Discourse Theory - limits

What are the Limits of Discourse ?

As with many academic ideas, discourse has a central area where it provides good explanations - discourse strands, events, levels and positions, added to the idea that we individually and collectively 'knit along together' gives a clear idea of 'the way things work', especially in the realms of the media and politics.

However, all theories have boundary areas where the theory has difficulty, and discourse theory is no exception:-

  1. Everything is discourse. Discourse may describe events and opinions, but it can easily become too rarified. I have written here 'a discourse about discourses'. While this illustrates something about the nature of society and the nature of discourse, it is 'two removes' from reality, and it is easy to dismiss on that basis.
  2. The real world in discourse. I have used the discourses connected to BSE as an example relevant to my study. It is clear from this that discourse is always 'an interpretation of reality'. The discourse does not deal with the cows themselves, or the actuality of BSE. It deals only with 'the idea of a cow', and the discourse event, not the real event. As such, it is principally involved in the creation and adjustment of mental models, not of 'reality'. I examine the cognitive aspects of mental models later here.
  3. How discourse affects the world. As I have tried to describe above, discourse can be seen as the basis behind public opinion, convictions, ideological positions, and administrative policies. It only has an indirect effect on the world through this medium.


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