An Introduction to a Postmodern Approach to Educational Research: Discourse Analysis

By Zeeman, Laetitia; Poggenpoel, Marie et al. | Education, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview
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An Introduction to a Postmodern Approach to Educational Research: Discourse Analysis

Zeeman, Laetitia, Poggenpoel, Marie, Myburgh, Cph, Van der Linde, N., Education

Postmodernism is not a school of thought. It is not a unified intellectual movement with a definite goal or perspective. "Postmodernism can be the set of ideas which try to define or explain the state of affairs in society or a word used in many different contexts to cover many different aspects (Ward, 1997:4)" Postmodern theory sets about dismantling most of our normal ways of thinking about how meaning interpretation and reality works. This dismantling process is also visible in education and educational research. Different postmodern "approaches" to educational research derived from other disciplines are being rooted in education as an epistemology. Discourse analysis will be introduced as a Poststructuralist and Social Constructionist "approach" to educational research developing from a postmodern line of thought.

The value of this research lies under alia in the following:Postmodernism creates distance for the generation of alternatives in inter alia the culture, language, ways of thinking, stories and interpretations. The existence of alternative stories on one event, the existence of more than one interpretation of the world and the thought that the self has more than one view or part bring about big shifts and freedom.

Narrative therapy originated from the poststructuralistic way of thinking and the social constructivism. It works through the deconstruction of previous therapeutic models, therapeutic practices and dominant discourses that exist inside the culture group. Discourse analysis does not describe and explain the world. It does not make any claim on the truth, it is a reflexive process that is directed at change and progress.

Problem Statement

Discourse analysis has not widely been described in literature as a qualitative "approach" in educational research. In South Africa this research "approach" is reasonably unfamiliar in educational research. "Discourse analysis has its roots in linguistics, literary studies, and anthropology" (Ward, 1997:129). It is being practiced at present in virtually al of the humanities and the social sciences. Discourse analysis is an interdisciplinary research "approach" and can be of great worth if it is derived as Social Constructionist and Poststructuralist epistemology into educational research.


"Discourse analysis is a qualitative research design" (Terre Blanche & Durrheim, 2000:48). It should first be situated in its broader paradigmatic context namely: Poststructuralism and Social constructionism. "Poststructuralism and Social constructionism developed within the postmodern line of thought" (Kvale, 1992:8). Certain central Structuralist ideas need to be highlighted before Poststructuralism can be introduced.


"Structuralism is thought of as an approach or method rather than a clearly defined discipline" (Ward, 1997:80). The object of study in structuralist thought is the system and structure of language and how meaning is generated. To summarise: Structuralism asks where meaning come from: "Does it come from the text itself? Does it come from the context in which the text is consumed: Is the reader free to create his or her own meaning? To what degree can the author of a text control how it is interpreted? Does the production of meaning arise from the interaction of these factors. If so, how do they interact?" (Ward, 1997:88)

Structuralist thought in research studies the deeper or underlying systems in language practices and how meaning is produced. "Structuralism and Poststructuralism form much of the philosophical background of postmodern theory" (Ward, 1997:80). Within the Postmodern line of thought Poststructuralism developed from the above mentioned central Structuralist ideas.


Poststructuralist ideas received widespread attention with the work of "Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Barthes" (Gavey, 1998:460).

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