines from a Critical Discursive Perspective” provides insightful and detailed analyses of a specific area of linguistics, i.e. discourse analysis of the bridal magazines texts. The analyses are firmly grounded in the three frameworks outlined in the first few chapters. Additionally, Chapter 6 on the discussion of the findings of the analyses and the conclusion section round out the book, and make it a good source of information and inspiration for future work to be conducted by applied linguists in the discourse analysis of (bridal) magazine texts.

REFERENCES

Cicourel, Aaron V. 1969. Method and measurement in sociology. New York: The Free Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1982. “The subject and power”, in: Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rainbow (eds), Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics. Brighton: Harvester, 208-226.

Foucault, Michel. 1985. The use of pleasure: The history of sexuality. Vol. 2. London: Penguin Books.

Foucault, Michel. 1988. “Technologies of the self”, in: Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick H. Hutton (eds), Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49.

Smith, Dorothy. 1990. Texts, fact and femininity: Exploring relations of ruling. London: Routledge.

Taylor, Stephanie. [2001] 2009. “Evaluating and applying discourse analytic research”, in: Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor and Simeon J. Yates (eds), Discourse as data. A geode for analysis. London: Sage, 311-330.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Toh Weimin is a PhD candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature in the National University of Singapore (NUS). His research interests include social semiotics, multimodality and the study of new technologies like offline and online gaming worlds. Besides his interest in researching gaming worlds, he is also interested in anime and film analysis using a multimodal discourse analysis approach. His current PhD research work involves the creation of a ludonarrative model for video games to understand the different relationships between narrative and gameplay in video games. This theoretical model is supported by the empirical study of players.

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