Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Discourse Analysis: Examining Language Use in Context

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Discourse Analysis: Examining Language Use in Context

Article excerpt

Traditionally, Psychologists were deeply immersed in a regimented methodological approach in the production of knowledge in which one variable was experimentally manipulated and its effect on the other variable closely observed and recorded. However, the trend has greatly shifted lately with researchers examining the performative and productive functions of language in contexts. Psychologists' turn to language gained prominence in the 1980s (Willig, 2008) as a challenge to the traditional psychology's reliance on cognitivism (Gergen, 1989). Discursive psychologists argue that people's account and the explanations they provide largely depends on the discursive contexts within which their views are produced (Willig, 2008). This paper discusses knowledge as situated and contingent and thus an explanation or interpretation of people's perception or attitude about a psychological phenomenon should take into account the context or culture and circumstances of social interactions.

Discourse is situated sequentially (Potter, 2003), in the sense that the primary context within which social interaction occurs comes first and largely shapes accounts and constructions of participants involved in discourse. It is contingent because of the variability of language use in different cultures and contexts. Discourse analysis provides a different way of theorizing language. It is more concerned with the analysis of texts and/or utterances within specific socio-cultural context and indicates a method of data analysis that can tell researchers about the discursive construction of a phenomenon (Willig, 2008).

Discourse analysts transcribe and analyze data gathered through open-ended interviews, focus group discussions, field observations and other means of data collection where talk is unconstrained by research protocols (Potter, 2003). Taylor (2001) loosely defines discourse analysis as "the close study of language in use." (p. 5). Primarily, discourse analysts espouse the principle that people construct versions of their social world through the instrumentality and functionality of language (Potter & Wetherell, 2001). Thus, discourse analysis involves a theoretical way of understanding the nature of psychological phenomena (Billig, 1997). Participants in social interaction strategically deploy discursive devices to demonstrate their keenness and stake in conversations in pursuit of their interpersonal and social objectives (Willig, 2008).

Though some have doubted the critical and detailed study of texts by Psychologists (Kendall, 2007), some discourse analysts however believe that a pretty new style of sociopsychological research can be effectively erected on the foundations of "speech act theory" (Potter & Wetherell, 2001, p. 198). Speech-act theory is a concept of essentially linguistic and philosophy of language, which basically describes the performative function of language; that is, the use of language to perform action in a given social context. Thus, natural language and everyday language use in social contexts, for most qualitative researchers, can closely represent the psychological reality of human experiences than the hitherto regimented and formal abstract categories that psychology has adopted over the years (Polkinghorne, 1990). It has been argued in recent times that a new and transformative way of doing social psychology should be established on detailed, concrete and empirically driven analysis of actual discourse (Potter, 2012). Key principles that foreground the production and meaning making process in social interactions are discussed below.

Principle of Positioning in Discourse Analysis

In all discourse and conversational analyses, the concept of positioning has been an influential frame of thought for conceptualizing context and culture in social interactions. The theory of positioning, though introduced by Davies and Harre' in 1990, was first used by Hollway in the Social Sciences in 1984 to analyze constructions of subjectivities in heterosexual relationships. …

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