CDA - The Main Concepts of CDA
Each of the main theorists of CDA have their own areas of interest and they use their own key concepts.

Wodak reports that for Halliday and Kress, three concepts figure indispensably in all CDA, the concept of power, the concept of history, and the concept of ideology (Wodak, 2001, p. 3 references),

However, Halliday (one of the fathers of CDA) concentrated on language itself, and discovered three meta-functions of language which are continuously interconnected:-

  • firstly, the ideational function through which language lends structure to experience (the ideational structure has a dialectical relationship with social structure, both reflecting and influencing it)
  • secondly, the interpersonal function which constitutes relationships between the participants;
  • and thirdly, the textual function which constitutes coherence and cohesion in texts (in Wodak, 2001, p. 8 references)

For Meyer, the most important characteristics of CDA are:-

  • All discourses are historical, and can therefore only be understood in relation to their context
  • So, CDA refers to such extralinguistic factors as culture, society and ideology
  • In any case, the notion of context is crucial for CDA, since this explicitly includes social-psychological, political, and ideological components
  • CDA therefore postulates an interdisciplinary procedure (Meyer, 2001, p. 15 references)

Van Dijk's way of doing CDA is a socio-cognitive approach, with a current particular interest in cognition. In particular, he describes the "Discourse - Cognition - Society Triangle":-

  • Discourse is meant as a communication event, including conversational interaction, written text, as well as associated gestures, facework, typographical layout, images, and any other semiotic or multimedia dimension of signification
  • Cognition here means both personal as well as social cognition, beliefs, and goals as well as evaluations and emotions, and any other mental or memory structures, representations or processes involved in discourse or interaction
  • Society is meant to include both the local, microstructures of situated face-to-face interactions, as well as the more global, societal and political structures variously defined in terms of groups, group-relations (such as dominance and inequality), movements, institutions, organisations, social processes, political systems and more abstract properties of societies and cultures (van Dijk, 2001, pps. 97-98 references)

He also describes Context Models, Event Models, and the Dispositive, which I examine elsewhere.

Fairclough is especially interested in semiosis and social practices

  • Semiosis is an irreducible part of the material social processes, and it ncludes all forms of meaning-making - visual images and body language, as well as language
  • Social life can be seen as interconnected networks of Social Practices of diverse sorts - economic, political, cultural, etc.
  • Every practice has a semiotic element
  • Focussing on social practices allows one to combine the perspective of structure and the perspective of action
    One the one hand, a practice is a relatively permanent way of acting socially (defined by its position within a structured network of practices)
    A practice is a domain of social action and interaction which both reproduces structures and has the potential to transform them
    All practices are practices of production - they are the arenas where social life is produced, whether economic, political, cultural or everyday life.

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. The lives of the poor are represented through different discourses in the social practices of government - politics, medicine, etc, and differently within each of these areas depending on the social actor's own position (Fairclough, 2001, p. 122-3 references)

He continues that "Social practices networked together constitute a social order (e.g. the current neo-liberal global order of the new capitalism, or, at a more local level, the social order of education at a particular time). The semiotic order of a social order is what we call an order of discourse, and it is the way in which genres and discourses are networked together. One aspect of this ordering is dominance: some ways of making meaning are dominant (or mainstream), others are marginal, or oppositional, or alternative ……….(e.g. doctor - patient consultations)……… The political concept of hegemony can be used to describe some of these orders of discourse - even legitimised common sense can lead to relations of dominance……… An order of discourse is an open system (not necessarily closed or rigid) which is put at risk by what actually happens in interactions."

"CDA …… oscillates between a focus on structure and a focus on action -
Between a focus on shifts in social structuring of semiotic diversity (orders of discourse)
And a focus on the productive semiotic work which goes on in particular texts and events
In both perspectives, a central concern is shifting articulations between genres, discourses and styles - the shifting social …. relations between them which achieve a relative stability and permanence in orders of discourse, and the ongoing relations between them in texts and interactions" (Fairclough, 2001, p. 124 references)

Scollon writes … that there IS a problem of relating discourse to social action - a lot of the time, one has to make an effort to interpret actions in terms of discourse, especially with habitual and group behaviours. He also introduces MDA (mediated discourse analysis) which shares all the goals of CDA, but changes from a focus on the discourse about social issues to a focus on the social actions through which social actors produce the histories and habitus of their daily lives, which is the ground in which society is produced and reproduced (Scollon, 2001, p. 145 references). For example, in my food project, it could be more valuable to watch people shopping than to analyse discourses.

This gives an idea of the wide range of approaches which are possible in CDA, and each of these approaches generates its own set of methods and tools, which I will summarise in some of the following pages.

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