Some pitfalls of doing qualitative discourse analysis
Let me save you a great deal of time. There is no correct definition of discourse, only useful and not so useful ones! At the end of the day you will be attracted to the type of Discourse Analysis (DA) that ‘works’ for you (i.e., the type of DA that answers some of your research questions). Having said that, there are definitions of discourse that are more productive than others. Below I describe four definitions on a sliding scale from the least radical to the most radical:
In the most common form, discourse refers to any regulated system of statements. This definition has a long history. For example, in psycholinguistics it involved structural analysis at the expense of content that was usually ignored. Post-structuralism gradually broke with this static definition which leads us to our second definition.
Here discourse is still more or less synonymous with text or talk but now analysis involves a more practical engagement. Post-structuralist analysis tries to discover how ‘real’ the text is, what its ‘social impact’ may be and to discern the ‘identity’ of the speaker behind the text (i.e., the character, temperament and motives of the speaker). The works of Wetherell and Potter (1992) would be a good example of this trend.
A third type of definition is still within the realm of post-structuralism but a bit less specific and a bit more Foucauldian. Here ‘[Discourse refers] to ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and relations between them. Discourses are more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. They constitute the nature of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern’. Foucault paid particular attention to the periodisation of local discourses and how certain knowledges and practices change historically. A...