The artist formerly known as CDA

In the last round of review of my article it was recommended that I’d look into discourse and practice, for example by taking a closer look at the work of Theo van Leeuwen, rather than building my own, I’d say, perhaps, at least seemingly, eclectic mix of a bit of this and a bit of that. Now, I have nothing against van Leeuwen, nor his work, and I am aware of what he has done, even though I wouldn’t say that I subscribe to his approach. There are some bits that I agree on and then there are bits that I don’t agree on, which is why I go my own way instead, but not out of disrespect to him, nor to his work, nor to anyone else, nor to the work of anyone else, for that matter. I realize that I may at times come across as disrespectful when I don’t agree with something but, I’d say, that I usually do try to point out what I agree with and what I find useful in other people’s work. My point of contention is rather that I really don’t see why anyone would just adopt someone else’s views, wholesale, and the apply them uncritically, rather than trying to find their own way, to think for themselves. And yes, yes, I’m exactly the kind of guy who, instead of just reading and taking cues from others, reads what other have read and, possibly, what they have read, and so on and so on.

Anyway, so, for some reason, perhaps because the manuscript ought to come out of review, again, soon-ish (not that I know that, considering how things are at the moment), I took a look at the book that was recommended, which then led me to look up something more recent (not that the date of publication is really telling of anything, in itself, except how time works). I landed on ‘The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies’ edited by John Flowerdew and John Richardson. As you might expect, it’s sort of a potpourri of a bit of this and a bit of that lumped under the moniker Critical Discourse Studies (CDS) or, as it is better known as, Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), which, according to the editors (1) “aims to advance our understanding of how discourse figures in social processes, social structures and social change”, drawing “heavily on social theories” and seeking “to develop a critically contextualized approach to linguistics which identifies issues of ideology, power and inequality as central to our field of studies.”

The editors (1) specify that while CDS is not strictly speaking limited to the empirical or analytical analysis of language, that is to say all things linguistic, it, nonetheless, puts emphasis on language or, rather, language use, and text tends to be the main unit of analysis. In other words, as they (1) point out, “CDS practitioners are united in seeing language as a form of social practice and that its proper focus is in its contexts of use.” So, if you ask me, CDS is basically another label for pragmatics, considering that the editors (1) state that it “is inspired by the work of Austin… and Wittgenstein…” who both emphasize “language as always doing something.” I’d say that I agree with this view. This would make me a practitioner of CDS, not that I care about labels, really, as they are often just territorial pissings.

The editors (1) also emphasize that “CDS is problem-driven (as opposed to theory-driven) and aims to uncover hidden features of language use and debunk their claims to authority”, by making “the implicit explicit in language use.” Now, I’d say that I also agree with this, which would qualify me as a practitioner of CDS, but I agree with this only partially. My own approach is certainly problem-driven or, to put in Bergsonist terms, problematic, rather than theory-driven or theorematic, considering that, for me, theory is really just another word for practice as all knowledge is rooted in practice. The problem for me with theory, or rather using the word theory, is that it tends to assume that by analyzing the world, by examining some empirical particulars, it is possible to uncover how things really are, so that what is called theory is not just a theory, among other theories, but the theory, without any qualification needed to call it that, which, in turn, gets used to explain just about anything. Simply put, my beef with theory is that people tend to think of it as separate from practice, even though it is not.

I’ve explained this issue pertaining to theory and practice in some of my previous essays, but I’ll do it again, because it is only fitting here. Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze explain this issue well in ‘Intellectuals and Power’. If you ask me, anyone doing CDS, pragmatics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics or social semiotics, whatever you want to call it for some territorial reasons, should read this (as actually acknowledged by Crispin Thurlow, 338, later on in this handbook), not because they should bow down to some supposedly almighty icons, such as Foucault and Deleuze, but because these two happen to manage to explain this issue so well. Anyway, Deleuze (205) points out that:

“At one time, practice was considered an application of theory, a consequence; at other times, it had an opposite sense and it was thought to inspire theory, to be indispensable for the creation of future theoretical forms. In any event, their relationship was understood in terms of a process of totalization.”

So, this is not the case for Deleuze (205), nor is for Foucault, as he (205) also points out. Foucault (207-208) steers the conversation more towards the role of the intellectual, following Deleuze’s (206) point about how “[a] theorising intellectual, for us, is no longer a subject, a representing or representative consciousness”, which also means that “[r]epresentation no longer exists; there’s only action – theoretical action and practical action which serve as relays and form networks.” Foucault (207) agrees with Deleuze and points out, perhaps more clearly than Deleuze, that, contemporarily, the intellectuals are just as in the middle of things as anyone else, “themselves agents of this system of power – the idea of their responsibility for ‘consciousness’ and discourse forms part of the system.” In other words, for Foucault (207-208), the intellectual, or the academic, is not, no longer, in the position to speak for others, to do things for them, but rather “to struggle against the forms of power that transform him [or her] into its object and instrument in the sphere of ‘knowledge,’ ‘truth,’ ‘consciousness,’ and ‘discourse.’” This leads Foucault (208) to state that “[i]n this sense theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice.” I agree with Foucault on this. Theory is practice. That said, if that’s the case, then what’s the point with using the word theory? Well, Deleuze (208), in agreement with Foucault, states that instead of thinking theory as informed by practice or informing/applying practice, “[a] ‘theory’ is exactly like a box of tools”, simply useful, functional, and, importantly, not for itself, nor for the theoretician, but in general. So, yeah, theory is just something that we do, you know, practice, and it helps people do just that, to practice whatever it is that practice pertains to.

This discussion of theory and practice is also linked to language. Valentin Vološinov (37-38) addresses this in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ in his discussion of inner speech, how the way we think is not at all unlike speech, in general. For him (14), what makes us humans humans is the use of words, which, highly importantly, operates as “the primary medium of the individual consciousness”, functioning in the role of “the semiotic of inner life”, in short, inner speech. In addition, he (14) also makes note of how words or, well, language, doesn’t require anything except our own bodies and thus it is available to us at all times, hence its centrality in “inner employment”. In fact, in his (15) view, whatever we say or do, in whatever way, that is so say regardless of the semiotic modes in question, is always “bathed by” inner speech, that is to say conditioned by it. This does not, however, mean that, for him (15), you can just jump from one semiotic mode to another, simply substituting one with another. As he (15) points out, “[i]t is ultimately impossible to convey a musical composition or pictorial image adequately in words.” What’s important about this is that one is always acting through language, regardless of how one expresses oneself.

What’s even more important is how, for him (38), the point is that when we think or, for example, speak (by ourselves, out loud) or read, engage in anything, supposedly, solitary, we aren’t acting in a solitary manner, like enacting a monologue, but rather a dialogue. He (93) further specifies this, noting that speech, that is to say speaking out loud, is merely an “outwardly actualized utterance”, “an island rising from the boundless sea of inner speech”. Of course, the problem with inner speech is that, unlike outwardly actualized speech, you can’t research it the way you do it in linguistics because, well, you don’t have anything to record it with and others can’t access your inner speech either, as he (26) does point out.

What I want to take from this, how Vološinov explains this issue, is that words are important but not for the reasons people think they are. As argued by Deleuze, alongside Félix Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, language is not about communicating information between people. For Deleuze and Guattari (75-77), it is, of course, obvious that communication is involved, as is information, as otherwise there is no transmission, no connection between people, nor anything to transmit to others. This is the point where their (77-78) views converge with CDS or CDA, in the sense that language consist of speech acts or, more broadly speaking, language is about acting, doing things with words, to use J. L. Austin’s formulation. Simply put, as they (76) express it, “[w]ords are not tools”, not because we don’t do things with words, but because, as also explained by Vološinov (14) words are part and parcel of consciousness, how it is that we make sense of anything, regardless of the semiotic modes involved. In other words, to really hammer this home, speech does not involve using language because speech is not something external to language, as summarized by Deleuze and Guattari (78). So, in short, when I say something, or write something, I’m not picking up language, like a tool, to express something that I’ve thought prior to the expression. Instead, I’m simply doing, acting, performing, with my body, as it is. I’m also doing that when I’m just thinking, even though I cannot make that apparent to anyone else because they don’t have access to my inner speech. It’s same if I touch something with my hand. I’m not using my hand, as if it was external to me. I don’t tell my hand to do that, nor do I operate my hand. I just do.

Anyway, following this tangent on theory, it’s time to get back to the introduction by Flowerdew and Richardson. Right, I covered the bit on CDS or CDA being problem-driven rather than theory-driven, problematic rather than theorematic, as also explained in Bergsonist terms by Deleuze and Guattari (362), but not their (1) bits on the goals of CDS or CDA, “to uncover hidden features of language use”, as well as to debunk claims to authority through language use. Now, as I just explained, I don’t agree fully with these aspects of CDS or CDA, not because I don’t agree with those goals, but because in this formulation language is defined as external to people, something that is used, rather than being a matter of performance, something that people act or perform. I also don’t think there are hidden features of language, as such. I’d say that it’s rather that people don’t think about language in this way. For the many language just is, neutral, a matter of using language to communicate information. In this conceptualization of language, it may, of course, appear to them that some features of language use are indeed hidden, but that has to do with that presupposition. So, for me, it’s not so much that language has hidden features but rather that some of its features are hiding in plain sight. They are there, in the open, but you just don’t pay attention to them because they are part and parcel with it. With regard to authority, or, rather how language and authority are connected, I think this would require a bit more clarification as to what it is that this is supposed to mean. The editors (1) do indicate that the goal is “to make the implicit explicit in language use” but that’s still rather vague to me. I’d put the emphasis on the context, rather than language, who it is that is expressing something and to whom it is expressed, what positions people occupy in relation to one another.

So, in summary, thus far, I both agree and disagree with what the editors, Flowerdew and Richardson, define as CDS or CDA. I guess you could say that my disagreements are rather minor, but I’d say they are, nonetheless, rather substantial, consider that my conception of language is (even more) radically performative (immanent and contingent) in comparison to CDS or CDA, at least inasmuch it is contrasted with the broad definition provided by the editors (1). I think it’s also worth pointing that their definition should not be understood as a definitive definition of CDS or CDA, considering that different people hold different views and they are, I believe, only summarizing these views. I think it’s only likely that some of the people mentioned in the introduction might not agree with their definition or that they’d agree with it, but only to a certain point. Not that it matters that much, but, as a side note, they (2) point out that they came to prefer CDS over CDA as, for them, perhaps, CDA puts too much emphasis on analysis, whereas CDS leaves more room for discussion, including but not limited to “philosophical, theoretical, methodological and practical developments.” That said, much of what is considered CDS is, of course, what is also known as CDA as the name change is a rather recent thing, as the editors (2) point out.

What I’ve found problematic with CDA is apparent in the summary of CDS provided by the editors (2). Firstly, CDS is explained in relation to a number of concepts:

“We study society through discourse, and contextualise (and understand) discourse through an analysis of its historical, sociopolitical and cultural foundations.”

So far, we have society, discourse, context, history, politics and culture mentioned, in some shape or form. Anyway, they (2) continue:

“Discourse and language are seen in a dialectical relationship, with social structures affecting discourse and discourse affecting social structure.”

That adds language, dialectics and structure to the list. They (2) continue:

“In the former process, while individuals may exercise discursive agency, this is done within the constraints imposed by social conventions, ideologies and power relations.”

This adds agency, ideology and power to the mix. They (2) go on:

“In the latter process, rather than merely representing social reality, discourse(s) actually (re)create social worlds and relations[.]”

That’s representation and reality that gets added to the mix. They (2) have this to add:

“At the same time, discourse is seen as an essential component in the creation of knowledge and meaning.”

So, also knowledge and meaning get a mention. Now, of course, there are some others, like world, which might get counted for reality. Some of these also get mentioned a number of times. For example, discourse is mentioned seven times. Discursive also gets a mention, so that’s eight times that whatever is meant by discourse is mentioned in a single paragraph that, nonetheless, does not include a definition for it. Sure, it’s there, implied, but, then again, wasn’t the task of CDS or CDA to make the implicit explicit? Okay, perhaps I’m getting ahead of things, considering that the editors are, in fact, just summarizing CDS or CDA, but this is, in my view, still somewhat contradictory to the goals of CDS or CDA. How so? Well, if you want to go against inequality, don’t put yourself on a pedestal. This is supposed to be a handbook. It’s not written for fellow practitioners of CDS or CDA, so what’s with the jargon?

I know that’s harshly put, but, as discussed by Foucault and Deleuze in the aforementioned recorded conversation, the way I see it, the task of the intellectual, the academic, the researcher, the analyst, whatever it is that you want to call yourself, is not to speak for the people, but provide them tools to make sense of things on their own. So, instead of providing a list of concepts, explain the concepts and why they are relevant to what it is that you seek to accomplish. I mean CDS or CDA is at least supposedly problem-driven, not theory-driven, as already discussed, so just explain the problem, then the concepts, i.e. the tools that you find most useful for solving the problem, so that the problem can be solved, not only by you, the expert, but by everyone.

The editors (2) do go on to point out that CDS or CDA is indeed like a potpourri, so it’s going to be difficult to pin down what it is that this or that person subscribes to and/or how they explain it all in their work. To get to the point, to repeat the gripe I already mentioned, what, I guess, is my main gripe with CDS or CDA, I just don’t like how all these concepts are presented, not only by the editors (whose job it is just summarize it all) but also by the CDS or CDA practitioners themselves. To be blunt, I’m not fond of explaining discourse as involving a dialectical relationship or as a matter of representation. In my view these don’t mesh that well. That said, I’m not saying you can’t do that, go that route, fine by me, but rather that I’m not for it.

Before I explain what the problem with mixing discourse with dialectics and/or representation, I have to point out the obvious. At this stage, I’m yet to be presented a definition of discourse, which makes it hard for me to assess whether even mentioning it alongside dialectics and/or representation makes sense to me. Alastair Pennycook does everyone a favor by explaining this issue particularly well in his article ‘Incommensurable Discourses’. While this article was published over 25 years ago and things have certainly changed in the meanwhile, you have to acknowledge that, I’m struck by how things haven’t actually changed that much, by how timely it still is when read it in 2020. Anyway, to summarize this article, he covers three distinct views of discourse. Firstly, in applied linguistics discourse is typically used to explain language use, how language works beyond the sentence level or, to be more specific, how sentences are connected to one another, as a matter of coherence, as he (116-117) points out. It’s worth emphasizing that this definition is very narrow, but also widely adopted, as he (117) goes on to add. I won’t get into the details as I’m sure you can do yourself a favor and read this article yourself, but I’m summarize his (118) main gripe about this definition as having to do with how context is decontextualized even when it is taken into account. What he (119) means by this is how time and place may well be taken into account, but “[t]he language-using subject is seen as a more-or-less autonomous actor who establishes meanings by intention and inference.” Simply put, in this view of discourse context is a mere space-time container which influences the use of language, but not those who are considered to be using it.

Secondly, in response to these limitations, CDS or CDA typically defines discourse as social practice, which, in his (121) view, retains the notion that there is language and then there is language use, but expands it by relating it to other social practices. In other words, the context is no longer decontextualized as the act of using language is seen as a social act and the actor, the person using language, is not cut of from the society, as he (121) goes on to specify this view. In my view, this second view (CDS/CDA) is already a major improvement over the first view (applied linguistics). That said, while this second view remedies the problems undermining the first view, namely the ideal “free-willed subject”, it introduces its own problems that come to define people as mere puppets of society, duped by ideology, as he (126) points out. To be more specific, he (125-126) considers this view to be too deterministic and reductionist. There is emphasis on power relations, how inequality affects who can and can’t do this and/or that, but, in his (215) view, and I agree, it ends up explaining this through “an over-simplified version of society whereby a ‘dominant group’ has power while the ‘oppressed’ do not, and become too deterministic in ascribing causality to socio-economic relations.” This results in “a problematically static view of both language and society” in which what takes place at the micro level, whatever it is that people do, is determined by the macro level, the social structures; “socio-economic relations determine power, power determines ideology, ideology determines orders of discourse, and orders of discourse determine discourse”, as he (126) goes on to summarize the issue. Simply put, as the macro determines the micro, the micro ends up being a mere matter of reproducing the macro, which explains his (126) criticism of the underlying determinism. Now, I’d say that it’s not that there isn’t a tendency for things to remain more or less the same, because I think there is this tendency, but I think this view is far too simplistic, as he (125) also points out. In addition, as he (125) point outs, this view posits “a ‘real’ world that is obfuscated by ideology” and the task of the discourse analyst is then “to help to remove this veil of obscurity and help people to see the ‘truth’”, that is to say to reveal to them that they’ve been duped. In other words, as he (126) goes on to clarify, this view builds on the presuppositions that “there is the real world as opposed to the unreal world”, which is “the real world misrepresented through ideology”, and that “there is ideological representation as opposed, presumably, to non-ideological representation”, that is to say that it is possible to represent reality without it being tainted by ideology. This also provides us a definition of ideology, which echoes how Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (67) define it in ‘The German Ideology’ as pertaining to being “able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what [that person] really is.”

Thirdly, it is possible to follow Foucault in his (49) definition discourse as pertaining to the “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak”, as he defined by him in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’. But why would you opt for this view? Well, because it “allows for critical analysis while avoiding the reductions and totalizations of more Marxist-based analysis”, as aptly summarized by Pennycook (126). Now, to be fair, not all CDS or CDA practitioners engage in Marxist analyses. In fact, as also acknowledged by Pennycook (126-127), some of the practitioners “explicitly draw on Foucault’s work”. That said, as he (126-17) also points out, at the risk of coming across like some prude purist, those who do draw on Foucault’s work tend to do so at their own peril. For him (127) CDS or CDA practitioners tend to prefer to define “discourse still as a linguistic phenomenon, albeit socially embedded”, determined by ideology, serving the interest of those who have power, and pertaining to “the delimitation and regulation of can be said”. This is in contradiction with Foucault’s definition of discourse which is clearly productive, in the sense that it is concerned with “the production of what can be said”, as noted by him (127). This may appear like a minor distinction, a matter of emphasis, but it is arguably much more than that. For Pennycook (127) the issue is that CDS or CDA practitioners tend to treat linguistics separate from social sciences, so that it involves linguistic analysis but the social or socio-economic framework is bolted to it, like a side-car. This is not how Foucault defines discourse as his definition treats everything as embedded in discourse, as Pennycook (127-128) also points out. The notion of ideology is also rendered useless by Foucault’s conception of discourse (albeit he does mention it, time to time in his earlier work). As summarized by Pennycook (127), the problem with ideology, vis-à-vis discourse, is that it carries the notion of falsity or falsehood, what is considered to be presented underhandedly to conceal what’s real or the truth in order to dupe people into acting against their own interests. Foucault’s definition of discourse doesn’t suffer from this because discourse is always a matter of production and what is produced is not defined in these terms, as true or false, but as claims to truth, as Pennycook (128) goes on to point out.

Pennycook (131) summarizes how Foucauldian discourse analysis differs from how it is done in applied linguistics and CDS/CDA:

“It is not concerned with how discourses … reflect social reality, but how discourses produce social realities; it does not look for relationships between discourse and society/politics, but rather theorizes discourse as always/already political; it does not seek out an ultimate cause or basis for power and inequality, but rather focuses on the multiplicity of sites through which power operates; and it does not posit a reality outside discourse, but rather looks to the discursive production of truth.”

Well put, well put. So, yeah, language and discourse are always/already imbued with politics and power. That said, I’d like to point out that this should not be understood as positing that there is no reality in itself, that language and/or discourse is all there is. No, it’s rather that you are always stuck in language and discourse, in the sense that the way we understand reality, what we considered to be real or true, is always defined in relation to what Pennycook (131) calls “the discursive production of truth.”

To get back on track here, to be clear, it’s not that I don’t consider representation to be important, because I think it is important. It’s rather that representation is important because it’s part of the dominant way of thinking (dualism, representationalism, essentialism) that Foucauldian discourse analysis seeks to undermine. I don’t know about others but at least I think the task of a discourse analyst is not to just address representations, one after another, to judge whether they are true or false, that is to say to dispel falsehoods or illusions, in order to get to the bottom of things, to reveal the truth, but to indicate how what people think are representations (of something otherworldly, like ideas or essences) are mere human fabrications (hence the focus on discourse), which can be changed if people think that it’s the best course of action.

Then again, I guess it’s not that uncommon to define discourse in terms of representation. For example, Stuart Hall (72) states in ‘Foucault: Power, Knowledge and Discourse’ that Foucault didn’t study language but “discourse as a system of representation” (bolded in the original), despite the keen observations that for Foucault discourse is not just about “passages of connected writing or speech” and that it “defines and produces the objects of our knowledge.” No, no, no. Hell no. He did not define it as a system of representation. Foucault is clear on this when he (49) defines discourses in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ as:

“[P]ractices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

So, if discourses have to do with the practices which indeed, according to his definition, form the objects, let’s say this table that I’m sitting next to, or, rather, what is meant by table, in general, what on earth do the objects represent, that is to say re-present? To be clear, there are no eternal ideas or essences for Foucault, no things in themselves, so what do the objects represent, that is to say re-present, present again, refer to or stand in for? Now, while I think that Hall (73) is correct about how, for Foucault, there are physical things, what I’d call the non-discursive, and that they are only meaningful to us as objects of knowledge, that is to say discursively, I don’t agree with how “statements about ‘madness’, ‘punishment’ or ‘sexuality’ … give us a certain kind of knowledge about these things” when, “these things” are themselves matters of discourse, that is to say formed through discourse, through certain systematic practices. To be clear, my beef is not with his summary of Foucault’s work, but with how I think he is missing the point. To me, statements can’t give us knowledge of anything, that is to say of any thing, because those things, for example this table or, rather tableness, are themselves our discursive creations. It’s not that they don’t have existence outside language, because they do, but rather that they don’t make sense to us outside language, as Hall (73) does point out. Instead of using a silly example like tableness, Foucault (32) explains this issue in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ in reference to madness:

“[S]tatements belonging to psychopathology all seem to refer to an object that emerges in various ways in individual or social experience and which may be called madness.”

That said, he (32) adds that:

“But I soon realized that the unity of the object ‘madness’ does not enable one to individualize a group of statements, and to establish between them a relation that is both constant and describable.”

In other words, there is no ‘madness’ in itself, just as there’s no ‘tableness’ in itself. He (32) gives two reasons for this:

“It would certainly be a mistake to try to discover what could have been said of madness at a particular time by interrogating the being of madness itself, its secret content, its silent, self-enclosed truth[.]”

Why? Well, he (32) does give us an answer:

“[M]ental illness was constituted by all that was said in all the statements that named it, divided it up, described it, explained it, traced its developments, indicated its various correlations, judged it, and possibly gave it speech by articulating, in its name, discourses that were to be taken as its own.”

So, in short, the object of madness or mental illness, materialized as mad people or mentally ill people, is constituted through discourse, by various systematic practices. Following this first reason, he (32) specifies the second reason by adding that:

“Moreover, this group of statements is far from referring to a single object, formed once and for all, and to preserving it indefinitely as its horizon of inexhaustible ideality[.]”

In other words, the formation of objects is not permanent nor localizable to just this or that place. He (32) clarifies this by giving some examples:

“[T]he object presented as their correlative by medical statements of the seventeenth or eighteenth century is not identical with the object that emerges in legal sentences or police action[.]”

So, long story short, discourses are specific to time and place, that is to say to the actual contexts. He (32) further specifies this:

“[S]imilarly, all the objects of psychopathological discourses were modified from Pinel or Esquirol to Bleuler: it is not the same illnesses that are at issue in each of these cases; we are not dealing with the same madmen.”

Indeed, something like ‘madness’ is very broad, as is ‘mental illness’, as is ‘mad people’ or ‘mentally ill people’, and even such broad brush strokes are subject to change, as he points out. Taking all this into consideration, I’m not sure how you could say that for Foucault discourse is a system of representation. What does ‘madness’ or ‘tableness’ refer to? What do they represent? My answer is nothing. So, I’d carefully rephrase Hall’s (73) formulation, so that “statements about ‘madness’, ‘punishment’ or ‘sexuality’” do not to “give us a certain kind of knowledge about these things”, as if there were “these things” that, on their own, made any sense outside discourse, but rather produce what is known as “‘madness’, punishment or ‘sexuality’”, which then come to inform “the rules which prescribe certain ways of talking about these topics and exclude other ways”, thus “govern[ing] what is ‘sayable or ‘thinkable’ about [them], at a particular” spatiotemporal context.

Anyway, back to the introduction. Right, to me, it’s just patently absurd to mix discourse and representation. It’s not only that it doesn’t make any sense to me, being contradictory, but also that it’s just counterproductive. It takes you back to the start. It re-introduces the problem Foucault seeks to solve. So, to be candid, when I see dialectics, be it Platonic or Hegelian dialectics, mentioned alongside discourse, I’m like what in the actual fuck now? No, no, and once more no. It’s the same when people happily mix Marxist concepts with Foucauldian concepts. Now, this does not mean that you can’t or shouldn’t explain things in different terms. You sure can and it can even be really helpful to some readers. I can also appreciate someone who goes all out, like, for example, as a hardcore Marxist. I’ll most likely disagree with such, but I can appreciate such dedication. I particularly appreciate people who examine their own presuppositions, what they build on and why they find it apt to go that route.

I’m just against picking this and/or that concept and just going with it, without explaining how it is that they work alongside one another. I’d say that in many cases they don’t work that well together or they’d need a lot of reworking, a lot of explaining, which is something that you rarely encounter in academic texts, partly because people can’t be arsed to do that, it’s just easier not to, and partly because, apparently, in the digital era, when page count doesn’t count, somehow, page count still counts! Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t combine things and/or do your thing, as you see fit. Feel free to reappropriate, pick and mix, be creative, but it’d be great if it was explained what’s from where and how they are used and/or reconceptualized.

To be fair, the editors (2-3) do provide some definitions to some (but not all of the concepts) mentioned earlier. Only the ones that they consider central to CDS or CDA are covered. They (2) state that discourse can be understood as just language, how it is used, in general, or as referring “to a specific set of meanings expressed through particular forms and uses which give expression to particular institutions or social groups”, how language is used in particular, by this and/or that group. In the latter sense, the various discourses of various institutions or social groups, are “recognisable in terms of the ideologies they convey and the linguistic and other semiotic structures through which they are expressed” and they can be expressed in any semiotic mode, not just through language, as they (3) go on to clarify. Okay, okay, I can kind of dig the initial definition of discourse, how it pertains to social groups, how it is that they make sense of this and that, but I’m not fond of how it is then explained with recourse to ideology and (linguistic and semiotic) structure(s). Sure, you can go through that route, but I don’t know why you would, considering that Foucault (49) gives us an apt definition of discourse and discourse analysis in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’:

“[Discourse analysis] consists of not – of no longer – treating discourses as a group of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

Sure, it does have to do with language, with words, with signs, but that’s beside the point, as he (49) goes on to point out:

“Of course, discourses are composed of signs; but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to the language (langue) and to speech [(parole)]. It is this ‘more’ that we must reveal and describe.”

Indeed, there’s more to discourse than just language as an abstract system or the use of language, the concrete instances of language in use, to put this in Saussurean terms, and, as you can see, Foucault (49) isn’t interested in either of these two, but in something completely different. He (49) is interested in the formation of objects through discursive practices, how it is that language comes to produce this and/or that order of things, to explain this through one his book titles.

Right, back to the introduction. While I can appreciate how the editors (3) explain what they mean by ideology, as “sets of beliefs and values belonging to particular social groups” that underpin discourses and come to affect, if not determine or define, how people engage with one another and the discourses they also engage with, I don’t know why you need to do this, considering that in the Foucauldian sense discourse is already a matter of practice, of interaction, of dialogue rather than dialectics.

To the editors’ credit, the pitfalls of ideology or, rather relying on that concept, are explained in this introduction, albeit more implicitly than explicitly. Following a fairly apt definition of ideology as, well, just good old bullshit, saying one thing instead of another in order to promote or secure one’s interests, commonly known as lying, they (3) make note of how this, supposedly, results in the creation of falsehoods that are against people’s best interests. I guess one should explain alienation, false consciousness and reification here, to properly unpack this, but I’ll let them continue. So, as they (3) put it, the problem with ideology, as it is often defined as, is that the creation of falsity is simply thought of as caused by the existing economic social relations. Simply put, this is far too simplistic. It’s not entirely inaccurate, considering that economic social relations do play a role, no doubt about it, but it’s just too simplistic. Saying that it’s against or contrary to people’s interests is also too simplistic. I reckon that it would be more apt to say that ideology has to do with the interest of some, which, may, of course, be against the interests of others, but that’s not necessarily the case, even if it is often the case. It’s more of a self interested thing, for me, as opposed to against them. I think they also put it well when they (3) state that ideology is superficial falsity rather than genuine falsity, a matter of impressions, how something comes across, hence the bullshit artistry involved. To reiterate an earlier point, I think Marx and Engels (67) explain this really well in ‘The German Ideology’ when they state that it has to do with being “able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he [or she] really is.” Of course, it’s not that people always know what’s what, from what’s being said, but rather that people do know, from experience, that it is possible to say one thing and then do another thing, for rather obvious reasons, because it is or at least appears to be in their interest to do so. For example, people may say nice things to you, not because they like you, but because, for them, it involves the least effort. It might be that they are nice to you not because they want you to like them, to appreciate them, to speak highly of you or something, but because that way they have to spend the least amount of their time, their precious time, dealing with you. It’s nothing against you, as such. It’s just that it’s all about them. Of course, those two things are not, in themselves, mutually exclusive. Again, it’s just whatever benefits them. It’s fine if it benefits you as well, inasmuch it doesn’t take away from them or it doesn’t take away more from them than something else would under some other configuration, for example in the case of dealing with other people instead of you. That’s min/maxing for you.

To get back on track here, I think the problem with ideology is that it doesn’t get you anywhere. You can always point out the obvious when someone is claiming that this and/or that is ideological or a matter of ideology, that is to say an illusion to be dispelled by stating that what they hold to be true, the truth, is, in fact, a mere illusion, something that is said to promote certain interests. I think Foucault handles this issue much better as he turns our attention to the conditions of knowledge, to what counts as true or the truth under what circumstances and who gets to define that. This is exactly why in the conversation with Deleuze he (207-208) points out that the intellectuals, him and Deleuze included, play certain roles in all this, wittingly or unwittingly, whether they want it or not. You can no longer simply oppose something, to struggle against it, without having to acknowledge your own position. You can still act against something, sure, but you can no longer claim to be one of the ‘good guys’, that you are doing it for the greater good or the like. I think this makes you far more responsible because it’s now your neck on the line, not someone else’s. Now you can’t bullshit your way out of it.

The editors (4) also cover hegemony, a concept typically attributed to Antonio Gramsci. Again, in my opinion, like ideology, this concept is unpacked fairly well to the reader by the editors. That said, I’m not overly fond of mixing Marxist concepts with discourse, because, well, to me, it just doesn’t mesh that well it. Foucault offers a very good tool kit that deals with discourse and power (and a plethora of other things), so I’m a bit puzzled why you wouldn’t use those tools from his tool kit. It’s the same with Deleuze and Guattari, in their solo work and in their cooperative work. They offer plenty of good tools to work with. Again, this is not to say that you can’t mix a bit of this with a bit of that or acknowledge that in this or that person’s parlance, this can be explained like this or that, alongside your own explanation. For example, while I’m aware that different conceptual frameworks do not translate, one to one, I can make use of Foucault’s tool kit to explain things, only to point out that someone else would explain this in a similar manner, without mixing the two. In some cases certain concepts transfer and/or translate from one framework to another quite well, without needing reworking, but it’s rarely the case that multiple concepts transfer from one framework or plane, to use the Deleuzo-Guattarian parlance, to another framework or plane without a hitch, because the underlying presuppositions of different frameworks or planes are just different. With regard to hegemony, I actually quite like the concept, but I’d, nonetheless, define it slightly differently, but I’ll get back to it in a bit.

I’m not sure why, for example, someone would discuss discursive power as something separate from the exercise of power, from one point to another, as mentioned by the editors (4) in summary of certain approaches in CDS. Again, in my view, Foucault defines power much better and his definition subsumes any type of exercise of power, be it discursive or not. To be clear, he (94) defines power in ‘The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction’, stating that:

“Power is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away; power is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of nonegalitarian and mobile relations.”

In other words, power is, first and foremost, always something that is exercised, from one point to another, which means that it’s relational. He (94) adds that:

“Relations of power are not in a position of exteriority with respect to other types of relationships (economic processes, knowledge relationships, sexual relations), but are immanent in the latter.”

In short, relations of power are immanent, already there, here and now, ready to be exercised from one point to another. He (94) further specifies this:

“[Relations of power] are the immediate effects of the divisions, inequalities, and disequilibriums which occur in the [other types of relationships], and conversely they are the internal conditions of these differentiations.”

So, you can’t separate relations of power from other relations because they are immanent to all relations, here and now. Each exercise of power depends on the relations of power, the existing conditions relevant to this and/or that situation where the power is exercised. For example, familial relationships come with certain relations of power included in them. The parents are in a superior position in relation to their children and therefore they can exercise power over their children. To make more sense of why that is would require one address “economic processes and knowledge relationships”, that is to say how the adults work to make money while the children are dependent on the adults to provide for them, as assumed to be the correct way of handling things in many societies. As you can see, if you would want to actually examine how that is, you would have to analyze how the system works and what kind of discourses are at play. In other words, as exercises of power are tied to discourses, I don’t really understand why one would speak of discursive power instead of just power.

Foucault’s (94) definition of power also indicates why it is not a matter of ideology:

“[R]elations of power are not in superstructural positions, with merely a role of prohibition or accompaniment; they have a directly productive role, wherever they come into play.”

In other words, power is never negative or destructive. It is always productive. It may, of course, be understood as negative, but only in the sense that one creates or produces destruction or prohibition. He (94) further specifies how power is relational:

“Power comes from below; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled at the root of power relations, and serving as a general matrix-no such duality extending from the top down and reacting on more and more limited groups to the very depths of the social body.”

Now, as he (94) goes on to add, this does not mean that one may not have or end up with certain effects of power that “bring about redistributions, realignments, homogenizations, serial arrangements, and convergences of the force relations”, which, in turn come to play a large role in defining how power can be exercised, which points are deemed superior or inferior in relation to other points. He (94) also specifies that hegemony is a major domination, an effect of numerous exercises of power that sustain it. The point he (94) is making here is that hegemony is never something that is already there. The system isn’t rigged from the start. You may of course have such major dominations but they are effects, sustained by a multitude of power relations and exercises of power. In relation to discourse and discursive formations, another way of explaining this without using the term hegemony, is to speak of what Foucault (191) calls epistemes in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’:

“[E]pisteme may be suspected of being something like a world-view, a slice of history common to all branches of knowledge, which imposes on each one the same norms and postulates, a general stage of reason, a certain structure of thought that the men of a particular period cannot escape – a great body of legislation written once and for all by some anonymous hand.”

And (191):

“By episteme, we mean, in fact, the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems[.]”

Now, it’s evident from Foucault’s definitions that the emphasis is on the production of knowledge, namely within the sciences or, more broadly speaking, by academics. While I think this is a useful concept, I’d say that it has a limited purchase. It’s useful when we are focusing on the production of knowledge and role of intellectuals or academics in defining our views of the world, which I’ll cover in a moment, but it’s not as useful when addressing discourse in a broader context, for example, in relation to a society and/or its various institutions. So, I’ve come to prefer what he (131) calls a régime of truth in ‘Truth and Power’:

“Each society has its régime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

For example, I can say something like the English language doesn’t exist and that’d be true and false at the same time. How so? Well, there’s really no English language, as such, as an eternal otherworldly idea or as an essence, yet people most certainly think that English language exists, so, in a way it actually does exist, but only because people have come to think that it does. Now, it’s worth noting that this is not a matter of choice. People don’t choose to think that the English language exists. It just does. As indicated by Foucault in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ (191) and elaborated in ‘The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction’ (94-95), “power relations are both intentional and nonsubjective.” What he (95) means by this is that “there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives”, yet, “this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject”. He (94-95) points out that while it is possible to address how this and/or that effect of prior exercise of power has an effect on that calculation, when one extends that assessment well beyond the immediate, here and now, to the entire network of power relations, it is no longer possibly to say that this or that person, group of people or institution is behind that calculation. In other words, the local tactics are easy to figure out and address, but the strategies that coordinate them bear “an implicit characteristic of the great anonymous”, which he (191) also mentions in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ as the “anonymous hand” that is responsible for having written “a great body of legislation”.

Foucault (131-132) specifies in ‘Truth and Power’ that régimes of truth have certain important traits, which I’ll summarize here. Echoing what he covers in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, contemporarily a régime of truth is based on scientific discourse and the various institutions that produce it. Simply put, people with degrees, scientists and scholars, led by professors, are responsible for the production of what counts as truth. That said, these people, me included (I’ll return to this later on), take part in a system known as academics and typically work in some institution, namely in a university or some research institute. What they do is subject to what Foucault (131) calls “the demand for truth” and “constant economic and political incitement”. In simple terms, scientists and scholars are not supposed to focus on what they find interesting but on what those who give money to pay their salaries or give them grant funding consider to be not interesting but productive, useful in “economic production” and “political power”, as Foucault (131) points out. This is exactly what people who go through job or grant applications want from the applicants, that the production of knowledge has utility. Now, it’s not that research shouldn’t have utility, as that would mean that you’d be choosing to research something on the basis of it having no utility. If it is of utility, then it is. Great. It’s rather that the production of knowledge is conditioned by it. In other words, you only get hired or you get grant money if the outcome of it will have utility. Now, if you didn’t figure this out yourself, this is kind of tricky to comply with, considering that it requires you to indicate the utility of an outcome, which, of course, can’t know in advance. I’ll return to this discussion in a bit.

Before I move on to address resistance, it’s worth adding that, for Foucault (133), a régime of truth is not “ideological or superstructural”. Simply put, while it is clear that it involves major dominations, hegemonic discourses or hegemonies, these are effects, sustained by a multitude of power relations and exercises of power, as I already pointed out.

Moving on. With regard to resistance, according to Foucault (95) in ‘The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction’:

“Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.”

In other words, it might be helpful to think of resistance like you think of it as when applying a force. So, for example, if I run my hand on this table, rubbing my fingers or my wrist against it, my hand does move on its surface, but it also resists it. I can’t even explain what that is, running a hand on a table without there being the table that resists it. I can run my fingernails on the surface, to scratch the table. The table does not wholly prevent or negate the act. It resists it to this and/or that degree. My table happens to be made out of wood, so it’s fairly resistant to scratching but it’s not impervious to it. Some other material might resist it better. Now you might object to this, perhaps by stating that it is possible to move one’s hand about even in the absence of surfaces. Sure, sure. If a wave my hand or swing my arm around, there’s still all that air that resists that act (air resistance), hence the sensation of a gust of air that you can feel around your hand when you quickly move it. You don’t have that sensation unless you have that air. Anyway, my point is that resistance is built into an exercise of power, so that it’s a condition of it. In his (95) words:

“[The] existence [of power relationships] depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support, or handle in power relations. These points of resistance are present everywhere in the power network.”

Again, you have these points from which power is exercised. They form a network. I realize that this is getting borderline repetitive, but, I guess it’s worth repeating all this for the sake of emphasis. Right so, this why for Foucault (95-96) there is no simple binary when it comes to power, no ruler/ruled, dominator/dominated:

“Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable; others that are spontaneous, savage, solitary, concerted, rampant, or violent; still others that are quick to compromise, interested, or sacrificial; by definition, they can only exist in the strategic field of power relations.”

So, like I just pointed out, resistance is tied to the exercise of power in question and the conditions do vary, often quite considerably. This is why he (96) states that:

“[Resistances] are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite.”

Yes, indeed. You can’t have one without the other. So, for example, as I pointed out, I can’t explain scratching a surface without the surface. It doesn’t make sense without it. If move my hand where a table might be but isn’t, I’m not scratching anything, I’m not doing what people would consider to be scratching. Sure, someone could say that I’m then scratching air, but I don’t think people would agree with that, that it’s possible to scratch air. They might say that it’s fair to say that I’m acting out the act of scratching, but I’m not actually scratching anything because air isn’t considered something that can be scratched. So, in a way the force or the exercise of power only makes sense in relation to another force or exercise of power that acts as its opposite, but, importantly, doesn’t negate it. Okay, it could be negated, like if, instead of scratching a table, let’s say, I’d attempt to punch through it. The table would trump my fist, unless the force applied would be great enough. Then again, maybe I just need to punch harder, wear a gauntlet…

So, to return to the introduction, the editors’ (4) discussion of discursive power makes little sense to me if one defines power as Foucault does. They (4) summarize that discursive power can be exercised in three ways, in discourse, over discourse and of discourse. In the first case, in discourse, the exercise of power pertains to the struggle over meaning. In the second case, over discourse, the exercise of power pertains to the struggle over participation in a discourse. In the third case, of discourse, the exercise of power pertains to how discourse plays a role in the exercise of power. To me, while certainly illustrative of how discourse is not separate from power, how knowledge and power are connected to one another, in a reciprocal presupposition, if you will, this is all already contained in Foucault’s (94-96) definition of power. Now, I’m not blaming the editors here, considering that they are simply summarizing the work of other CDS or CDA practitioners. In this case it’s more apt to say that I’m not buying into Anna Holzscheiter’s definition of discursive power, as the definition discussed by the editors is attributed to her. To be fair to her, I can’t really say much about this, considering I’m relying on a second hand, if not third hand account of her definition, considering I’m dealing with a summary of something that is presented in someone else’s work.

As I’m not a total a-hole, dismissive of others, for the sake of it, I opted take a look at Holzscheiter’s book chapter, ‘The Power of Discourse and the Discourse of Power’, co-written with José Antonio Flores Farfán. In this book chapter, Flores Farfán and Holzscheiter (140) indicate that, for them, the power of discourse has to do with how discourse plays a role in defining power relations, which affects how power can be exercised, which points come to be defined as superior or inferior in relation to another another. This confirms the earlier (of discourse) definition. Their (140-141) power in discourse definition deals with a more localized struggle, how people exercise power over others in interaction. This confirms the earlier (in discourse) definition but this book chapter clarifies how this has to do with studies focusing on interaction. I’d say that it emphasizes the importance of speech acts, what is done in or through language, and the discourses that set the limits, what can and can’t be said and in what ways it can and can’t be said in interaction with others.

Right, moving on, from hegemony and discursive power, to identity. The editors, Flowerdew and Richardson (4), indicate that identity is a central concept in CDS or CDA. As this is a summary, they (4) don’t offer a clear cut definition of it. Instead, they (4) state that, one one hand, identity can be understood as a construct, one that is subject to spatiotemporal change, and, on the other, it is possible to have multiple identities. They (4) also point out that, on one hand, identity can be understood as a manifestation of practice, what it is that people do or act, and, on the other hand, it can be constructed for people, considering that identity is a construct. In other words, it is possible to define identity as whatever it is that you are, at any given time, what you happen to be, without recourse to anything besides what you’ve become, as inspected in that point in time. That’s how I think of it, as a matter of singularity that needs no explanation. It is what it is. I am what I am. Alternatively, identity can be understood as something fixed, either pre-existing or created. In this latter sense, identity is truly fixed, an eternal idea or an essence, whereas in the other former sense, it is a construct and thus a matter of discourse. That said, I’d say that people tend to think that identities are eternal or essential and that they represent this and/or that identity. This discrepancy allows identities to be projected on to people, as the editors (4) point out. That’s marketing for you. That’s how you subscribe to identities that are provided for you. To put this in contemporary parlance, that’s how Instagram works.

Following the apt discussion of the conceptual centrality of identity in CDS or CDA, the editors (4) move on to emphasize the importance of critique among the practitioners of CDS or CDA:

“The common goal is to challenge inequitable distribution of power in society through the analysis of discourse which demonstrate such discursive inequalities through an analysis of their texts[.]”

I also think that this is the task of discourse analysis. The way I see it is that it’s pretty much built into it, regardless of whether you dub it as ‘critical’ or not. That said, I don’t agree with what they (4) add to this:

“In this way, specific problems of communication may be resolved, resulting in improved communication.”

What do you mean by “problems of communication” and resolving them? What do you mean by “improved communication”? It’d be great if this was explained. I guess they mean that problems pertaining to language or, rather, language use, as it is at times referred to in this introductory chapter, have to do with a perceived lack of communication or interference in communication. I just don’t buy this view that language is just a matter of successful transmission of information from between people. I also don’t agree with what they (4-5) add to this:

“Following Hegel, however, criticism is not simply a negative judgment, but has a positive emancipatory function. CD[S] thus has a specific agenda in bringing about social change, or at least supporting struggle against inequality[.]”

What if I don’t agree with Hegel? What if I disagree with his dialectics? Also, as discussed by Foucault and Deleuze, in that recorded conversation, what if I don’t agree that the intellectual or the academic should speak for the people? To reiterate the earlier point, the problem with promoting social change is that you risk ending up speaking for the people. On top of that, people tend to assume that intellectuals or academics know better than they do and that they can be trusted. That gives them authority. Now, to be fair, that might work. That might not be a problem. That said, as pointed out by Foucault (207-208) in that recorded conversation with Deleuze, there’s no guarantee that the intellectual or the academic is not a pawn for someone else. Why were you hired? Why wasn’t someone else hired? Who pays your salary? Who gave you that grant money? Why was that grant money given to you, your project or the project you are part of? Why were you, your project or the project you are part of chosen and not someone else or someone else’s project? These are the type of questions that tend to remain unanswered and rarely even asked. As Tim Ingold (385, 391) points out in ‘That’s enough about ethnography!’, academics are happy to study just about anything, except what goes in the academic world. Pierre Bourdieu addresses this in more detail in his book ‘Homo Academicus’. Similarly to Foucault, Bourdieu (xvii-xviii) points out how academics occupy certain positions in the system, just like anyone else, while emphasizing their prominent position of authority:

“[I]t is not, as it is usually thought, political stances which determine people’s stances on things academic, but their positions in the academic field which informs the stances that they adopt on political issues in general as well as on academic problems.”

To be more specific, he (xviii) adds that:

“The margin of autonomy which ultimately devolves to the specifically political sources of the production of opinions then varies according to the degree to which the interests directly associated with their position in the academic field are directly concerned or, in the case of the dominant agents, threatened.”

Indeed! He (xviii) further specifies this, noting that this also extends to academic publications. He (xviii) points out that academic norms tends to correspond to the positions of academics. Simply put, those in high positions get their work published but those aren’t in high positions don’t get their work published. To be more specific, unless you are a household name, you better subscribe to household names, to their ideas and their works. This is why, for Bourdieu (xvii-xviii) academics is a matter of conformity. He (xviii-xix) exemplifies this with how people “like Althusser, Barthes, Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault” were in fact considered heretics, if not heresiarchs, within the academic world and confined to the margins of academia, like barbarians, despite their prominence in the academic circles. What is striking about his (xvii-xix) assessment of the academic world is how those who occupy high positions, typically professors, are the ones who set the terms of what is considered the academic norm, which, in turn, affects who gets hired and in what positions, as well who gains entry to the universities, who gets to supervise students, who gets to sit in the various councils that decide on these things, and who gets to publish in outlets that are considered as proving merit among the possible candidates for this and/or that position. As he (xviii) points out, those deemed heretics or heresiarchs were only given “positions in the university system which often disqualified them from officially directing research” and “were … not allowed to direct” doctoral theses because either they failed to meet the criteria set for a responsible task, either by not having written a thesis (albeit, I guess, they were otherwise highly productive, having written multiple books by that time) or by having written a thesis that was not considered to be written in the canon academic form. How convenient! Now, you don’t need a degree of any kind to figure out the real reason why they were not allowed to do such. I mean, it’s rather obvious that if they get to have a say or supervise students, that heresy will only spread and, well, that ain’t so great for those who occupy the high positions. Surely we can’t have students learn just about anything! That’ll lead to them disagreeing with us and the more there are, the more ground they’ll gain! Heresy! Vile heresy!

To connect this to what I’ve experienced, this is exactly how the academics work. Kowtow your way forward. To connect this to CDS or CDA, as that’s what I’m supposed to be covering in this essay, the reviewer’s suggestion, that I should pick something pre-existing, something like one the frameworks of CDA, is a good example of this. Now, I’m not blaming CDS or CDA practitioners here, considering that I can’t know if the reviewer is a CDS or CDA practitioner or not. It’s rather that even CDS or CDA risks becoming canon, the right way to do research that focuses on both language and society. I realize that it might be easier to just pick something, pay tribute to this and/or that author, some established name or names in the field or discipline, but that’s the kind of attitude and practice that I vehemently oppose. That’s what I call being critical!

Now, of course, I acknowledge that you might point out that I’m in the habit of paying tribute to well known authors, including the aforementioned heretics or heresiarchs, namely Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault, which I most certainly am in the habit of doing, and thus doing the same. Well, there is a difference here. It doesn’t do me or anyone else any good to pay respect to these guys, not only because they are all dead, but also because they don’t hold any actual sway in the academic circles, because they don’t have loyal followers in high positions. Why? Well, as Bourdieu points out in ‘Homo Academicus’, they weren’t allowed to have followers or disciples because that would run the risk of changing the system, leading to those followers being given more and more prominent positions. I’d also say that they didn’t really even want to have their own disciples. Deleuze certainly hated the idea of having his own school of thought because it would only create zealous disciples who’d be even more dogmatic than the founder of the school, as Claire Parnet (26) points out in the section of attributed to her in ‘Dialogues’. I love how she (26) points out, in passing, that disciples are sterile and deserve to be so! Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate for sterilization. I think it’s just highly apt to state that disciples are sterile because they are, indeed, unable to give birth to anything new. How so? Well, now, if you have a child with someone, the child is certainly in some ways like you, just as the child is, in some ways, like the other parent, but, nonetheless unlike you or the other parent. If you are sterile, you literally cannot create something new. Clever!

Anyway, I most certainly haven’t benefited from citing Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault, not to mention other heretics or heresiarchs of equal fame. That’s easy to prove. My record for getting salaried positions and grant money is so piss poor that it’s evident that I’m considered one of the dangerous heretics, if not a potential heresiarch, and a barbarian who should be left to his own devices in the margins, to roam among the beasts. I’d say that I’m being tolerated. Why? Well, the university does get money from anything that I publish and from my doctorate, while I see none of that money. To my knowledge, here the university nets about 100k per doctorate in state funding, plus whatever they get from the published articles contributed by the candidate, minus anything they’ve spent on the candidate, so, in my case the university will bank about 85k from me. That’s about 85 000 reasons why. If I manage to do this, on my own, the system still gains from it by getting money out of it, which they can then allocate to some disciple of some school of thought. That’s why. As they say, it’s about making bank bro!

I like the way Foucault (133) explains this in ‘Truth and Power’:

“The essential political problem for the intellectual is not to criticise the ideological contents supposedly linked to science, or to ensure that his own scientific practice is accompanied by a correct ideology, but that of ascertaining the possibility of constituting a new politics of truth.”

Yes, as already discussed, this is the problem with addressing this issue as a matter of ideology. If you claim that you seek to dispel falsehoods, the illusions of ideology, that people are simply not aware of, and promote truth, anyone can do the same to you, to claim that you a mere idealogue. It’s an endless battle over truth, involving someone who claims to know that what is held as the truth is not the truth, while also claiming to know what’s really the truth. That’s dualism for you. This is why Foucault (133) argues that:

“The problem is not changing people’s consciousnesses – or what’s in their heads – but the political, economic, institutional régime of the production of truth.”

Exactly. It’s not about making people aware that they are screwed over. They already know that. Instead, what needs to be addressed are the régimes of truth, how it is that truth is constructed: who are involved, who gets to have a say and why they get to have say. It’s not about who is right or wrong, nor about making sure that no one meddles with truth, tainting it with their desires or beliefs. In his (133) words:

“It’s not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within which it operates at the present time.”

Simply put, truth is a power function and, I’d say contrary to popular opinion, it holds too much sway in contemporary societies. This is, of course, something that intellectuals or academics don’t want to address because, as already discussed, no one wants to lose their sweet gigs. In other words, no one involved with something to lose wants to address this issue because the results of studies probing the inner workings of the academic world might make them look bad, complicit and complacent, involved in politics rather than in some noble quest for the truth for the benefit of everyone.

I think it’s worth pointing out that Foucault is not merely suggesting that academics should be reflexive about their position and their background in relation to what they study and what kind of knowledge they produce, but also that they should be critical of the very system they are part of. They should examine how it is that they get to study what they study and to produce knowledge. CDS or CDA is well known for the former but I’d say it’s not known for the latter (not that this distinguishes it from any other field or discipline though). Now, I would go as far as to say that CDS or CDA is run by some clique, as also pointed out by Flowerdew in his (1093) article ‘Description and interpretation in critical discourse analysis’ in response to such criticism by Hugh Tyrwitt-Drake. I wouldn’t say that people like Norman Fairclough, Teun van Dijk and Ruth Wodak have formed a school of thought. That said, as I pointed out earlier on, it’s not typically big names in the field themselves but those who follow them, the disciples, that come to establish a school of thought, which then results in dogmatism and zealotry. Again, it’s worth emphasizing that this is not something that applies to CDS or CDA any more than it does to any other field or discipline.

To get back on track here, the definitions of discourse, ideology, hegemony, identity and critique provided by Flowerdew and Richardson summarize how these concepts are used in CDS. It’s not entirely clear if these definitions are defined solely by the editors or if others had a say as well. I have a feeling that these are their definitions, considering that dialectics keeps being mentioned and I’m sure not everyone agrees on that, but I can’t say for sure. To be fair, I need to look at their own work to see how they define them. Luckily both have their own chapters in the same book.

Flowerdew’s book chapter, ‘Critical discourse studies and context’, is contained in the ‘Analytical methods’. In the introduction section of his book chapter, he (165) states that “CDS sees discourse as both socially constituted and constitutive”. He (165) clarifies what he means by this by paraphrasing it as involving “a dialectical relation between social context and text.” I’m fine with the initial formulation but not with how it’s then reformulated. Discourse and dialectics. No thanks. Now, I’d be fine if this was formulated in a way that indicates that this is case for him, that this is the way he defines it, instead of presenting it as a given, that that’s the way it is.

While I don’t agree with Flowerdew’s definition, for the reasons stated above, I do like the discussion of context, which is the main topic of his book chapter, as also indicated in the chapter title. I also agree with what he (170-171) states about Occupy, in this case the event that took place Hong Kong in 2014, as a discourse, in the Foucauldian sense of it, or, more broadly as a social practice, given that Foucault (49) does define discourses as “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” in the ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’. In this case, the practices discussed by Flowerdew are those systematic practices and Occupy, the event, and the Occupiers, the people taking part in Occupy, are what is formed in the process, in that event. It’s also important to emphasize that he is indeed examining an event, which, according to Foucault can never fully explained, as he (28) points out in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’. In other words, no matter how you try, you can’t explain its meaning, even though, oddly enough, it most certainly involves writing and speech, including what takes place, what has taken place before it and what will take place after it, as Foucault (28) goes on to specify. That said, event does carry a sense or, rather is, itself, the sense. Deleuze (20, 337) explains this well in ‘The Logic of Sense’ by exemplifying it with what is known as a Möbius strip. The thing with a Möbius strip is that you can attempt to explain how something that only has one side appears to us as having two sides, like a twisted loop, but actually doesn’t, only to fail at it. The best way to make sense of it, to grasp what’s a Möbius strip, is to literally grasp it, to run your fingers on it, to place it between your fingers, which, oddly enough, technically grasp the same side, while appearing to grasp the opposite sides, so that your fingers are actually next to one another, albeit a considerable distance, and thus not opposite of one another. This can also be explained this in plain terms, for example with a piece of paper with some words on it. That piece of paper could be a poem, but it could also be a recipe, shopping list, or just a note to oneself. How do we know which one it is? What does it mean? If you write down the items you think you need to buy, you end up with, let’ say, five words on that piece of paper, but none of them include ‘shopping list’ or ‘recipe’, how do you know that it’s a shopping list or a recipe? Is it the paper? Well, no. You could replace the paper with something else and it would make sense even to an outsider that this is a shopping list or a recipe. It’s not sum of those words either, because what you get is just a number of words. But how do you know? You just do, yet, you can’t explain how it is that you do.

If you want a better or more authorative take of that shopping list example (now that this springs to my mind, as a further clarification, as I am reformatting the references a couple of years later), check out the beef between Jacques Derrida and John Searle regarding Austin’s view of language. I won’t get into the details as this beef deserves its own essay, but, in his reply to Derrida, known as ‘Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida’, Searle (200) emphasizes how something like “a shopping list for myself” or some “notes to my companion during a concert or lecture” can function like speech “in the presence of the receiver”, while acknowledging that they can also function that way in the absence of the receiver and still make sense as there is no code that is not shared (something that doesn’t make sense is therefore not a code or you simply haven’t managed to crack that code) , which is the position emphasized by Derrida (5-8, 48-51, 53) in ‘Limited inc’. If you don’t feel like getting through all that, I’d check Rick Roderick’s video lecture ‘Derrida and the Ends of Man’ where he explains how we can make sense of some words on paper, even in the absence of the person who wrote those words on the paper. If you want a Deleuzean take on this, take a look at John Brady’s two part ‘Deleuze on Sense, Series, Structures, Signifiers and Snarks’. If you want something concise, I’d go with the explanation provided by Mary Klages (140) in ‘Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed’:

“Let’s say you find a piece of paper with these words written on it: ‘Two pounds grounds beef, seedless grapes, loaf bread’. You would most likely assume that someone had dropped a grocery list. But what if you found signature ‘T. S. Eliot’ at the bottom of the page? Could this be a poem?”

Klages (140-141) further elaborates this, explaining how you could analyze it, how it could be a poem, sure, but it’d be bananas to think that it is. How to summarize that? Well, it all depends on the context.

This was already implied, in reference to the past, but yeah, I also agree with Flowerdew’s take that this discourse doesn’t just pop out of nowhere. Foucault explains this well in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, when he (28) points out that we must not only focus on this or that statement, what it is, but we must also “grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its occurrence; determine its conditions of existence, fix at least its limits, establish its correlations with other statements that may be connected with it, and show what other forms of statement it excludes.” In other words, putting emphasis on the conditions of existence, “we must show why it could not be other than it was, in what respect it is exclusive of any other, how it assumes, in the midst of others and in relation to them, a place that no other could occupy”, as elaborated by Foucault (28). Simply put, to make sense of something like the Hong Kong Occupy of 2014 and what made people Occupiers, it’s not enough to explain what took place, there and then, and who were involved. To understand something, to make sense of it, it’s necessary to address the conditions of existence. Deleuze and Guattari (194) explain this task well in A Thousand Plateaus’ by positing it in the form of a question: “[w]hatever could have happened for things to have come to this?” This is exactly what Flowerdew (171) is advocating for when he points out that to understand an event like Occupy, one needs to put it into context, not only spatially but also temporally. In that specific case, Occupy is not only about it happening in Hong Kong in 2014. As he (171-173) points out, to understand it and how it came to happen, you also need to look at prior events, which means going through some archive materials, such as pieces of legislation and documents pertain to the process of drafting them, and similar events that have taken place elsewhere, considering that the Hong Kong Occupy is not the only Occupy, nor the only protest, nor are the Occupiers the only protest movement. Much of the Hong Kong Occupy has to do with the history of Hong Kong but the Occupiers’ actions can be understood as containing intertextual or interdiscursive features, such as “slogans, placards, songs, etc.” that refer to prior events that have taken place in Hong Kong and outside Hong Kong, as he (173) goes on to specify. As Deleuze and Guattari (84) explain this, there’s always redundancy at play, which “is why every statement of a collective assemblage of enunciation”, what they also call a form of expression and what Foucault calls a discursive formation, “belongs to indirect discourse”, which, in turn has to do with “the presence of a reported statement within the reporting statement, the presence of an order-word within the word.” In short, as they (84) put it, contrary to popular belief, indirect discourse does not suppose direct discourse. It’s the other way around, so that what we think of as direct discourse is merely an isolated case that is extracted from indirect discourse, as they (84) point out. I think they explain this quite neatly when they (84) state that:

“[T]he collective assemblage is always like the murmur from which I take my proper name, the constellation of voices, concordant or not, from which I draw my voice.”

In other words, it’s not that we pick what we say but rather that what we say picks us. The world speaks through us, so that we are “[s]peaking in tongues”, so that “direct discourse is still the free indirect discourse running through [us], coming from other worlds or other planets”, as they (84) go on to add. I also like how they (84) further explain this:

“To write is perhaps to bring this assemblage of the unconscious to the light of day, to select the whispering voices, to gather the tribes and secret idioms from which I extract something I call my Self … I is an order-word.”

Now, to clarify things, what they mean by order-word, is, for them (76), the elementary unit of language, which is why it is a function present in all words, as they (76, 84) also point out. This function is what is best known as speech act, as they (79) go on to specify, so that each word or statement, whatever you want to call the elementary unit, is a “‘word of order’, in the double sense of a word or phrase constituting a command and a word or phrase creative of order”, as specified by Massumi (523), the translator, in the notes section of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. In short, language creates an order of things, as I pointed out earlier, or, as Deleuze and Guattari (87) point out, “[i]t is the illocutionary that constitutes the nondiscursive or implicit presuppositions.” It is also in this context that they (79) state that:

“The only possible definition of language is the set of all order-words, implicit presuppositions, or speech acts current in a language at a given moment.”

To link this back to the previous bit, even ‘I’ is an order-word, something which redundantly expresses consciousness, as they (84) go on to specify. It appears to be direct discourse, but, it is, fact, indirect discourse, as made apparent by people who experience themselves though an imaginary other and claim to hear voices, such as “‘I heard voices say: he is conscious of life”, as specified by the two (84, 525). Therefore, the “performative itself is explained by the illocutionary, not the opposite … [a]nd the illocutionary is in turn explained by collective assemblages of enunciation”, as they (87) explain this in other words. In summary, this means that language is first and foremost social. The individual, the ‘I’, the ‘Self’, the subject, is never the starting point. As Guattari (89) explains this in ‘The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis’, there is are no given subjects and objects, no given alterity, only continuous processes of subjectification, objectification and alterification “that stem from particular contexts and micropolitics.”

In his own book, ‘Critical Discourse Analysis in Historiography: The Case of Hong Kong’s Political Identity’, Flowerdew explains his own view of CDS or CDA more thoroughly than what has been mentioned in the editorial introduction with Richardson and in his own book chapter. He (7) points out that “[d]iscourses vary from person to person, because people’s views of the world and relations with it vary, depending upon their individual circumstances.” I agree with this, in the sense that people do differ from one another and so do their views, but only because are members of different social groups or collectives, which, in turn, pushes to them engage in different discursive practices. In other words, I don’t agree with Flowerdew’s (7) points about how “discursive practices reflect subjective understandings of the world” and how “[d]iscourses may present subjective versions of reality” because, as explained by Vološinov (85-89) in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’, the subject, the ‘I’, the ‘Self’ or the individual, whatever you want to call it, and subjective experience or “individualistic self-experience” always stem from the social groups that one is part of and from the collective we-experience.” So, as already pointed out, contrary to popular belief, what makes us individual, that is to say different from one another is never given, but the result of individualization or differentiation, as specified by Vološinov (88). Therefore, paradoxically, “[t]he stronger, the more organized, the more diffentiated the collective in which an individual orients himself, the more vivid and complex his [or her] inner world will be.” Edward Sapir (287) exemplifies this well in his essay ‘Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry’ by indicating that experience is patterned according to, for example, one’s occupation. He (287) isn’t saying that people who have different backgrounds, for example different jobs, can’t understand each other, at all, but that they see the world differently and therefore struggle to understand one another to a certain extent. Other good examples include one’s position within a group, whether one has higher or lower standing, be it, for example, at work or within a family, as pointed out by Vološinov (85). I realize that this may come across as rather pedantic, which, I guess, it is, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that discourse is never subjective (nor objective, for that matter) but rather collective.

Moving on to the next issue, I wouldn’t discuss ideology in the context of discourse, as done by Flowerdew (7). I also wouldn’t define discourses as a matter of representation like he (7) does, for the reasons discussed already. I’m fine with defining CDS or CDA being defined as putting particular emphasis on “linguistic form”, i.e. focusing more on what Deleuze and Guattari (197) define as micropolitics of conversation in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The emphasis does indeed distinguish it from Foucault’s work, being more specific, but I don’t think it distinguishes it from the work of “other post-structuralists”, at least not all, as argued by Flowerdew (7). While I don’t subscribe to his (7) definition of CDS or CDA as positing “a dialectical relation between macro social structures of discourse and micro linguistic features”, because I think it’s too deterministic, too rigid and involves the micro-macro dualism, I do agree that language is social. I prefer what Deleuze and Guattari (40-41, 217) and Guattari (47-48) call molar organization and molecular ordering or composition, the former being rigid, segmented and well defined by lines and the latter being supple and rather like flow that is hard to define, as these two “are distinguished not by size, scale, or dimension but by the nature of the system of reference envisioned.” In other words, they are inseparable and everything we deal with involves the molar and the molecular, so, both the people who form the society and the society can be understood as involving molarity (rigidity, segmentarity and linearity) and molecularity (ordering, composition and flow). This means that people can exhibit rigidity, segmentarity and linearity (think of fixed or given identities, being) and ordering, composition and flow (think of dynamic or differentiated identities, becoming). The society can exhibit these two tendencies, by being static (statist, a state) and by becoming nomadic (counter-statist, no state). This also applies to dialogue or conversation, to what Flowerdew (7) considers to be what distinguishes CDA or CDS from other types of discourse analysis, in the sense that it involves both molarity and molecularity at the same time, to varying degree, including “fixed segmetarity, with vast movements of regulated distribution corresponding to the attitudes and positions of each of us” as well as “micromovements, fine segmentations distributed in an entirely different way, unfindable particles of an anonymous matter, tiny cracks and postures operating by different agencies even in the unconscious, secret lines”, as if forming subconversations within conversations, as Deleuze and Guattari (196-197) put it, in reference to Nathalie Sarraute’s ‘The Age of Suspicion’, kind of like undercurrents that run underneath a current, I guess.

Back to Flowerdew (174) who, in his book chapter, adds that context cannot be fully understood if power relations are not addressed. I agree. It is important to know what positions different parties occupy in order to understand an event. It is necessary to address power relations because it helps to understand who gets to exercise power over whom and if it is possible or, rather, feasible to resist the exercise of power. In his (174) case, the authorities are the ones who can exercise power over the protesters, who, in turn may resist in, insofar as they manage to get enough support from local people against the authorities.

Right, I think that’s enough of Flowerdew for one essay. What about Richardson’s views on CDS or CDA then? He discusses CDA in the part of the book titled ‘Social divisions and power’ in his book chapter ‘Fascist discourse’. To make sense of what is meant by fascism, he (447) begins his book chapter by defining it as what stands opposed to “the emancipatory agenda of CDS.” To be more specific, he (447) defines it as involving “power abuse” in its extreme forms and fascist discourse as the way it “is variously represented, enacted, justified and achieved in and through discourse.” Now, as fascinating the discussion of fascism is in his (447-450) book chapter, I prefer the definition provided by Deleuze and Guattari (214) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“[F]ascism implies a molecular regime that is distinct both from molar segments and their centralization.”

And (214):

“[F]ascism is inseparable from a proliferation of molecular focuses in interaction, which skip from point to point, before beginning to resonate together in the … State.”

The state they mention here is the National Socialist State, but it applies to any State that is totalitarian or dictatorial, as they (214) point out. Soviet Union would another apt example. Anyway, following this distinction, they (214) further specify fascism:

“Rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism and war veteran’s fascism, fascism of the Left and fascism of the Right, fascism of the couple, family, school, and office: every fascism is defined by a micro-black hole that stands on its own and communicates with the others, before resonating in a great, generalized central black hole.”

In other words, fascism is not a political entity, such as a totalitarian state, the central black hole. Instead, as they (214-215, 230-231) go on to further define it, is a certain nihilistic or suicidal determination of desire to destroy and abolish, to have it your way or the high, take it or leave it, all or nothing. This means that you’ve become blinded by your own clarity, so that everything appears crystal clear, self-evident, which makes you think that you have the license to be the judge, the jury and the executioner, a “self-appointed judge, dispenser of justice, policeman, neighborhood SS man”, as specified by the two (228). This is exactly what makes fascism so dangerous, so cancerous, as they (215, 228) point out. It would be tempting to define it as right-wing politics or ideology, but, as they (215) point out, fascism is everywhere you find people:

“It’s too easy to be antifascist on the molecular level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish with molecules both personal and collective.”

Now, this does not mean that there isn’t a whole history of fascism or historical fascism. There most certainly is. It’s rather that fascism is an everyday phenomenon. I think Foucault (xiii) expresses this well in the preface he wrote for Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Anti-Oedipus’:

“[T]he major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism … the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”

In summary, what’s important is that fascism is indeed molecular and involves micro-black holes inflicted by monomania, an excessive passional desire for redress, as clarified by the two (121). To be clear, in their parlance, a black hole is what marks the subject, the ‘I’, the ‘Self’, the individual, which, like an actual black hole, sucks everything in it, like in the case of people who, passionally, make everything about themselves, so that it’s just ‘me’, ‘me’, ‘me’.

I’m sure I’ve explained this and used these examples before, but fascism crops up in all kinds of mundane situations, like when you are in a grocery store and need to get something and someone else is blocking you from getting what you are there for, perhaps by blocking your access to it with a shopping cart. It’s not really a big deal, like, at all, yet, strangely, you feel that you aggrieved. Fascism is exactly that, when you feel like you’ve been wronged by others and you want to right this wrong, right there, right now! As it’s about a sense of grievance, you are only likely to share it with others, which is why the black holes resonate with one another, as well as with a central black hole in the case of a totalitarian state that seeks make use of this passionality. Of course, the resonance depends on the what it is makes people feel that they’ve been wronged and how deeply that grievance is felt by the people. My everyday example is unlikely to be something that result in much resonance with other people in the shop. That said, I think it’s a good example of what Foucault (xiv) calls the pettiness and “the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives” that seeks to consume us. In short, what makes fascism so dangerous, so cancerous, is how common it is.

So, yeah, my take on fascism, itself based on the definition provided by Deleuze and Guattari, is differs quite a bit from Richardson’s (449-450) definition which is, in turn, based on Michael Billig’s definition of fascism. The way I see it, Richardson and Billig define fascism too narrowly as pertaining to extreme nationalism, anti-Marxism, and pro-capitalism. That said, I do agree that fascism is centrally undemocratic and against personal freedoms, considering that, as defined by Deleuze and Guattari, it’s all about asserting oneself without care for the opinions and welfare of others. I also agree with Richardson’s added (449) feature, that fascism is mass movement, in the sense that, as defined by Deleuze and Guattari, the feeling of having been aggrieved has a tendency of resonating with others, which is how it becomes cancerous in a society. It’s also worth noting that Richardson considers the two last features, anti-democracy/anti-freedom and mass nature as what distinguishes fascism and the three first features more how fascism tends to operate, so, in a way, I guess I find myself in agreement with him.

Now, as this essay is really about discourse and discourse analysis, that is to say what is meant by them, I’ll skip the analysis part of Richardson’s book chapter. Given that there’s, what, 41 chapters in this book, in addition to the introductory chapter, that is to say 42 chapters in total, I won’t go through all of them, checking how they define discourse. What I’ll do instead is to turn my attention to Bernhard Forchtner’s (259) chapter ‘Critical discourse studies and social theory’ because it “aims to offer an overview of how the social has been understood, that is of social theory in CDS” or CDA. It’s worth pointing out that his book chapter is indeed an overview. He is explicit about this, considering that he (260) goes on to indicate that he’ll be focusing only on the work associated to Norman Fairclough (Dialectical-Relational Approach, DRA), Teun van Dijk (social psychology / cognition) and Ruth Wodak (Discourse-Historical Approach, DHA). He (260) chooses to focus on them due to their centrality and they “still exert a considerable influence” in CDS or CDA. Feel free to object to that, but it is what it is. He offers only partial coverage and therefore it is only likely that certain things are simplified to some extent. That said, considering that he has to do deal with the limitations of scope, I think he has chosen well here. I’m also going to focus only on discourse related matters in this book chapter, so whatever is not included in this essay is on me.

Right, Forchtner (259) gets things going by pointing out that CDS or CDA practitioners haven’t always been particularly explicit about what kind of theory they build on or from which existing theories or conceptual frameworks they draw from. Later on he (259) adds that this is still largely the case. He (259) states that the practitioners tend to be eclectic, building on various authors, I’d say too many to list and, well, the names aren’t that important either. His (259) point is that while drawing from various authors may be beneficial, resulting in “possible synergies”, there may also be contradictions.

To get somewhere with this overview, he (260) points out that there are two main influences that can be found in the work associated to Fairclough, van Dijk and Wodak: (neo-)Marxism and post-structuralism (namely Foucault). He (260) specifies this, in reference to flow charts in ‘Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis: In Search of Meaning’ by Stefan Titscher, Michael Meyer, Ruth Wodak and Eva Vetter (51), and in the second edition of ‘Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis’ edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer (20). Having taken a closer look at the charts, Forchtner’s summary seems apt. I have to give big thumbs up to him for actually indicating page numbers for these, as opposed to the common practice of just not giving a damn about a reader who might actually want to look things up (I mean, if you indicate that something is from some 500 page tome, without giving me the page number, fuck off, no one is going to spend time going through all that if they aren’t already familiar with the work). Other names also get mentioned, namely Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer and Serge Moscovici, but Foucault and Marx are the ones that are listed as having most influence in CDS or CDA, considering that Critical Theory also has Marxist influences. Skipping ahead, Forchtner (261-262) adds that, among other Marxists, Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci have influenced CDS practitioners, namely Fairclough (DRA). He (262-264) also specifies that the initial or first wave of Critical Theorists, namely Adorno and Horkheimer, have had a limited influence among CDS or CDA practitioners, whereas Habermas, a prominent second wave theorist, has had a considerable influence among practitioners of CDS or CDA, especially those who subscribe to DHA.

Moving on, Forchtner (265-266) reiterates how post-structuralists, namely Foucault (but also discourse theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe), are influential in CDS or CDA. He (266) points out that how the concept of ideology is not necessary (nor useful, rather counter-productive, really, if you ask me) for Foucault and those who subscribe to his definition of discourse, because, well, his definition of discourse gets rid of it. That said, as already discussed in greater detail, it is often retained by CDS or CDA practitioners. I’m not sure why that is, but it is what it is. Forchtner (266) also points out that while practitioners of CDS or CDA, namely Fairclough and Wodak (as well as others CDS or CDA practitioners who are not named), take cues from Foucault, they tend to opt for another definition of discourse and power, either because they are considered too abstract or relativist (though I’d say the right term is perspectivalist, not relativist, but, then again, I reckon Forchtner is simply summarizing the criticism, using their terms, so I can’t blame him for calling Foucault a relativist).

Forchtner (268) concludes his book chapter by reiterating an earlier point, noting that rather than simply staying faithful to that’s been done before, in an orthodox fashion, it can be very fruitful to pick and mix. That said, he (268) also acknowledges that it is usually quite perilous to do so, as “it can … lead to a situation in which theories contradict each other at various levels.” I agree. What may seem just like fucking around with concepts can actually be highly productive. It can make you think otherwise. Then again, you have to be careful when you do that. As he (268) points out, if you are not careful, the chances are that you end up contradicting yourself. To put it bluntly, you may end up shooting yourself in the foot. This is exactly why I do not recommend mixing post-structuralism with Marxism. I’m not saying it’s not possible, that there isn’t something that you can take from it and add it to the mix, assuming it makes sense to do so, for whatever reason that may be, but rather that you have to be careful when you do that. For example, I think it makes little sense to retain the concept of ideology alongside the concept of discourse as defined by Foucault because his definition involves no falsity. It’s such a letdown for me when that happens. It’s the same with how he defines power. It perplexes me when people complain that his conception of power doesn’t tell you who the bad guys are when the whole point is that there are no easy answers, no recourse to a neutral third party, to an arbiter of truth responsible for judging what’s good and what’s evil. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t get it. Why would anyone go through all the effort, discuss things in Foucauldian terms, only to reduce the complexity into some overarching binary and make it function like it’s on rails?

Right, I think this enough of CDS or CDA for a while, unless, of course, something hits me after writing this and I just find myself writing more on this topic or something related to it. So, to wrap things up, I both agree and disagree with CDS or CDA practitioners, regardless of the moniker that’s used. I wouldn’t call myself CDS or CDA practitioner either. It’s not that I don’t agree that being critical, or, rather critical of, nor that I don’t engage in discourse analysis, because I most certainly engage in discourse analysis, which, to me, is, in itself, a critical enterprise as it involves refusing to take things for granted, but rather that approach the same issues from a different angle. I like the way Pennycook (132) explains this in his article, how CDS or CDA deals with “‘serious issues’” rather than “dealing with issues seriously”, in the sense that serious issues are certainly addressed, but not how those issues come to be serious in the first place. Opting for a Foucauldian approach to discourse makes it possible to deal with issues seriously because discourse is not, no longer, considered to be about language reflecting social reality, as a matter of representation, but as producing this and/or that social reality, as explained by Pennycook (131). I think you take the analysis to another level when you start looking at “the discursive production of truth” instead of being content with looking at whether this and/or that discourse is true or not, as he (131) also points out.


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