Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis

Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis

Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis

Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis


Adding a new introduction and two previously unpublished papers, Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis brings together van Leeuwen's methodological work on discourse analysis of the last 15 years. Discourse, van Leeuwen argues, is a resource for representation, a knowledge about some aspect of reality which can be drawn upon when that aspect of reality has to be represented, a framework for making sense of things. And they are plural. There can be different discourses, different ways of making sense of the same aspect of reality that serve different interests and will therefore be used in different social contexts.

However abstract some discourses are, discourses ultimately always represent doings, van Leeuwen argues. Doing is the foundation of knowing, and social practices are the foundation of discourses. Studying children's books, newspaper reports, brochures and other texts, as well as photographs and children's toys, van Leeuwen investigates what can happen when practices are transformed into discourses and provides analytical tools for reconstructing discourses from texts.

Throughout the book, van Leeuwen makes connections between sociological and linguistic or semiotic concepts and methods to ensure the social and critical relevance of his analytical categories. van Leeuwen's work has already been widely used by critical discourse analysts across the world. This volume will be a welcome guide for anyone looking for a form of discourse analysis that is both explicit and methodical, and critically incisive.


This book brings together most of my work on critical discourse analysis of the past 15 years, focusing on the theoretical and methodological papers and drawing occasionally on the more “applied” papers for additional examples. In this work I developed an analytical framework for discourse analysis which derives, on the one hand, from Michel Foucault’s concept of discourses as semantic constructions of specific aspects of reality that serve the interests of particular historical and/or social contexts, and, on the other hand, from Michael Halliday’s concept of “register” as a semantic variety of language, a social dialect which is distinct in its semantics rather than in its phonology and lexicogrammar.

The approach behind my framework is Bernstein’s concept of recontextualization. In the move from the context in which knowledge is produced to the pedagogic context in which it is reproduced and disseminated, Bernstein argued, semantic shifts take place “according to recontextualizing principles which selectively appropriate, relocate, refocus and relate to other discourses to constitute its own order and orderings” (Bernstein, 1990: 184). My work broadens this concept beyond pedagogic discourse and starts from the assumption that all discourses recontextualize social practices, and that all knowledge is, therefore, ultimately grounded in practice, however slender that link may seem at times.

The recontextualizing principles that are the subject of this book are therefore linked to key elements of social practices: actors and their roles and identities, actions and their performance styles, settings, and timings. In the process of recontextualization, aspects of any of these may be excluded from the discourse or transformed, and recontextualization may also add elements such as purposes and legitimations for the actions. As a result, some recontextualizations eliminate much of the actual detail of the social practices they recontextualize and focus, for instance, mostly on legitimation . . .

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