Research Methods for Cultural Studies

By Michael Pickering | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Analysing Discourse

Martin Barker

The seemingly inexorable rise of the concept of ‘discourse’ has made it almost unavoidable for cultural studies researchers, particularly since its invitation to theorise culture as ‘like a language’ coincides with so many impulses within our field. But not without substantial costs. Looking at the cultural studies field from my angle as an audience researcher, some troubling features within discourse work come into view. For all the multiplicity of approaches, and the attendant variations in attached modes of ‘discourse analysis’, there are some powerful unifying features in ‘discourse talk’; and these features presume the very things that as an audience researcher I have to question. Very crudely, if the predominant theories of discourse are correct, my research field becomes ‘impossible’. There are embedded assumptions about the ‘powers’ of discourses, about how discourses ‘work’, which are powerfully disabling. There is a further problem, seemingly unrelated to the first, of the ‘convenient sample’: that is, the choice of cases which suit a researcher’s pre-given position and purpose, and which cannot allow a test of these. How do researchers know what ‘texts’ or bodies of materials to choose, for analysis? To whom are they relevant other than to the analyst? This too has dangerous entailments for the possibility of audience research. It is time, in my view, to expose these assumptions and to unshackle discourse research from their influence.

These issues have become particularly alive for me in the last four years, as I began with colleagues to plan for, conduct and assemble, and then analyse a vast body of materials within the international project on audience responses to the film of The Lord of the Rings. This project, which is being published in a range of forms and places, has required us to find or develop very detailed methods of discourse analysis in order to bring into view the differing orientations of a great range of kinds of audiences in varying cultural and country contexts. In this chapter I draw upon the insights I have gained, from being involved in these processes, without either directly addressing our detailed

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Research Methods for Cultural Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Section One - Lives and Lived Experiences 15
  • Chapter 1 - Experience and the Social World 17
  • Chapter 2 - Stories and the Social World 32
  • Section Two - Production and Consumption 51
  • Chapter 3 - Investigating Cultural Producers 53
  • Chapter 4 - Investigating Cultural Consumers 68
  • Section Three - Quantity and Quality 87
  • Chapter 5 - Why Counting Counts 89
  • Chapter 6 - Why Observing Matters 105
  • Section Four - Texts and Pictures 123
  • Chapter 7 - Analysing Visual Experience 125
  • Chapter 8 - Analysing Discourse 150
  • Section 5 - Linking with the Past 173
  • Chapter 9 - Engaging with Memory 175
  • Chapter 10 - Engaging with History 193
  • Bibliography 214
  • Notes on Contributors 234
  • Index 237
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