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Review of  Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science

Reviewer: Philip T. Duncan
Book Title: Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science
Book Author: Christopher Hart
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 23.1011

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AUTHOR: Christopher Hart
TITLE: Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science
SUBTITLE: New Perspectives on Immigration Discourse
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2010

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


What is the future of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)? Responding to earlier
calls to interdisciplinarity (Wodak & Chilton 2005) and cognitively oriented
research (O’Halloran 2003; Chilton 2005), Christopher Hart’s “Critical Discourse
Analysis and Cognitive Science: New Perspectives on Immigration Discourse” lays
important groundwork for prospective CDA work that displays a strong theoretical
foundation. Specifically, Hart’s theoretical development extends beyond social
theory, merging recent developments in cognitive science with methods and
concepts from well-established CDA approaches. Based in part on an analysis of
media discourse on immigration and asylum in UK national newspapers from 2000 to
2006, Hart grounds discursive manipulation in evolutionary psychology and
cognitive linguistics and provides an explicit theoretical account for the need
to maintain a critical stance in discourse analytic research.

“Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” is organized into three
major parts. In Part I (the Introduction and Chapter 1), Hart introduces various
approaches to CDA, and particularly builds on van Dijk’s socio-cognitive
approach. This draws attention to the need to incorporate an explicit cognitive
perspective in CDA, which Hart supplies by integrating approaches within
cognitive science. Part II (Chapters 2-5) elaborates common CDA themes through
the application of evolutionary psychology, which Hart proposes can augment the
explanatory power of CDA approaches to analyzing strategic discourse. Part III
(Chapters 6-8) introduces cognitive linguistics by paying special attention to
metaphor, force-dynamics, and epistemic modality function in discourse
interpretation. The book closes with a Concluding Remarks section wherein Hart
provides summaries and areas where future research is needed.

The field of CDA is a diverse and interdisciplinary research program aimed at
understanding the relationship between language and society. Since its
inception, CDA proponents have been particularly interested in the notions of
power, ideology, manipulation, and various forms of syncretic racism manifest
through language use. Among European researchers, a rich body of literature has
emerged that has addressed media discourse on immigration and asylum seekers,
especially in the UK and Austria (e.g. van Dijk 1991, 2000; van Leeuwen & Wodak
1999; 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 works
attempted to challenge anti-immigration and -asylum discourses through
discourse. Methodologically, this engagement – one of the major roles of the
‘critical’ discourse analyst – is achieved in part by ‘demystifying’ latent
qualities of prejudicial and racist language use.

However, this ‘critical’ role of the CDA researcher has been increasingly
disputed, which has generated debates that have opened up opportunities for the
development of innovative approaches to CDA theory and methods. Christopher
Hart’s “Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” is an example of
this. Hart responds to critics and addresses some of his own dissatisfaction
with the current state of theory in mainstream CDA by drawing from recent
developments in evolutionary psychology and cognitive linguistics. In
particular, one of the more recent (and serious) challenges to CDA comes from
Paul Chilton (2005), who questions both its relevance and its efficacy. Much of
the argumentation in Hart’s book is developed in response to the polemical
stance outlined by Chilton, whose criticism is essentially twofold: 1) he
maintains that CDA research has by and large ignored cognition; and 2) he argues
that, through evolutionary processes, modern humans are by default endowed with
mechanisms that gain them critical awareness for use in discourse production and
comprehension. This gives rise to a potentially damning question for CDA: If
humans already possess modules that enable the discovery of tacit manipulation
through discourse then what is the need of the critical discourse analyst?
Although Hart agrees with the lacking emphasis on human cognition in CDA
research, he offers a nuanced apologetic of the program in general by developing
a prospective vision of future work enriched by cognitive science. In doing so,
he defends the CDA program while simultaneously offering a more robust
theoretical perspective that validates (and, perhaps, necessitates) its
continued existence.

Hart contends that CDA, despite its deficiencies, nevertheless operates on
worthwhile assumptions, and it is these very assumptions that he endeavors to
make theoretically explicit in a coherent, cognitively oriented paradigm. Hart
first situates certain core elements of CDA in terms of evolutionary psychology,
which functions as a sort of metatheory that informs his approach to
understanding the role of various cognitive architectures in discourse
production and reception. Of particular import -- both in CDA, generally, as
well as Hart’s book, specifically -- is the concept of (discursive)
manipulation. Hart notes that manipulation is problematic from the perspective
of evolutionary psychology because the eventual development of a domain-specific
‘cheater-detection module’ or a ‘logico-rhetorical module’ would seem to render
manipulation impossible. That is, discourse recipients would become immune to
manipulation because human cognition has adapted in response to certain
selectional pressures, enabling discourse participants to overcome manipulative
language use. Moreover, manipulation is somewhat problematic from the
perspective of Gricean Pragmatics because it depends upon violations of several
conversational maxims, which are necessary for successful communication.

Notwithstanding, Hart proposes that manipulation is indeed effective because the
development of a theory of mind in combination with social inference provided
fertile grounds for an evolutionarily based account of ‘Machiavellian
intelligence.’ This type of intelligence allows for deception, which underlies
discourse strategies, that, intentional or otherwise, make manipulation
possible. Furthermore, this deception characteristically relies on violating
Gricean maxims. Hart argues that discursive use of Machiavellian intelligence
arose from altruistic, cooperative communication, and that manipulation
initially emerged as an exploitation of cooperation for a positive social
function, namely, the formation and safeguarding of ‘coalitional groups.’ Such
‘strategic discourse’ was apparently realized early on among human ancestors in
the binary categorization of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ providing the nascent
foundations of discriminatory discourse.
According to Hart’s evolutionary narrative, modern humans eventually evolved to
be ‘biologically prepared’ to link threat and fear to the out-group. For
example, one characteristic of immigration discourses is the utilization of
referential and predicational strategies to create a polarized schema
differentiating the outsider/alien immigrants (they/them/their) from the
in-group (we/us/our) under (perceived) threat. Hart does, however, distinguish
between ancestral and modern identity formation through the means of binary
conceptualization. For ancient humans, Hart proposes that such effortful
discursive strategies arose for survival based on adaptive responses. On the
other hand, for modern humans, prejudicial and racist language use relies on
automatic processing of binary social categorization. Thus, the nature of
contemporary racist discourse is so potent precisely because antonymies are
difficult to detect and counter. As Hart notes, the emergence of a
logico-rhetorical module does not render discriminatory discourse ineffective,
since human cognition developed and can continue to develop more refined

In addition to drawing from principles in evolutionary psychology, Hart
considers 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 society
are mediated by a socio-cognitive interface rather than being in direct relation
(van Dijk 2008). Yet, even though the role of cognition is increasingly
acknowledged 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 from
Cognitive Linguistics.

One of the main developments in Hart’s effort to begin filling this gap is his
appropriation of Conceptual Blending Theory (BT; Fauconnier & Turner 2002) in
order to investigate the discursive function of semantic categorization. In
doing this, Hart develops yet another aspect of CDA research that he believes to
be found wanting, namely, proper emphasis given to the construction of mental
spaces and cognitive models by discourse recipients and not just producers of
discourse. In applying BT, the processual notion of ‘conceptualisation’ comes to
the forefront, which Hart treats as an ‘inherently ideological’ means of how
discourse participants form mental representations of objects of discourse.
Conceptualization involves the formation of mental spaces as discourse is
produced and consumed, which both generates and builds from mental spaces that
are 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 its
relevance in BT as well as contemporary approaches to developing more
cognitively explicit CDA research paradigms. In Hart’s analysis, metaphors
‘project’ four types of mental spaces that “undergo a conceptual blending
operation whereby they are manipulated in an integrated network, producing
inferential structure” (Hart 2010: 115). The four projected spaces include ‘two
input 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 Britain
in immigration discourses, leads to inferential structure that “seems to justify
a 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 is
represented as “hav[ing] limited capacity” that is threatened by the influx of
immigrants and asylum seekers (Hart 2010: 134). Moreover, this and other blends
have added potency because the nature of metaphors as characterized by multiple
input spaces necessarily entails intertextuality and interdiscursivity.
Ultimately, Hart proposes that metaphor has immediate relevance in strategic
discourse because metaphors evidence Machiavellian intelligence in the modern
mind, 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” with
two principal consequences (Hart 2010: 123). In the cognitive dimension,
entrenchment enables dynamically created structures to pass from working memory
to long-term memory. Culturally, entrenchment allows conceptual blends to become
‘normalized.’ Taken together, these eventually lead to “the promotion of
particular representations of reality” (Hart 2010: 123). With regard to
coercion, this is significant because it provides a cognitively based account
for why metaphors carry such weight in discriminatory discourses. In particular,
‘conventional metaphors’ are essentially entrenched blends, and these give rise
to recurring themes that communicate particular ideologies. Metaphors, then, can
be viewed as one type of linguistic expression that are manifested through
representation and legitimization strategies, which can be used by
text-producers to achieve cognitive and emotive coercion.


“Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” revisits common CDA themes
and attempts to situate them in an explicitly cognitive and evolutionarily based
model. Readers who are well versed in CDA research – both traditional approaches
and emerging ones – will encounter much that is familiar within the integrative
framework that Hart advocates. In particular, in the section devoted to
evolutionary psychology, Hart dedicates three chapters to some of the most
salient 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 drawback
of this characteristic is that some of the content that Hart presents does not
break new ground per se, but rather repackages standard CDA fare.

On the other hand, Hart is not simply regurgitating CDA principals. Instead, the
familiar 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. As
a result, Hart is able to propose a more unified framework of well-attested
discursive strategies aimed at positive self- and negative other-presentation
(e.g. ‘reference,’ ‘predication’), which he considers to be instances of
coercion that are manifest by various linguistic elements (e.g. metaphor). By
addressing resonant CDA themes CDA from the unique perspective of cognitive
science, Hart presents a coherent model imbued with explanatory force.
Therefore, in addition to furthering theoretical development that is
complementary to CDA research, a strength of Hart’s work is that it moves more
in the direction of explaining discriminatory discourse and their effectiveness
with regard to human cognition rather than being chiefly descriptive.

A second principal strength of Hart’s book is its future-oriented vision; Hart
does not consider his model to be definitive but instead provides a more unified
framework from which further CDA research can be conducted. The concluding
chapter even alludes to certain possibilities for such directions, such as
exploring additional semantic categories that have been investigated in
cognitive linguistics (Hart 2010: 191).

Potentially problematic, however, is the manner in which Hart constructs the
evolutionary narrative as the basis for modern strategic discourse and the
binary division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ On the one hand, while linking modern
discriminatory discourse to properties of ancestral discourses (as projected by
evolutionary psychology) may add to the explanatory dimension, there remains
much to be discovered in the gap between these points. This leaves much to be
explicated, which would seem to only enrich explanation. At present, without
further evidence from intervening periods, the explanatory force of the argument
is mitigated because it only pushes discriminatory discourses back on the
timeline of human history, even though this may effectively account for the
emergence of discursive discrimination.

Moreover, Hart’s evolutionary account is dangerously poised to rigidify the
common tendency among CDA work of simplistically portraying the structure of
othering as binary, rather than allowing for more complex and dynamic
architecture in self- and other-presentation. Finally, while Hart successfully
motivates the rationale for both the role of the critical discourse analyst as
well as the validity of many CDA assumptions, he does not account for the
ethical dimension of CDA. That is, he defends the necessity of the analyst, but
not the analyst’s moral stance(s), which is also indispensible to the CDA
program and its ‘critical’ nature.

Hart’s “Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Science” should prove an
excellent resource for graduate students and researchers interested in pursuing
critical discourse analytic approaches to understanding language, society, and
cognition. 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, will
find the book especially useful. This includes both CDA advocates as well as
opponents, since the latter will find a well-argued response to multiple
criticisms pertaining to relevance and efficacy. Moreover, graduate students and
researchers in cognitive science will also find compelling reasons to attend to
CDA perspectives, since Hart contends that maintaining a ‘critical’ stance is
not just essential for exercises in CDA, but also necessary for understanding
how strategic discourses operate more generally. Hart not only presents a novel
perspective on how to approach and understand immigration discourses, but also
successfully outlines a new agenda for CDA research that focuses on manipulation
and ideology in discourse. Moreover, he does this in a way that explicitly
encourages further theoretical development.


Chilton, Paul. 2005. Missing links in mainstream CDA: Modules, blends and the
critical instinct. In R. Wodak & P. Chilton (eds.), A New Agenda in Critical
Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins,

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

Krzyżanowski, Michał & Wodak, Ruth. 2008. The Politics of Exclusion: Debating
Migration 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 of
Racism and Antisemitism. London: Routledge.

Reisigl, Martin & Wodak, Ruth. 2009. The discourse-historical approach (DHA). In
R. 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 Critical
Discourse 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: A
discourse-historical analysis. Discourse Studies, 10(1), 83-118.

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

Wodak, Ruth & Sedlak, Maria. 2000. “We demand that the foreigners adapt to our
lifestyle”: Political discourse on immigration laws in Austria and the United
Kingdom. 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 graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Kansas. His research interests include language documentation, (critical) discourse analysis, language and ideology, discourse and memory, and the linguistic representation of Indigenous peoples, especially in non-Indigenous contexts.

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