Fairclough | A Social Theory of Discourse

Literature review // Fairclough, Norman. (1992) “A social theory of discourse.”  Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press. 62-100.

Read in Language & Culture

This was a slightly painful class because we, collectively, weren’t quite sure what we had just read but we kept getting asked questions about it. I mean, I appreciate interactive classrooms as much as the next kid, but I don’t know how helpful it is to try to comment on something we didn’t understand. Overall, Fairclough seemed to be talking a lot about agency through hegemonies and ‘orders of discourse.’ Orders of discourse is like a genre or social situation where people are producing language. In certain settings these are encoded into the way people behave.

He distinguished hegemony not just as domination but of leadership and constructing alliances. To me what was interesting about this was that it was dominance through creating social structures and norms so that that the dominance performed through everyday actions unconsciously. And yet, wit these hegemonies are always ‘unstable equilibriums’  (92) that affects and is reflected by social discourse. Language can be used as a site of resistance of the power. Fairclough believed that language is involved in the power struggle of restructuring, supporting, or challenging hegemonies.

Fairclough also detailed a framework for which to analyze text in two parts, the text level & the discursive practice:

Text level:

  • Vocabulary. The actual word used. Jargon, connotations, metaphors. For example, using ‘freedom fighter’ versus ‘terrorist.’
  • Grammar. How words are combined (pronoun usage, passive voice, subject/object relationships).
  • Cohesion. How sentences are linked together. (Repetition, transitions).

Discursive practices:

  • force of utterance. The purpose of the utterance (speech acts, illocutionary)
  • coherence of texts. the meaning-making the reader does, assumptions made, interpretations
  • Intertextuality. History of the text, how a text by be put into a new context (quotes) and why someone might do that. The connections betweent he texts
Thoughts? Discussion? I'd love to hear 'em!

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