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The Embeddedness of Discourse

Although the ideas of constitution and function are shared by most discourse analytical approaches, the epistemological and ontological background assumptions and, consequently, the methodological and interpretive implications vary. A crude difference could be made between approaches that see discourse as interacting with an extra-discursive social structure ('materialists') and those that deny or at least are indifferent towards any claims of ontological reality outside of discourse ('idealists'; Richardson 2007: 27). Although discourse analysis - and the underlying epistemology of social constructionism more broadly - has often been identified only with the latter view, CDA is decidedly 'materialist' and sees discourse in dialectical interaction with the material world and other social formations that on the one hand constrain discourse but on the other are also changed by discourse (Fairclough and Wodak 1997). Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1999: 1) call this approach - following Bourdieu - alternatively 'constructivist structuralism' or 'structuralist constructivism'.

This has important methodological implications: if - as the more 'postmodern' approaches claim - the social context of discourse is continually constructed and thus cannot be independent of discourse itself, the focus is usually on smaller units of analysis, such as sequences of talk (see Wooffitt 2006). However, if the context of discourse is seen as something independent -and stable forms of discourse practice, such as genre, suggest that this is indeed a useful view - the unit of analysis is often larger and contrasted with the broader social and cultural framework (see Fairclough 1992; Silverman 2007). In other words, CDA always considers discourse to be embedded in particular contexts which are partly discursive, but partly beyond discourse.

Methodologically CDA aims to ensure an embedded approach by dividing analysis into three different aspects that feed into each other: (1) textual analysis; (2) analysis of discourse practice; and (3) analysis if social practice (for a diagrammatical representation of the three aspects, see Fairclough 1992: 73). I discuss these aspects in detail elsewhere (Hjelm 2011b, 2013a), whereas a short outline will have to suffice here. Firstly, CDA obviously focuses on textual analysis. 'Text' in CDA is broadly conceived and can include printed, 'found' (i.e. created independently of the researcher, see Silverman 2007) material such as newspaper text, or 'manufactured' data such as interview transcripts. There are myriad ways of conducting text analysis (see e.g. Fairclough 2003) ranging from the linguistic to the interpretive. On the linguistic level a focus on words, as one aspect among many, helps us understand how topics of discussion are contextualised. So, for example, boundary maintenance in religious movements is often done by reframing competing belief systems as evil, as in the case of the neo-Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which depicts the 'spiritual entities that play central, positive, healing roles in Umbanda and Candomble [syncretistic Afro-Brazilian religions] ... as "demons"' (Engler 2011: 211). Another example is naming. In a report in the Independent, a British daily newspaper, about the defeat of the government's Terror Bill in the House of Lords, the Conservative Earl of Hounslow is quoted asking: 'Why, if the home secretary thinks Mohammad el-Smith wants to do something and is planning to do something and has talked to others about doing something nasty, that is not conspiracy?' (quoted in Richardson 2007: 50). The point the earl is making is that existing conspiracy laws would be sufficient enough to cover acts of terrorism, but it is the use of 'Mohammad el-Smith' that is interesting from a CDA perspective. The name is a combination of 'Smith', arguably the most common family name in Britain, thus the 'average man' (i.e. 'Joe Bloggs', 'John Doe'), and 'Mohammad', arguably the most common Muslim male name. The implication here is that the speaker 'believes the average terrorist suspect to be Muslim' (Richardson 2007: 51).

Secondly, CDA involves what Fairclough (1992) calls analysis of discourse practice. As noted above, analysing discourse is always analysing language use in a particular social context. This is the domain of interpreting texts in light of broader 'social practice' (discussed below). Between text and social context is the field of production and consumption of texts. As Phillips and Jargensen (2002: 69) explain, to study discursive practices is to study 'how authors of texts draw on already existing discourses and genres to create a text and ... how receivers of texts also apply available discourses and genres in the consumption and interpretation of the texts'. Ideally, then, a full-scale study of discourse is not only textual, but also takes into account the immediate contexts of production and consumption. In the field of religion and media, for example, Hoover's earlier work (1998) has been important in examining how the routines and conventions of the daily 'beat' affect the production of religion news. At the other end are studies such as Clark (2003), which explore the effects of popular media on religious identity-building. Although neither is an example of CDA, a full analysis would delve into the production and consumption dynamics of a particular discourse.

Thirdly, although discourse is capable of both reproducing and transforming society, it would be naive to think that all discourse is equal. We can all have an opinion, but who gets to speak in public and who is listened to depend on one's structural positioning. In the case of Islam in Britain, for example, there has been a rather glaring imbalance between bureaucratic sources and Muslim respondents in newspaper discourse (Richardson 2006). Similarly, during the early stages of the Satanism Scare in Finland, the hegemonic discourse was based almost exclusively on evangelical Christian 'expertise' on the topic (Hjelm 2008). The point is even clearer in everyday practice: in Western societies, most people prefer to take medical advice from qualified professionals rather than religious leaders (although there are important exceptions to this, such as Christian Science). Taking these structural factors into account is referred to as analysis of social practice in CDA. Locke (2004: 42) summarises the analysis of social practice as 'a focus on such things as the immediate situation that has given rise to its production and the various sociocultural practices and discursive conditions at both institutional and societal levels that provide a wider contextual relevance'. The question then is whether texts support particular types of social practice by reproducing a hegemonic agenda, or if there are 'transformative impulses' (Locke 2004: 43) in the text. An example of this is a law proposal presented in the Finnish parliament in 2006 by two members of the Green League. The aim of the proposal was to change laws privileging the Lutheran state church (and to a lesser degree the Orthodox Church) in order to make religious communities in Finland more equal. The interesting part is not necessarily the staunch opposition to the proposal by the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Party, or by MPs with a Christian (in some cases priestly) background. More telling was the fact that out of 200 MPs, only eight took part in the discussion in the first place. The obvious opponents of the proposal did speak, but MPs from the left, for example - conventionally depicted as secular - were as silent as the mainstream. The privileged position of the Lutheran Church in Finland is a deeply hegemonic social practice that is reflected in the discourse and the lack of discussion - the 'taken-for-grantedness' of the social situation (Hjelm 2013b).

The above examples show that texts alone are not sufficient in analysing discourse. Discourse - or the absence of discourse - makes sense only within a broader social framework. The social context is analysed empirically, by looking at actors, groups and relationships within groups and between actors in society. In the framework of CDA, the context is also analysed theoretically, by looking at the structuration of power in a field of ideology and hegemony. It is this analysis of social practice that makes CDA distinctively different from some other approaches to discourse analysis. It is also analysis of social practice that gives CDA explanatory power: where discourse analysis has traditionally been more suitable for answering how questions (see Silverman and Gubrium 1994), a focus on the social context enable us to argue that a line of action was one among a choice of actions that the discursive framework enabled - or alternatively, how the choice of action was constrained by the social and cultural framework. In Max Weber's terms this would be something akin to a 'causally adequate' explanation (Buss 1999; Ringer 2002).

 
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