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Data and methodology

The present article is based on an analysis of a political advert of an independent candidate running (unsuccessfully) for re-election in the 2010 Senate elections in the Czech Republic. The advert consists of a leaflet (also used on a billboard) and a box of matches which bear the candidate’s name, photograph and two election slogans.

The data is approached from a perspective inspired by critical discourse analysis (CDA), which supplements the description of data with their explanation in view of social, economical and political contexts relevant for interpretation (Fairclough 1992, 2005, van Dijk 1993, Chilton

2004). However, it acknowledges, in harmony with Widdowson (1995), that different readers will interpret texts in different ways. Texts are seen here as being endowed with meaning potential (Halliday 1978), with the analysts able to use various tools to point out salient meanings that appear plausible in a given social and historical context rather than to claim to have discovered the definite interpretation of a text. Rather than attempting to engage in social critique, the “critical” orientation in the present analysis reflects the efforts of CDA studies to deal with such issues as power, persuasion and manipulation.

While the methodology of CDA is eclectic (van Dijk 1993) and analysts have used a broad range of tools to tackle the specific issues they investigate, there are several research orientations that are reflected in the present analysis. Thus, van Dijk’s socio-cognitive approach operates with the notion of ideologies, in which general cognitive schemata are composed of categories that “organize the self and other representations of a group and its members” (van Dijk 2009: 79). Among other things, this approach pays attention to membership devices, the group members’ typical acts and aims, as well as their relations to other groups, especially their opponents. As has been shown in numerous studies (e.g. van Dijk 1987, 1992a,b), the discursive construction of in-groups and out-groups is systematically connected with explicit or implicit positive self-presentation and negative other-presentation; and, when combined with more specific ways of identifying social actors (the social actor theory, cf. van Leeuwen 1996), the deployment of argumentative/rhetorical strategies and the analysis of discrimination/exclusion discourse (Reisigl and Wodak 2001), etc., this approach can yield revealing findings, especially in the analysis of public and media discourses (cf. Richardson 2007).

One of the things that Wodak’s (2001) discourse-historical approach to CDA performs is the qualitative analysis of political and discriminatory discourses. The analysis pays attention not only to the diverse ways in which individual social actors and groups are discursively constructed, but also to how such concepts as exclusion, discrimination and racism (cf. Reisigl and Wodak 2001) or even national identity (Wodak et al. 1999) are linguistically manifested and legitimized (cf. van Leeuwen 2007). The systematic analysis takes into account: “the intertextual and interdiscursive relationships between utterances, texts, genres and discourses; the extralinguistic social/sociological variables; the history and archaeology of texts and organizations; and institutional frames of the specific context of a situation” (Wodak 2009: 318).

Lastly, an analysis of meaning-making should also consider the multimodal aspects of texts (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006), in order to take into account other semiotic codes apart from language. What is crucial for the present study is the way non-verbal elements of texts interact with verbal aspects. With respect to language, the non-verbal elements, though themselves constituting independent semiotic systems, may have a “prosodic” function, i.e. they can enhance, complement and occasionally even contradict meanings arising from the verbal text. Obviously, this also works conversely: the verbal message can modify the meanings arising from other semiotic codes. The situation becomes more complex when multi-modal analysis combines with a discourse-historical approach because the consideration of the various dimensions of DHA (i.e. related texts/genres/discourses, extra-linguistic variables, institutional frames of communication and historical aspects of text production, as well as, e.g. the discursive histories of social actors) may result in the formation of contexts that overrule the common meanings of diverse signs or supply plausible, definite meanings to otherwise vague and implicit messages.

Figure 4-1: A campaign poster from an election for the Senate of the Czech Republic (Autumn 2010)

As regards the material in question (see Figure 4-1), the analysis strives to understand what led the public to perceive the campaign poster as an instance of implicit racist discourse and, particularly, how a contextualized reading of this piece of political advertising can turn a seemingly innocuous promotional item (a box of matches) into a symbol representing ethnic intolerance and violence.

 
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