• What do we mean by discourse?

• What are the different conceptions of discourse and methods of discourse analysis in the contemporary social sciences?

• How can this concept help to clarify key theoretical problems and illuminate empirical cases?

The concept of discourse provokes considerable debate and is understood in a variety of ways in the contemporary social sciences. This text presents a comprehensive overview of the different conceptions and methods of discourse analysis, while setting out the traditions of thinking in which these conceptions have emerged. It surveys structuralist, post-structuralist and post-Marxist theory, and the author sets out a fresh approach to discourse analysis, drawing principally on the writings of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Gramsci, Althusser, Foucault, Derrida, Laclau and Mouffe. He evaluates a number of pertinent criticisms of this approach, and explores ways in which discourse analysis can assist our understanding of identity formation, hegemony, and the relationship between structure and agency. This concise and engaging text provides a stimulating introduction to the concept of discourse for students and researchers across the social sciences.


Recently there has been widespread deployment of the concept of discourse in the human and social sciences, as a number of scholars have used the concept to define and address problems in their respective domains of research. However, in most cases, especially in the social sciences, the underlying conceptions of discourse they draw upon remain largely implicit and conceptually underthematized. The focus of this book is thus to introduce, clarify and contextualize some of the ways in which the concept has been used in the social sciences. More specifically, I concentrate on developments within the structuralist, post-structuralist and post-Marxist traditions of inquiry, and I put forward an approach to social and political analysis that builds upon Ernesto Laclau and Chantai Mouffe's theory of discourse. In this respect, I focus most attention on the writings of Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Michel Pêcheux, Ernesto Laclau and Chantai Mouffe, as well as those who have mounted a variety of challenges to this perspective. I also draw upon thinkers and writers who have used this approach to conduct empirical research. The book thus necessarily excludes a detailed examination of a number of related conceptions of discourse and discourse analysis, although it does consider their criticisms of the approach argued for here. These include the explicitly hermeneutical account of discourse elaborated by Paul Ricoeur, the communicative model of language put forward by Jürgen Habermas, the post-modernist account of discourse developed by Jean-Françoise Lyotard, and Norman Fairclough's critical discourse analysis approach. I hope to examine these writings in more detail at a later point.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.