Looking at the dispositive ...... we can look at an overall system
of knowledge comprising discourse, material objects, and decisions/events,
and we can look at the role of the Government Discourse within this.
(in my food study, I have described the Government
documentation, and in the context
section of this Discourse Toolbox site, I have analysed some
aspects of the contexts the Governement operates in - the map and
Looking at these aspects of knowledge in turn, referring to the
1. Discourse. From the text itself, one can make the following
notes about the role of the government, derived from the discourses
they are using, and from the way they handle them:-
- No-one will be unhappy about anything stated in the text - who
could object to any of the aims or objectives stated here ?
- The government is trying to please a range of lobbies and interest
groups (and conversely, no group or interest will feel excluded)
- Throughout there is a balancing of the tension between green
and business interests
- The impression is given that everything is in safe hands, and
going in the right direction.
the Government as being in control
entire discourses about economic, green and consumer issues,
the lobbies to be on the Government's side.
To summarise, the government discourse gives the impression that
everything is going well, and it generates a feeling of confidence
2. Material Objects. I have carried out a Context Analysis
of the material on my website, which can serve as a reality check
of the results from the Toolbox.
Looking at this wider context in terms of the role of government,
I have suggested:
- we have a globalised and industrialised food and farming system,
- in global terms, the UK government can best be seen as one voice
among many, as there are other Governments, International Organisations
(such as the EU and WTO) and also International companies who
operate beyond boundaries. The UK Government discourse seems to
fit very comfortably with these.
- in the national context, all the organisations, from businesses
to environmental and consumer groups, seem to have similar messages
(and similar 'nice' pictures to brighten up their websites). From
their websites, they all seem to be 'equal but different' agencies,
engaged in a collective endeavour to improve amenities and all
the areas of our lives.
- From these perspectives, our government does not seem to dominate
in the way they do in their own publication - the picture that
one gains from this is of a collective endeavour where the Government
plays a major role.
This characterises the government discourse as 'inclusive', and
looked at the way it 'places' the Government as a 'co-operator'
both globally and nationally. But, what about the third aspect of
the dispositive - events ?
3. Decisions and Events. So, from their discourse, the Governement
shows that everything is going well, from the context everything
is incluusive and co-operative, and the events and decisions mostly
look good, but there is a problem ..... some events tell a very
different story - the text itself was written at the height of the
Foot and Mouth crisis, and several years after the height of the
BSE problems. In both of these crises, the "all-is well, inclusive"
line was dropped, and the Government took emergency powers and took
dramatic action to cull animals and remove the risks from the consumers.
Discussion. The text has Objectives about animal welfare
and about protecting of the public from animal diseases. The Government
has established a system of regulations and regulatory agencies
for the day-to-day implementation of these regulations, and these
agencies, plus the market mechanisms, regulate the supply of all
of the food to the consumer. The Government has a regulating, steering
and organising role between the various interest groups. These seem
to be the central roles of Government.
However, with the BSE and Foot and Mouth crises, it seems that
the Government also had another, secret role - as an all-powerful
Intervention Agency, which as a last resort can take massive action,
if it is seen to be in the national interest. Obviously, this was
a valid action to take, but the need for this action seems to indicate
that there were major faults in the previous Government policies.
I am not aware of any changes in policy.
Some 6 million animals were culled (4.9 million sheep, 0.7 million
cattle and 0.4 million pigs). This is taken from a Government website
which gathers all the information and reports on the crisis. I have
also copied the first few pages of the recommendations
of the Policy Commission on this crisis to create another page.
This report can be downloaded from
here, although it is now archived. I cannot see any change in
policies following the crisis, and there is no response to industrialisation
at the policy level either.
The Government 'Power to Intervene' is interesting. I am not sure
how this is established, and a number of points can be made:-
- In both of these crises, the Government intervention was expected
and supported by nearly all concerned
- There do not seem to be any guidelines for Government intervention
- There does not seem to be any basis for the decisions to intervene
or not (one can point to similar crises, such as the economics
of sheep hill-farmers where there has been no intervention)
So, there seems to be a 'normal operations' state, and a 'Special
Powers' state of Government. It is possible that emergency laws
were passed at the start of these crises, but, the core of this
point is that this intervention was demanded and expected by most
people, perhaps especially by those who would normally denounce
any Government interference in the 'free market'.
The three aspects of the Dispositive give three different views
of the Government :-
- a happy, confident, 'in control' Government
- a Government in a mesh of 'collective endeavours' in a wider
- a Government confronted by major crises and having to use 'Special
There seems to be a fault line between these different pictures
Theoretical Notes. van Dijk (2002) has done some work on
political language which might be useful here. He states '
part of such (political) context (such as a Parliamentary debate)
is also the (mutual) knowledge speakers have.
have a device, which I call K-device, that regulates the way their
knowledge is brought to bear in their discourse, for instance in
the complex interplay of presuppositions and implications and their
manifestation in various discourse structures.'
This implies that only politicians can correctly understand a political
document such as this 'Aims and Objectives', and then only if they
have the relevant knowledge. Outsiders looking at these political
issues, even using academic tools, may not be able to reach this