Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader / Discourse as Data: A Guide for Analysis

By Curtin, Patricia A. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader / Discourse as Data: A Guide for Analysis


Curtin, Patricia A., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Discourse Theory and Practice:A Reader. Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor, and Simeon J. Yates, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001. 416 pp. $99 hbk. $31 pbk.

Discourse as Data:A Guide for Analysis. Margaret Wetherall, Stephanie Taylor, and Simeon J. Yates, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001. 344 pp. $91 hbk. $27.95 pbk.

These companion theory and method volumes are a joint venture of Sage Publications and The Open University, where they serve as the texts for a sixteen-week master's-level course in discourse analysis taught by lead editor Margaret Wetherell. Given the intertwining of theory and method in discourse analysis, the editors have designed these two collections of readings to work together; they possess a synergistic quality that adds to the value of each.

The editors' aim is to present discourse analysis in a way that is applicable to all social scientists and encompasses its divergent streams; as Taylor notes in the introduction to the data analysis volume, "discourse analysis is best understood as a field of research rather than a single practice." The texts outline six approaches to discourse analysis in a logical progression, starting with a postpositivist through constructivist and critical approaches. A similar breadth is evident in the types of data analyzed, including conversations, archival material, interviews, and computer-mediated communication.

Both volumes are organized into five corresponding broad content blocks: introductory material, social interactionism, discursive psychology, critical and cultural approaches, and an overview of the debates among these approaches. The introductory section of the theory text presents historical overviews of the six approaches: Saussure and Labov on linguistics, the philosophical work of Wittgenstein and Austin, the sociological foundations of Goffman and Garfinkel, the sociolinguistic tradition of Sapir and Whorf, the dialogism of Bakhtin and Volosinov, and an overview of Foucault. The authors have consciously not included primary works by these authors because they believe Wittgenstein and Foucault are too difficult for master's students. While the overviews quickly acquaint readers with the different traditions and vocabularies, they also present occasionally problematic interpretations of these primary works. For example, Stuart Hall, in his overview of Foucault, places Foucault firmly in the constructivist school and never discusses poststructuralism or postmodernism.

The corresponding introductory material in the data analysis text presents a primer on basic research issues, including ethics, reflexivity, formulating research questions, sampling, transcribing data, and writing the research report. The introductory sections of both volumes differentiate quantitative from qualitative approaches, but the qualitative nature of the majority of discourse analysis work is presented almost apologetically. Qualitative methods are well enough established in most social sciences that apologetic tones would seem no longer necessary or productive, but Wetherell's work to establish discursive psychology, a non-cognitive approach, may help explain the apologetic tone.

The second content block of each volume covers social interactionism, with primary theory readings from Goffman and Sacks as well as four more contemporary contributors. Many of the primary works in the theory volume have been edited to limit their length and scope, which keeps the readings tightly focused but also removes some of the nuance that more advanced readers might appreciate. The corresponding two data analysis chapters cover conversation analysis and sociolinguistic methods. As with all the chapters in the data analysis text, copious examples are provided, and exercises instruct the reader in a handson way about the "how to" of each approach. Although many qualitative methods texts lack clear data analysis instruction, this volume provides focused direction in each of the six discourse analysis traditions and fills a void in the existing literature. …

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