Nonacademic Writing: Social Theory and Technology

By Ann Hill Duin; Craig J. Hansen | Go to book overview

9
Understanding Institutional Discourse in the U.S. Congress, Present and Past

Catherine F. Smith

Descriptive research proceeds by observation and interpretation. These are historical acts. A researcher is always grounded in intellectual traditions and presuppositions, social and cultural organization, time, and place. In the study of discourse, this assumption doubly applies-the embedded reD searcher is always paralleled by the situated subject. The people whose discourses we study are, like ourselves, sense makers in context. A fundamental task of discourse analysis, therefore, is to understand how our subjects' interactions relate to their settings and situations. The other side of that purpose, like the other side of the moon, is to recognize how we are approaching the analysis. Thus, for the intellectual activity of describing in our own terms the discourse of others, we need analytic methods that preserve both the complexity that we find in our subjects and that we bring as researchers.

The book in which this chapter appears has the goal of reconsidering what we do as a research community of specialists in the study of nonacademic writing. That goal encouraged me to consider a 200-year-old case, for the challenge and pleasure of exploring what is found when we shift our analytic gaze from present to past, from individuals to groups, and from workplaces to other kinds of social institutions. My purpose in this chapter is to offer a method -- conceptual framing -- for descriptive study of discourse that aims to preserve complexity while interpreting it. Use of conceptual framing is illustrated by analysis of an example of historical discourse taken from institutional government.

Institutions manage public life. Governments, for example, are more than temporary, provisional arrangements. They are social macrostructures

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