Context Analysis - Cognitive Context
Critics of discourse say it is not real - events and objects are real, but not thoughts or ideas (and this criticism is applied to many other academic discourses).

However, if we approach this from the perspective of cognition (van Dijk, 2001, pp. 108-112 references), we have to accept that cognition must bear some relationship to reality - our senses take in something from the world, by way of sight, hearing, touch, etc, and using these we form internal mental images of the external realities. van Dijk in particular proposes that we form cognitive models of both the contexts we are in and of the events that occur.

It is clear from van Dijk's theories that Critical Discourse Analysis can only succeed if discourse structures can be related to internal structures of local and global context. Though I think that an external consensus context is also possible, the remainder of this page focuses on theoretical approaches to mental models in CDA, which give an idea of the theoretical foundations of this field.

After commenting on mental models, ideologies, situations, aims, and social groups and institutions, van Dijk states that these need to be defined in explicit theories, and he provides the first fragments of such theories. He defines two main types of model - context and event models. He has systematised his work in a very thorough way, and it provides some very interesting background material.

Wodak gives several instances where mental models are operating (Wodak, 2001, pp. 64-5 references),)

  • If we take politicians as a specific (and non-homogeneous) elite, then they are best seen as shapers of specific public opinions, and as seismographs that react to the atmospheric changes in public opinion (context), and to the changing interests of specific social groups and affected parties
    It is likely that they fulfil these functions through the use of mental models, plus some special "antennae"
  • The relationships between media, politics and 'the people' are very complex, and we cannot clearly say who influences who, and how these influences operate. Again, this entire process seems to involve mental models and sensitive antennae.
  • The World Commodity Markets also provide an example of where the "reality" of oil, mineral and crop production, are "modelled" by the traders using the law of supply and demand and other economic laws. This was once done by experienced individuals - we imagine that the trader whose mental map corresponded closest to reality would make the most profit. This is now often done with computer models of the economic systems. (GMcNamara)

Mental models provide a range of useful tools which might allow us to imagine the mental models of the author of a text or speech.

Social structures (and social models)

Fairclough has described how social practices are networked together, constituting a social order, and dominance and hegemony operate in these social orders. He uses a short text by Tony Blair as an example. From this, Fairclough draws an initial conclusion that the economic is colonising the non-economic fields (art, environment .. ) and there is a new dominance by the new capitalism.

He points out that globalisation has a very long history, and is more accurately seen as 'new relations between scales' rather than a change from 'national to global'. Capitalism, globalisation, 'the economic', art, etc. can all also be looked at as social structures.

Language and semiosis play a major role in the restructuring of capitalism, and in particular, the idea of the new 'knowledge-based economy' which can be described by the following sequence:

  • knowledge is produced, circulates and is consumed as discourses.
  • The discourses are operationalised as new ways of acting and interacting (including new genres)
  • The discourses are inculcated as new ways of being, new identities, new styles
  • For example, there are new ways of organising and managing companies
  • The restructuring and rescaling of capitalism is partly a semiotic process - restructuring and rescaling of orders of discourse
  • This involves new structural and scalar relations between genres, discourses and styles
  • However, the 'knowledge-based economy' is not a phrase used at present ...... it is a recent-historic discourse !

Much of these processes also relate to the language used in the restructuring - and perhaps neo-liberalism is part of this too, and in this approach he is carrying out a useful experiment in new models of social context

Fairclough concludes that discourses are diverse representations of social life which are inherently positioned - different social actors see and represent social life in different ways, with different discourses. As an example of this, people have different social lives at work and at home, as they can play different roles as social actors in those situations. (Fairclough, 2001, p. 123-7 references),)

In the case of my own work, while I have taken note of the academic theories of cognition, which I have summarise above, it seems to me that these theories insist on purely "internal" mental maps of context, events and social structures. With my Context Survey method, I think I have used webpages to create an "external" context which is valid, and which could be established as a consensus view if there were suitable input from all interested parties.

Please contact me at if you are interested in the above

(0044)(0) 1372-749803

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