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Review of  Discourses of Ideology and Identity

Reviewer: Sibo Chen
Book Title: Discourses of Ideology and Identity
Book Author: Chris Featherman
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.763

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


As the latest volume of the Routledge Critical Studies in Discourse Series, “discourse of ideology and identity” by Chris Featherman aims to explore the ways in which ideologies and identities are discursively constructed during social movements. Based on a case study of the opposition movement against the 2009 Iranian presidential election results, the book questions the master narratives offered by Western legacy media on Iran and its 2009 post-election crisis and argues that new media discourses such as Twitter tweets and Flickr uploads by activists re-entextualize the crisis in a reticulated, transnational public sphere. The book also examines how English, as a borrowed language for many Iranian protesters, contributes to the construction of transnational imaginaries by shaping the protesters’ online identifications. The book consists of six chapters and two appendices, with Chapters Three, Four and Five presenting the major research findings.

Chapter One “Opening: Protesting the Results”

Chapter One introduces the research’s general theoretical and socio-political contexts and the book’s overall structure. The chapter begins by discussing the increasing importance of social media in social movements, which leads to two competing views within current academic debates on social media’s democracy-promoting potential: cyber-utopianism and cyber-skepticism. Instead of simply picking one side, the author argues that “at the nexus of these (utopian or skeptic) discourses are, among other notions, ideology, identity, and the ways in which social actors can generate both communication and counter-power, particularly in relation to language and technology” (p. 3). In other words, it is crucial for us to critically examine the contingent links between knowledge and politics through the lens of discourse as the connections between language and globalization become increasingly complex, multifarious, and intrinsic. Another interesting point addressed in this chapter is the author’s assessment of classic sociolinguistics’ analytical foci on distinctions and biases. According to the author, such foci are no longer able to capture how emerging new media discursive practices are infused by global cultural flows. Thus, there is a need to construct a revised sociolinguistic approach that frames linguistic analysis in terms of transnational flows, networks, and social movements, especially during social protests and conflicts when linguistic tactics are adopted and manipulated for the purpose of promoting new ideas and new identities.

Chapter Two “’Down with Potatoes!’ Theory, Methods, Contexts”

Chapter Two continues to outline the macro-contexts of the 2009 post-election crisis and discuss the research’s theoretical and methodological frameworks. The chapter views the intensified atmosphere during the run-up to the 2009 Iranian presidential election and the protests following it as a result of three important factors: (1) the Khatami-led cultural reforms during the late 1990s, which, with a vision for Islamic-Iranian modernity, ended up opening a space for dissent within the Iranian public sphere; (2) the rise of the Iranian youth population, who, under the growing influence of Western cultural flows and information and communication technologies (ICTs), becomes the leading force against the current Iranian governance; and (3) the development of new media, which offers the information infrastructure for Iranian civil groups and dissidents to circumvent Iran’s internal media censorship and blockades against foreign journalists. Building from these insights, the chapter further addresses how the post-election crisis in Iran demonstrates that the control of information has become the fundamental struggle in networked societies. Under this circumstance, discursive practices can function as power of institutions as well as counter-power of individual agency (Castells, 2009). In this regard, communication has become an essential form of network power and, increasingly, communication power is contested in a globalized context, with English being the dominant lingual-franca facilitating transnational and transcultural interconnections. Based on the above theoretical ground, the chapter ends by proposing critical discourse analysis (CDA), as an appropriate venue to examine the complex theories and phenomena employed in the networked and transnational discursive practices. Specifically, the author discusses how the socio-cognitive approach (van Dijk, 2008) and corpus linguistics would address the weakness of the mainstream CDA framework, especially in terms of traditional CDA’s questionable reliability and overt political stance.

Chapter Three “Constructing the Protesters’ Identities in the U.S. Media”

Chapter Three examines the discursive construction of ideologies and protesters’ identities during the 2009 Iranian post-election crisis by U.S. legacy media. Following key theories on media discourse (e.g. ideology, news framing, metaphor, etc.), the quantitative electronic analyses presented here demonstrate how leading U.S. newspapers, through various discursive and communicative strategies, framed the post-election crisis and the opposition movement as a conflict between tradition and modernity, with “Iranian politics as irrational” being a fundamental metaphor throughout the analyzed news coverage. Another prominent news frame consistently presented by the analyzed reports was the linkage between protesters and social media, which showed the general cyber-utopian views currently held by news media. Overall, the shift of news frames along with the prevailing of the post-election crisis not only legitimized the U.S. public’s existing biases toward Iran and but also opened the discursive space for discussing U.S.’s potential intervention in the crisis. The author locates these findings in terms of the contentious U.S.-Iranian relations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the key role played by legacy media in maintaining the hegemonic institutional interests in the government-media nexus (Entman, 2004).

Chapter Four “Borrowed Language: Reentextualizing Symbolic Resources and Discursively Constructing Stance”

Chapter Four expands the analysis of Iranian activists’ discursive practices on social media by focusing on the inter-textual and inter-discursive aspects of these discourses and the ways in which the activists’ tactical use of social media brought their voices across rhizomatic digital networks. Specifically, the chapter examines three major discursive tactics by the activists (i.e. retweeting, hyperlinking, and image re-entextualization) and argues that these tactics not only facilitated communication coordination and information dissemination among local protesters, but also sparked “networked effervescence” that brought the opposition movement in Iran across global networks and made it part of the transnational political public sphere. Meanwhile, given English’s prestigious status as a global lingua franca and its ideological connection to Western modernity in Iran, the Iranian activists’ tactical borrowing of English in their new media discourses also suggests the complex cultural politics bound up with English and how it could function as symbolic resonance for the disempowered to generate counter communicative power.

Chapter Five “Collective Action and Networked Identifications”

Chapter Five extends the arguments of the previous two chapters by further discussing the various identifications made by Iranian protesters through their discursive practices on social media, especially the use of collective lexical forms and the building of connections between the Iranian opposition movement and other ongoing social movements. The chapter argues that the dynamic links within the traditional place-identity nexus (Dixon & Durrheim, 2000) have become increasingly complex due to the growing social media usage and globalization. Accordingly, the traditional linkages between social identities and culture, ethnicity, and place are being challenged by an emerging call for transnational imaginaries and public spheres. English functions as a transnational vernacular along this process of trans-local identification. As shown in the new media discourses by Iranian activists, the logic of collective agency and participation was a central aspect of these activists’ collective identification and when such logic was echoed by activists across the globe, the sense of “togetherness” and “global solidarity” became evident, offering critiques against the nation-state ideologies held by legacy media.

Chapter Six “Effervescence or Resonance? Closings”

Chapter Six concludes the book with an re-engagement of the key findings in relation to the theoretical and methodological framework established in Chapter One. The chapter revisits the key discussions in previous chapters, such as Iran’s ambiguous attitudes toward Western modernity and technologies, the compatibility between network theories and a socio-cognitive approach toward CDA, the role of English in a globalized world, the logic of participation and its key role in the generation of counter communicative power, and so on. A profound question emerging from these discussions is the question of belongingness: how do we define belongingness when meanings become less embedded in their local contexts and new mobilities are created by transnationalism and advancing ICTs? This question, among many others, points out possible directions for future research on new media language and globalization.


Overall, this book effectively demonstrates the immense complexity of discourses of ideology and identity and also reveals how English, as a global language, is challenging the traditional place-identity nexus when the world is gradually transformed into rhizomatic organizations. Indeed, discourse offers us a valuable lens to examine the multiple layers of linguistic practices and social organizations and the interesting case study on Iran makes a strong argument or language’s critical role in contemporary social movements.

The mixed-method adopted by the book is perhaps one of its strongest attributes; it offers a valuable lesson for future CDA research since it effectively aids the author in justifying the various findings’ validities and trajectories. In particular, the discussion of “conceptual blending” in Chapter Three will be interesting for researchers looking for corpus-based research designs on news framing analysis.

Additionally, the book’s in-depth theoretical discussions on globalization, language and identity, and ideology and media discourse provide a sound theoretical framework addressing both historical and contemporary debates on the complex interactions among language, media, and society. As such, the book is most suited for upper-level graduate students and researchers with backgrounds in sociolinguistics and a good grasp of critical social theories.

On the down side, the book falls short of providing a comprehensive reputation of the cyber-skeptic arguments. Although the author managed to refute skeptic arguments such as Morozov (2011) and Dean (2005) by emphasizing the participatory aspect of discursive practices on social media, this counter-argument is still not able to address the central concerns offered by cyber-critics: how can social media be a true democratic tool when the ideologies circulated through it tend to be biased toward Western modernity, letting alone the fact that the communications on it are ultimately captured for profit? Another potentially contentious point is the link established by the author between the Iranian opposition movement and other social movements. The question is: “what do they protest against?” If we view the 2009 post-election crisis in Iran as a call for modernity by the Iranian youth population, then arguably it is fundamentally different from many other social movements that are fighting against Western modernity.

To conclude, the book provides a good opportunity for those interested in new media discourse to obtain a comprehensive reading of how discourse functions as a crucial force shaping ideologies and identities in contemporary societies. The book’s interdisciplinary orientation would make it interesting reading for scholars both inside and outside linguistics.


Castells, M. (2009). Communication power. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dean, J. (2005). Communicative capitalism: Circulation and the foreclosure of politics. Cultural Politics, 1(1): 51-74.

Dixon, J., & Durrheim, K. (2000). Displacing place-identity: A discursive approach to locating self and other. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 27-44.

Entman, R. (2004). Projections of power: Framing news, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Morozov, E. (2011). The net delusion: The dark side of Internet freedom. New York: Public Affairs.

van Dijk, T. (2008). Discourse and context: A socio-cognitive approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sibo Chen is a PHD student in the School of Communication, Simon Fraser University. He received his MA in Applied Linguistics from the Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria, Canada. His major research interests are language and communication, critical discourse analysis, and genre theories.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781138825581
Pages: 178
Prices: U.S. $ 140.00