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Discursive Psychology: Theory, Method and Applications

  • By: Sally Wiggins
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd
  • Publication year: 2017
  • Online pub date: December 13, 2018
  • Discipline: Psychology
  • Methods: Transcription , Research questions , Social interaction
  • DOI: https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781473983335
  • Keywords: discourse , discursive practices , discursive psychology , emotion , research questions , transcripts , videos Show all Show less
  • Print ISBN: 9781473906754
  • Online ISBN: 9781473983335
  • Buy the book icon link

Subject index

Discursive psychology is widely applied, but often lost within the complicated web of discursive methodologies including conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis. Discursive Psychology: Theory, Method and Applications combines the author’s expertise in the approach with a clear pedagogical approach to show you how to put the methodology into practice.

Front Matter

  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Author
  • Chapter 1 | Discursive psychology
  • Chapter 2 | DP and other forms of discourse analysis
  • Chapter 3 | Developing a research question
  • Chapter 4 | Data collection and management
  • Chapter 5 | Transcribing and coding data
  • Chapter 6 | Analysing data using DP
  • Chapter 7 | Discursive devices
  • Chapter 8 | Writing up and presenting DP analyses
  • Chapter 9 | DP topics, case studies and project ideas
  • Chapter 10 | Applications and future developments

Back Matter

  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about discursive psychology

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  • Health Psychol Behav Med
  • v.8(1); 2020

Applying critical discursive psychology to health psychology research: a practical guide

Abigail locke.

a Division of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK

Kirsty Budds

b Division of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK

This paper outlines a qualitative methodological approach called Critical Discursive Psychology (CDP), considering its applicability to health psychology research. As applied to health psychology, the growth of discursive methodologies within the discipline tends to be located within a critical health psychology approach where CDP and others enable a consideration of how wider societal discourses shape understandings and experiences of health and illness. Despite the increasing usage of CDP as a methodology, little has been written on the practical application of the method to date, with papers instead focusing on the theoretical underpinnings of a CDP approach. This paper seeks to address that gap and offers a step by step guide to the key principles and analytic stages of CDP before giving a worked example of CDP applied to a health topic, in this case ‘baby-led weaning’ (BLW). As we discuss, a key strength of CDP, particularly in relation to health psychology, is in its attempts to understand both macro and micro levels of data analysis. By doing so it offers a nuanced and richer understanding of how particular health topics are working within context. Therefore, CDP is a readily applicable analytic approach to contested and complicated topic areas within health research.

Introduction

This paper focuses on the applicability of Critical Discursive Psychology (CDP) to research within health psychology. As yet, despite the growth of CDP papers in recent years (e.g. Budds, Locke, & Burr, 2016 ; Locke, 2015 ; Locke & Yarwood, 2017 ; Wetherell & Edley, 2014 ) since Edley’s ( 2001 ) chapter on outlining a critical approach to discursive analysis, there has been a dearth of practical guides on how to actually conduct a CDP analysis. This paper begins by introducing and locating CDP within its wider discursive backdrop, outlining key principles of the methodology. Building on previous work that began to map the steps of CDP (Budds, 2013 : Budds, Locke, & Burr, 2017 ), it then moves to a guide on how to conduct a CDP analysis before offering a worked example applied to a health topic – baby-led weaning (BLW). Please see Locke ( 2015 ) for further examples of CDP applied to BLW and infant feeding.

CDP is one of a variety of approaches that sits under the umbrella of discursive research. Discursive methodologies are well established across the Social Sciences. With regards to the discipline of Psychology, their initial usage and development came in late 1980s through Potter and Wetherell ( 1987 ) as one of a growing number of qualitative research methods as part of the ‘discursive turn’ that followed the crisis in social sciences (Harré, 2003 ). Under the umbrella of the discursive methodologies sit a number of variants including Discourse Analysis (Potter & Wetherell, 1987 ), Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (Willig, 2013 ), Discursive Psychology (Edwards & Potter, 1992 ; Wiggins & Potter, 2017 ) and Critical Discursive Psychology (Wetherell, 1998 ; Wetherell & Edley, 2014 ). However, what these methodologies generally have in common is their social constructionist epistemology which demands that rather than being viewed as an accurate or true representation of people’s thoughts or feelings, language is considered to construct social reality (Burr, 2015 ). As such, discourse becomes the central focus of investigation.

Critical Discursive Psychology (e.g. Wetherell, 1998 , 2015 ; Wetherell & Edley, 2014 ) is a form of discursive analysis that embodies principles from both wider (conversation analytically inspired) discursive psychology (e.g. Edwards & Potter, 1992 ; Wiggins & Potter, 2017 ) and post-structuralist Foucauldian-inspired Discourse Analysis (e.g. Arribas-Ayllon & Walkerdine, 2008 ; Willig, 2013 ). In this paper, we will explain how in Critical Discursive Psychology, these two approaches, often seen as opposing, can come together, before moving on to outline the core principles of these approaches and to consider some examples of how they have been applied to health psychology topics. We will then make a case for what Critical Discursive Psychology (CDP) offers to health psychology research. We begin by providing a brief introduction to Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) and Discursive Psychology (DP).

Foucauldian discourse analysis

Often considered to be at either end of the spectrum of discursive methodologies, both Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and Discursive Psychology have successfully been applied to health research and have become popular approaches in psychology more widely. Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) is an approach to discourse analysis underpinned by post-structuralist traditions and in particular is inspired by the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault. FDA is used to examine the ways in which language and discourse constitute versions of our social reality (Foucault, 1981 ). A Foucauldian approach tends to involve identifying the discourses that are available to social actors, from which they can make sense of the world around them. For Foucault, discourse is closely bound up with power (Foucault, 1978 ) and in that sense discourses have implications for practice (what people can do or have done to them) and subjectivity (Willig, 2013 ). For instance, an example of critical health work from a Foucauldian Discourse Analytic approach includes Gillies and Willig’s ( 1997 ) study which examined the wider discursive constructions women used to justify smoking behaviour. Based on these findings they developed some implications for health promotion activities and argued for an approach where the more structural underpinnings of smoking need to be considered and addressed. As we can see with this example, health research inspired by Foucauldian approaches would therefore consider wider discourses of health and illness and the way in which these have implications for practices and subjective experiences.

Discursive psychology

Meanwhile, other work applies the principles of discursive psychology (DP) to health research (e.g. Wiggins & Potter, 2017 ). At the heart of DP is a focus on talk and text as part of social practices and a consideration of talk as performative – how people do things with their words. There is a focus on how psychological concepts are invoked and made relevant within interactions (Edwards & Potter, 1992 ). As an approach, DP has evolved since its inception, shifting from a focus on interviews and interpretative repertoires to a focus on sequential analysis which is informed by conversation analytic principles (Kent & Potter, 2014 ; Potter, 2012 ).

Applied to health, Wiggins ( 2017 ) considers that DP can address issues such as how individuals orient to particular everyday practices as ‘healthy’ or not, how people seek health advice and how the concepts of health and illness are used within interaction. For example, there is now an established body of research using DP to consider how people manage accountability for either being healthy or coping with illness. Wiggins ( 2009 ) used a discursive psychological approach to examine how individuals attending National Health Service obesity services in the UK managed blame for obesity by resisting personal responsibility for weight gain. Focusing on the discourse in group meetings between patients and practitioners, the analysis showed how the patients did this both by denying they had performed any activities which may contribute to blame for weight gain/lack of weight loss and, secondly, by constructing the blame as beyond their direct control. In doing so, Wiggins argues, the individuals conform to individualistic medical understandings of weight management and locate their discourse within the interactional management of blame and weight management. That is, there is an element of ‘moral accountability’ around the ways in which weight is discussed at the local level in these interactions. This micro approach to DP analysis is able to illustrate how these discourses are being constructed at local interactional level. However, when it comes to locating such discourses within social and cultural frameworks, with a DP approach it becomes more difficult as these wider ‘macro’ concerns are outside of the local ‘micro’ interactional level. Please see the debate between Schegloff ( 1997 ) and Billig ( 1999 ) on context in discourse for a wider discussion of this issue.

Critical discursive psychology

Whilst these two discursive strands have typically stood apart, Wetherell ( 1998 ) began mapping (with Nigel Edley) a discursive approach that focused on elements of post-structuralist discourse analysis (in line with elements of Foucauldian inspired DA) alongside elements of discursive psychology (Edwards & Potter, 1992 ). (Wetherell, 2007 , p. 665). Wetherell’s ( 1998 ) paper offered a detailed and comprehensive engagement with both post-structuralist (Foucauldian) and conversation analytic approaches to the study of talk, noting the tensions and possibilities that a combination could offer social (and health) psychology. This potential synthesis was named Critical Discursive Psychology and, building on previous work (Budds, 2013 ; Budds et al., 2017 ; Edley & Wetherell, 2001 ; Wetherell & Edley, 2014 ), is the methodology that will be outlined in this paper. By combining the micro-analytic elements of Discursive Psychology that pay attention to the ways in which discourse and interaction is a form of ‘social action’ with the wider ‘macro’ elements of socio-cultural and historical contexts of the discourse typically seen in Post-Structuralist approaches, CDP provides a dual-reading of data and can offer a more complete analytic picture of the topic under investigation.

As Edley and Wetherell ( 2001 ) note, within CDP:

on the one hand, we try and study how talk is organised as social action in its immediate context, the subject positions in play and the rhetorical and interactional consequences of this organisation, focusing on participants’ orientations to clarify and identify these elements. On the other hand, we assume that talk assumes regular patterns that reveal the shared sense-making resources of a sample or which may be specific to a site, institution or characteristic of a broader social context and historical period. (Edley & Wetherell, 2001 , p. 441)

Therefore, for health research, CDP enables us to consider, at a macro level the wider discourses of health and illness, in terms of identifying what these are and what possibilities they open up (and close down) for making sense of health and illness and the subject positions or ‘ways of being’ made available. Additionally, at a micro level, we are able to consider how individuals deploy these discourses locally and in so doing accomplish various social practices. A CDP approach therefore aligns itself with the notion that people are both the products and producers of discourse (Billig, 1991 ). On one hand, discourse is constructive – discourses shape the possibilities for understanding various concepts and objects in the social world – and therefore shape the possibilities for social practice and subjectivity. For example, we see how discourses of masculinity might shape men’s engagement with health care services (e.g. Seymour-Smith, Wetherell, & Phoenix, 2002 ). On the other, we are able to consider the way in which individuals have some agency and are able to selectively deploy discourses within interaction in order to accomplish different social practices. In the example above (Wiggins, 2009 ) we saw how individuals drew on individualised constructions of weight management in order to try to deflect blame and accountability for their weight.

Three tenets of critical discursive psychology

There are three core principles or tenets of a Critical Discursive Psychological approach that underpin the methodology. Firstly, as noted above, that discourse is both constitutive in that it can shape the various ways in which we are able to make sense of the world around us. Yet it is also constructive – we can actively construct versions of the social world and make use of wider societal discourses within interaction in order to achieve various social practices. We can apply this tenet to the concept of subject positions (Davies & Harré, 1990 ), which are key to a critical discursive psychological analysis (Budds et al., 2017 ; Edley, 2001 ). Subject positions are considered to be particular ‘ways of being’ that are made available within discourse, as Parker ( 1992 , p. 9) notes: ‘a discourse makes available a space for particular types of self to step in’. Therefore, we can consider the ways in which different discourses position individuals, with respect to what subject positions are available. Yet, also, we might consider the way in which individuals are able to position themselves within discourse by either actively taking up or indeed resisting the subject positions that are made available.

The second tenet is that discourse is situated and this situated nature is considered in a number of ways. For CDP theorists, all discourse is indexical, i.e. it is not separable from its context. Therefore we must attend to how data is produced e.g. research interviews, chat room interactions, work place interactions or, as in the case of the data for this piece, newspaper articles. We should also consider, however, how situated discourse is rhetorical. That is, we are producing versions and arguments in a rhetorical way and therefore alternative versions or constructions are always possible. Therefore, as Billig ( 1991 , 1996 ) suggests, there can be a consideration of what is neglected to be mentioned, as well as what is. A focus of CDP analysis can then be to examine how one version is constructed as plausible whilst others may be discounted (or ignored).

The final key tenet is concerned with the action orientation of talk and management of accountability. That is, CDP asserts that versions of events can be actively constructed through discourse, achieving a variety of social actions. Of particular interest for CDP is the management of accountability – that is, how speakers manage their agency within interactions and can perform a number of different acts such as excusing, justifying or blaming, when retelling their version of events (Edwards, 1997 ). For example, work from this tradition has seen how women manage accountability for ‘delayed’ motherhood (Budds et al., 2016 , p. 2017) or how fathers account for their level of involvement in parenting (Locke & Yarwood, 2017 ).

Critical discursive psychology: analytic steps

Discursive psychological methods of data analysis have not typically been produced with a set of stages of analysis that can be followed like a ‘recipe book’ (Gill, 1996 ), unlike more recent inventions in methods popular in the health sciences. However, we propose there are a number of steps that the developing analysis can be broken down into which move from considering broader constructions within the text to a more thorough consideration of the ‘how’, ‘when’, and ‘why’ of the discourse. In this paper we will outline these steps in the order in which we perform them, illustrating with a worked example.

Prior to analysis, as with all research studies, we would assume that the topic to be studied has been designed and conducted within a CDP framework. That is, in line with Crotty’s ( 1998 ) approach to research design, the research question should be congruent with the epistemological, ontological and theoretical framework for the research. For a CDP analysis, typically the epistemology is social constructionism, the ontology is either relativist or critical realist depending on the analyst’s wishes. A relativist perspective would consider language as the medium through which social ‘realities’ are constructed. Whereas, from a critical realist position, language is viewed as constructing social realities, but it is also recognised that these constructions are constrained by material conditions. The theoretical framework is interpretivist, which means there is a focus on understanding and interpreting meaning within the data. Given that this forms part of an advanced methods guide, we would assume some prior knowledge on research design for qualitative research (see Rohleder & Lyons, 2015 , for a useful guide). The research questions for a CDP project are often quite open. In the case of the piece here, it would be something like ‘how do newspapers construct baby-led weaning?’

Critical Discursive Psychology can be applied to a variety of different data sources. These include secondary and documentary data, such as official documents or media and newspaper reports; observations of naturally occurring data, such as recordings of ‘real-world’ situations (e.g. self-help groups, medical interactions, helpline recordings, internet chatrooms and forums, and so on); and data which is collected as part of the research process, such as data from interviews or focus groups. When using interview data, critical discursive psychologists have a preference for semi-structured or unstructured interview formats. This is due to focus on the co-production of conversation and knowledge that a CDP approach proposes. However, when used within a CDP framework, it becomes important to analyse the interviews or focus groups in their entirety, as an interaction (e.g. question-answer sequences), instead of focusing entirely on participant responses by way of acknowledging the context accounts are situated within.

Once the data has been collected if it through audio or video recordings then a transcript of the data will need to be produced before the analysis begins. There are different transcription notation methods that exist but the data will need to be at least transcribed verbatim (i.e. word for word). Some CDP analysts use an adaption of the Jeffersonian method (Jefferson, 2004 ) developed for Conversation Analysis which notes pauses and other intonation in interaction.

The data presented for analysis in this paper came from an analysis of newspapers as the research focused on constructions of ‘baby-led weaning’ in the media (see Locke, 2015 , for related work on this topic). To collect the data the media search database Proquest International Newsstand was searched using the search terms ‘baby-led weaning’ for all newspapers titles on the database. This produced an initial sample of 585 articles across a number of countries. Once duplicate and other non-related articles were removed, including non-English language articles, a final sample of 78 articles was subject to a Critical Discursive Psychological (CDP) analysis.

Stage one: familiarisation with the data and initial coding

Once you have your data, it requires a thorough reading and familiarising yourself with the data corpus. Initially the researcher needs to immerse themselves within the data and perform a line by line coding focusing in on what is being said, what categories are being invoked, and when and how they are invoked. We suggest the coding produced at this stage can be both descriptive and interpretative in order to highlight the different ways in which the topic is discussed. The analysis moves from description and ‘noticings’ in the data onto more detailed interpretation as it progresses. For this particular analysis, as it was performed on newspaper articles that had a focus on weaning practices, there were key references to different forms of weaning throughout the whole data corpus. Categories to be identified here could therefore be names of particular practices such as ‘feeding’ and ‘weaning’, or people, e.g. ‘mother’ and ‘baby’. Consider, for example, the extract below.

When the stay-at-home mum did decide to introduce food again she tried baby-led weaning, where children are offered a range of finger foods and they feed themselves what they want to eat. She says: ‘It was down to him what he wanted and the milk was there to fill him. Now he will eat anything. But she says her older two sons, Karlum, aged six, and Jack, aged four, were both weaned at four months and are fussy eaters. (The Sentinel (UK), 25 January 2011)

As we can see in the extract above, there are a number of categories contained in the discourse. These include categories of people and practices, such as ‘stay-at-home mum’ and ‘fussy eaters’, ‘baby-led weaning’, ‘weaning’ and ‘finger foods’. All of these terms are of interest at this initial stage of coding as they all relate to infant feeding practices as the topic of the research project. We will see as we move into stage two, how these initial noticings and categories start to become worked up into a more detailed analysis.

Stage two: discursive constructions

In this second stage the analysis involves the identification of the constructions of the topic of investigation, building on the coding that has been performed in stage one. The analysis proceeds as the analyst identifies the prevalent themes or ways of talking in the discourse, and how these key words or repeated themes can be grouped together. This stage differs from stages of more thematic approaches, such as Thematic Analysis and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), as the focus here moves away from more factual or experiential concerns about the topic, to an attempt to understand what the words and themes are ‘doing.’ Applied to our example, at this stage, we would consider the different ways in which the discursive object of ‘baby led weaning’ is constructed within the text. We will consider an extract of data from 2008, which appeared in a Canadian newspaper, to illustrate this further.

It’s time to pack up the pea puree and toss the baby rice. No more blending beans, mashing bananas or whipping sweet potatoes. Fed up with rigid timetables for the introduction of first foods, a growing number of parents are giving up on spoon feeding and letting the kids set the pace. (The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 25 November 2008)

In this extract the caregivers are told to ‘pack up’ the purees and ‘toss the baby rice’, two identifiable traditional weaning methods and foods for infants. It continues with other tried and tested ways of preparing traditional weaning foods of ‘blended’, ‘mashed’ and ‘whipped’ foods. Finally, the baby-led weaning movement is constructed, in contrast, as a way of resisting the ‘rigid’ nature of previous weaning advice and timings, noting the ‘growing number’ of parents who are giving their children agency over their eating practices by letting them ‘set the pace’. Therefore, if we consider this in the light of stages one and two of analysis, we can see how this extract highlights the way in which BLW is constructed as an antidote to, or progression from, traditional infant feeding methods.

Stage three: interpretative repertoires

In stage three the analysis considers the pervasive constructions of the discursive objects through the identification of interpretative repertoires (Wetherell & Edley, 2014 ). The analyst begins working through the data in more detail, considering what the invocation of the discursive construction is accomplishing in the context of the interaction. An interpretative repertoire is a recognisable way of describing, framing or speaking about an issue that is identifiable as such. The notion of interpretative repertories was brought into psychology through Potter and Wetherell ( 1987 ) as a way of conducting discourse analysis. Questions can be asked such as what kind of reality is being constructed, and, what kinds of constructions are being resisted? Identification of a repertoire is similar in many ways to the identification of a discourse, in that recognisable ways of describing/presenting an issue are identified. However, where the difference lies appears to be around Foucauldian notions of power that sit within many post-structuralist discursive approaches. In that, a discourse commonly has a more pervasive aspect that typically positions different groups in particular ways along power lines. Interpretative repertoires allows for a wider focus on human agency in discursive construction (Edley, 2001 ). As the analysis develops, we are able to see how different interpretative repertoires are constructed through the talk. In the data presented here, we can see a repertoire of the ‘agentive child’ whereby it is the child who chooses what and how much they will eat from a variety of foods provided by the parent/caregiver and ‘sets the pace’.

The issue of the agentive child with ‘choice’ over their eating habits is a prevalent repertoire throughout the data corpus. Researchers (e.g. Townsend & Pitchford, 2012 ) have speculated that agentive children are more likely to self-regulate their food intake, and thereby avoid obesity and weight problems in the future. The extract below is from one of the first newspaper articles that discussed this research study (Townsend & Pitchford’s article in the BMJ Open).

Babies may know best when it comes to their future health, according to researchers who found that infants who have more choice over what they eat may be less overweight than their spoon-fed counterparts. Allowing infants to feed themselves from a selection of finger foods from the start of weaning rather than being fed purees may help them regulate their intake. (The Guardian (UK) 7 February 2012)

In the excerpt we can see that the agentive child is clearly constructed. We are told that babies ‘know best’ with respect to their future health and this is determined by them having more ‘choice’ over their eating, in contrast with traditional feeding methods, leading to children learning to self-regulate their food intake. The analysis moves beyond these constructions to see how BLW constructed the child as agentive in their feeding behaviours. The newspaper report notes how the child is given a selection of foods and then will ‘choose’ which of these to explore and eat. This ability for a child to self-regulate is portrayed as something that is inherent in the baby, this is ‘natural’ from birth, through self-regulating their milk feeds, but becomes lost through the practice of spoon-feeding in the weaning process. Therefore, by following BLW, the mother is engaging in a more ‘natural’ type of parenting.

Stage four: subject positions

Subject positions are a key aspect of post-structuralist analyses and can be considered as ‘ways of being’. Subject positions came from ‘positioning theory’ (Davies & Harré, 1990 ) which looks at how the writer or speaker is both positioned and positions themselves and others in discourse. In stage four of a CDP analysis, we suggest the focus should turn to the positions that are made available to people through the interpretative repertoires that are in operation. As we saw in stage three, some of the interpretative repertoires in operation around BLW are around a repertoire of the ‘agentive child’. We are also aware from the substantial research literature around maternal identities (e.g. Hays, 1996 ; Knaak, 2010 ) that mothers are orienting themselves as ‘good mothers’ in their parenting practices. Therefore, if we consider that there is a subject position of the ‘good mother’ at work here, we can consider this position in relation and with respect to the ‘agentive child’ repertoire. The way that this is demonstrated is that the data sets up BLW as being the informed choice to make for a good parent. Thus it follows that if you were adopting good parenting practices then you would make the decision to BLW, as the extract below suggests.

I was entirely focused on hunting down the recipe for Perfect Motherhood, determined to follow it to the letter. Co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, skin-to-skin contact, lots of fresh air and classical music; really, it was very simple. (Sunday Independent, Dublin, 6 October 2013)

This extract demonstrates that BLW is noted as one of the markers of a ‘good mother’ identity in our contemporary parenting culture and therefore opens up a ‘subject position’ for the mother who engages in these practices. Locke ( 2015 ) picks up this discussion in the context of ‘good mothering’ identities, BLW and parenting cultures further. Indeed, there are clear parallels between the breast/bottle debate and the decision women have around whether to spoon feed or do baby-led weaning demonstrated here. That is, to be positioned as a ‘good’ mother, women ought to take the baby-led approach. That said, participants have some agency with respect to subject positions and are able to adopt/resist them. Further, it is also possible to reposition themselves as a ‘good mother’ whilst not adopting BLW, through adopting other parenting practices. We will pick up an example of this in the extract below.

She wanted to give her children the very best start in life but in setting herself impossibly high standards, Leanne Morris came terrifyingly close to the edge … unaware of her condition, she pushed herself to be the perfect mum … ’After I had her we used real nappies and we did baby-led weaning where, instead of pureeing up her foods, we let her feed herself. We made sure we ate quite healthily –whatever we were eating we put down in front of Jessica. … So we were doing a few different things with Jessica but when John came along I couldn't cope with the pressure of it. (Daily Record, Glasgow, 2 July 2013)

In this extract we see how Leanne is positioning herself as a ‘good mother’ and wanting to do the best for her children. In contrast, BLW has been repositioned as being too demanding a method of feeding in some instances, in this case second time motherhood. Thus, by adopting it as a practice, she risks hers and her children’s wellbeing. Therefore to manage her ‘good mothering’ subject position, Leanne has positioned herself as only stopping BLW once she was unable to carry on due to her medical condition.

Stage five: discursive accomplishments

In stage five, the focus should shift to the micro level of analysis to consider the action orientation of the discourse by examining the ways in which the accounts are put together in order to achieve particular interactional effects. That is, at this stage, the implications of discourse use are considered more locally in terms of what interactional business is being ‘done’ at the micro-level through the identification of linguistic and rhetorical devices. It is here that a CDP approach is able to utilise the ‘tool-box’ of discursive devices typical of a more conversation analytic inspired DP in order to consider how the discourse is constructed in particular ways. For example, strategies such as script formulations (Edwards, 1994 ) are identified which construct events as routine and ordinary; extreme case formulations (Pomerantz, 1986 ) which note when events have been constructed in extreme terms; and membership categories (Sacks, 1992 ), amongst others. In the following extract we will explore an example of the ways in which the extracts are constructed and the rhetorical tools at play in more detail. The piece is taken from the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper from 2013.

Put away the blender: the latest way to introduce food to your little darling is in chunks. No mush, no puree, no baby rice – just pieces of food, straight from your own plate. The method, coined baby-led weaning makes children less fussy and less stressed as well as healthier. Their kids eat – and wean – at their own pace from the age of six months, meaning the family can eat the same meal together (just keep it healthy). (The Daily Mail (UK), 20 February 2013)

The extract begins with a direct instruction – ‘put away the blender’ and continues with the ease of preparing food for BLW that it’s ‘just’ food ‘straight from your own plate’. This marks the routine nature of this method of weaning and food preparation. If we now start to break this down even further, BLW is discussed in terms of the effects on the child itself, presented in three parts; that it leads to children being ‘less fussy’ about the types of foods that they eat, ‘less stressed’ about eating, and ‘healthier’ given the foods that the children will select. This is an example of a ‘three part list’ – a rhetorical device initially identified by Jefferson ( 1990 ). A further example of this can be seen earlier to describe the ‘old’ ways of giving food – ‘no mush, no puree, no baby rice’. The three part list functions to bolsters the persuasiveness of an account and shores up the benefits of BLW as the (informed) best choice of weaning method. The extract finishes with another instruction to parents to ‘just keep it healthy’. The use of ‘just’ here, and at the start of the extract, is a discourse marker (Fraser, 1990 ; Schiffrin, 1987 ) that functions in this case as a hedging expression to minimise the force of the request given, yet also makes the request appear simple – something that any family should reasonably be able to achieve with little difficulty.

Similarly, if we revisit the example that demonstrated the repertoire of agentive child, we can demonstrate what a focus on the action orientation of the discourse accomplishes.

The word ‘best’ here is an example of an extreme case formulation (Pomerantz, 1986 ). Extreme case formulations (ECF) work to bolster the strength and validity of the account, in this case, further persuading that BLW is the weaning method to adopt. There is a contrast noted between two categories of feeding behaviour – those who have been weaned in a baby-led fashion and those who are ‘spoon fed’. Here the categories are built up with types of behaviours that fit within them such as fussy/less fussy, convenient/less convenient and regulating intake/being spoon fed, and so on. The types of categories that are constructed here set up binaries that are working alongside a wider positioning of the ‘good mother’ who would make the ‘informed choice’ to adopt BLW. Note here also the softening use of ‘may’ throughout the piece on the article’s strong, agentive and extremely formulated claims (Edwards, 2000 ; Locke, 2004 ).

Stage six: practice

We suggest the final stage involves putting together all of the different aspects of the analysis and considering what this means for the topic under investigation. Firstly, there is a consideration of what is achieved, in an ideological sense, by drawing on particular repertoires, and adopting certain subject positions whilst resisting others. These offer a macro level of analysis and enable the researcher to link the data to wider ideologies and societal discourses. For example, in the case of parenting and BLW, the move to natural, ‘permissive’ forms of parenting are having a renaissance in the parenting literature and contemporary parenting cultures, most notably through the attachment parenting ethos (Sears & Sears, 2001 ). However, as others (e.g. Badinter, 2012 ) have noted, this ‘overzealous’ approach to natural parenting sets up unattainable expectations and pressures for many mothers who are navigating parenting cultures. Therefore, we could argue that the repertoires and positions inherent in these discourses are both endorsed and resisted in the data presented here. The analytic stages presented in this paper demonstrate how BLW is constructed as the obvious ‘informed choice’ (Crossley, 2009 : Kirkham, 2004 ) for the mother or parent to make. By adopting BLW, the infant becomes ‘agentive’ and able to self-regulate their feeding This then becomes packaged in the discourse with improved family relations and less stressed mealtimes, less ‘fussy-eating’ and potential healthier outcomes for the infant long-term. As Locke ( 2015 ) notes elsewhere, the construction of BLW as the ‘informed choice’ is reflective of both wider considerations of contemporary parenting cultures (Hays, 1996 ; Lee, Bristow, Faircloth, & McVarish, 2014 ) and neoliberal approaches to health promotion which operates on a system of informed choice and risk. When making these ‘choices’, the parent becomes accountable for the decisions that they make, particularly if they choose what is deemed to be the riskier option. In this final stage of analysis, we are able to put together the analytic jigsaw to demonstrate what the CDP analytic approach offers to the area of infant feeding. We can see that it has enabled a more in-depth consideration of the discourse around infant feeding decisions, setting these within wider contexts such as contemporary parenting ideologies and parenting cultures. By doing so we can begin to offer insight into determining how advice and choices, in terms of parenting practices, are both presented to, and made by, parents.

This paper has set out to describe how to conduct a CDP analysis. It began with locating CDP within a wider discursive framework before outlining what it can offer health psychology research using baby led weaning as an example. As we noted previously, CDP enables the analysis to address the dual concerns of discourse; that is a focus on macro-level issues that consider wider societal discourses and the repertoires and subject positions inherent in these, combined with a focus on the micro, rhetorical and agentive aspects of the discourse. CDP offers a way of accessing these two levels of analysis and can ask, for example, what is at work in contemporary culture at this time that allows these particular versions to make sense? In the case of the example here, what do various constructions of baby-led weaning tell us about what parents are being advised to do, and the ‘preferred choices’ to be made, in terms of infant feeding practices? As we have seen the data demonstrates the repertoire of ‘the agentive child’. This became tied with a wider discourse of ‘good mothering’ and the subject position of the ‘good mother’ as one who adopted BLW given its convenience and benefits to the child. The analysis noted how the discourse was drawing on wider parenting ideologies, e.g. intensive mothering (Hays, 1996 ) that becomes evident in the data and link to wider societal norms around parenting and infant feeding. It also examines the ideological function of the discourse and,in this context of parenting cultures, there was a consideration of the kinds of parenting practices that were being portrayed as the preferred or ‘right’ way to parent.

Due to the situated nature of the analysis, CDP work, as with many other qualitative methodologies, does not attempt to generalise its findings beyond the data. This is not a shortcoming and it does not mean, however, that comparisons between data sets cannot be made. Work within the areas of Critical Discursive Psychological analysis explores discursive constructions and patterns that are recognisable in other wider contexts, different interactions and topic areas. For example, as we demonstrated in the analysis in this paper, there are particular recognisable ways of speaking around infant feeding and parenting practices that are relatable to the wider literature (e.g. Knaak, 2010 ; Locke, 2009 ; Stanway, 2005 ). As Wetherell ( 2015 , p. 321) reminds us, discursive research and, in this case CDP, has provided critical and health psychology ‘with sets of tools, theories and method to systematically investigate’ areas of concern or contention within psychology and health to reach a wider and more contextualised understanding of pertinent issues. This paper has taken a step towards, and developed further, the CDP as a methodological approach to fulfil this important task.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Professor Irina Todorova and the reviewers of this article for their detailed feedback on this work.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

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A Handbook of Research Methods for Clinical and Health Psychology

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12 Discursive approaches

  • Published: June 2005
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This chapter introduces a method of qualitative analysis that focuses on exploring and explicating language in use. The discourse analytic approach discussed has developed within psychology over the past fifteen years and is called ‘discursive psychology’ (DP). The chapter outlines its origins and foundations, its theory and approach to language, its questions and topics of investigation, its methods of data collection and analysis and, for the current purposes, its utility for clinical and health psychologists.

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Grad Coach

What (Exactly) Is Discourse Analysis? A Plain-Language Explanation & Definition (With Examples)

By: Jenna Crosley (PhD). Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2021

Discourse analysis is one of the most popular qualitative analysis techniques we encounter at Grad Coach. If you’ve landed on this post, you’re probably interested in discourse analysis, but you’re not sure whether it’s the right fit for your project, or you don’t know where to start. If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Overview: Discourse Analysis Basics

In this post, we’ll explain in plain, straightforward language :

  • What discourse analysis is
  • When to use discourse analysis
  • The main approaches to discourse analysis
  • How to conduct discourse analysis

What is discourse analysis?

Let’s start with the word “discourse”.

In its simplest form, discourse is verbal or written communication between people that goes beyond a single sentence . Importantly, discourse is more than just language. The term “language” can include all forms of linguistic and symbolic units (even things such as road signs), and language studies can focus on the individual meanings of words. Discourse goes beyond this and looks at the overall meanings conveyed by language in context .  “Context” here refers to the social, cultural, political, and historical background of the discourse, and it is important to take this into account to understand underlying meanings expressed through language.

A popular way of viewing discourse is as language used in specific social contexts, and as such language serves as a means of prompting some form of social change or meeting some form of goal.

Discourse analysis goals

Now that we’ve defined discourse, let’s look at discourse analysis .

Discourse analysis uses the language presented in a corpus or body of data to draw meaning . This body of data could include a set of interviews or focus group discussion transcripts. While some forms of discourse analysis center in on the specifics of language (such as sounds or grammar), other forms focus on how this language is used to achieve its aims. We’ll dig deeper into these two above-mentioned approaches later.

As Wodak and Krzyżanowski (2008) put it: “discourse analysis provides a general framework to problem-oriented social research”. Basically, discourse analysis is used to conduct research on the use of language in context in a wide variety of social problems (i.e., issues in society that affect individuals negatively).

For example, discourse analysis could be used to assess how language is used to express differing viewpoints on financial inequality and would look at how the topic should or shouldn’t be addressed or resolved, and whether this so-called inequality is perceived as such by participants.

What makes discourse analysis unique is that it posits that social reality is socially constructed , or that our experience of the world is understood from a subjective standpoint. Discourse analysis goes beyond the literal meaning of words and languages

For example, people in countries that make use of a lot of censorship will likely have their knowledge, and thus views, limited by this, and will thus have a different subjective reality to those within countries with more lax laws on censorship.

social construction

When should you use discourse analysis?

There are many ways to analyze qualitative data (such as content analysis , narrative analysis , and thematic analysis ), so why should you choose discourse analysis? Well, as with all analysis methods, the nature of your research aims, objectives and research questions (i.e. the purpose of your research) will heavily influence the right choice of analysis method.

The purpose of discourse analysis is to investigate the functions of language (i.e., what language is used for) and how meaning is constructed in different contexts, which, to recap, include the social, cultural, political, and historical backgrounds of the discourse.

For example, if you were to study a politician’s speeches, you would need to situate these speeches in their context, which would involve looking at the politician’s background and views, the reasons for presenting the speech, the history or context of the audience, and the country’s social and political history (just to name a few – there are always multiple contextual factors).

The purpose of discourse analysis

Discourse analysis can also tell you a lot about power and power imbalances , including how this is developed and maintained, how this plays out in real life (for example, inequalities because of this power), and how language can be used to maintain it. For example, you could look at the way that someone with more power (for example, a CEO) speaks to someone with less power (for example, a lower-level employee).

Therefore, you may consider discourse analysis if you are researching:

  • Some form of power or inequality (for example, how affluent individuals interact with those who are less wealthy
  • How people communicate in a specific context (such as in a social situation with colleagues versus a board meeting)
  • Ideology and how ideas (such as values and beliefs) are shared using language (like in political speeches)
  • How communication is used to achieve social goals (such as maintaining a friendship or navigating conflict)

As you can see, discourse analysis can be a powerful tool for assessing social issues , as well as power and power imbalances . So, if your research aims and objectives are oriented around these types of issues, discourse analysis could be a good fit for you.

discourse analysis is good for analysing power

Discourse Analysis: The main approaches

There are two main approaches to discourse analysis. These are the language-in-use (also referred to as socially situated text and talk ) approaches and the socio-political approaches (most commonly Critical Discourse Analysis ). Let’s take a look at each of these.

Approach #1: Language-in-use

Language-in-use approaches focus on the finer details of language used within discourse, such as sentence structures (grammar) and phonology (sounds). This approach is very descriptive and is seldom seen outside of studies focusing on literature and/or linguistics.

Because of its formalist roots, language-in-use pays attention to different rules of communication, such as grammaticality (i.e., when something “sounds okay” to a native speaker of a language). Analyzing discourse through a language-in-use framework involves identifying key technicalities of language used in discourse and investigating how the features are used within a particular social context.

For example, English makes use of affixes (for example, “un” in “unbelievable”) and suffixes (“able” in “unbelievable”) but doesn’t typically make use of infixes (units that can be placed within other words to alter their meaning). However, an English speaker may say something along the lines of, “that’s un-flipping-believable”. From a language-in-use perspective, the infix “flipping” could be investigated by assessing how rare the phenomenon is in English, and then answering questions such as, “What role does the infix play?” or “What is the goal of using such an infix?”

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discursive psychology research question examples

Approach #2: Socio-political

Socio-political approaches to discourse analysis look beyond the technicalities of language and instead focus on the influence that language has in social context , and vice versa. One of the main socio-political approaches is Critical Discourse Analysis , which focuses on power structures (for example, the power dynamic between a teacher and a student) and how discourse is influenced by society and culture. Critical Discourse Analysis is born out of Michel Foucault’s early work on power, which focuses on power structures through the analysis of normalized power .

Normalized power is ingrained and relatively allusive. It’s what makes us exist within society (and within the underlying norms of society, as accepted in a specific social context) and do the things that we need to do. Contrasted to this, a more obvious form of power is repressive power , which is power that is actively asserted.

Sounds a bit fluffy? Let’s look at an example.

Consider a situation where a teacher threatens a student with detention if they don’t stop speaking in class. This would be an example of repressive power (i.e. it was actively asserted).

Normalized power, on the other hand, is what makes us not want to talk in class . It’s the subtle clues we’re given from our environment that tell us how to behave, and this form of power is so normal to us that we don’t even realize that our beliefs, desires, and decisions are being shaped by it.

In the view of Critical Discourse Analysis, language is power and, if we want to understand power dynamics and structures in society, we must look to language for answers. In other words, analyzing the use of language can help us understand the social context, especially the power dynamics.

words have power

While the above-mentioned approaches are the two most popular approaches to discourse analysis, other forms of analysis exist. For example, ethnography-based discourse analysis and multimodal analysis. Ethnography-based discourse analysis aims to gain an insider understanding of culture , customs, and habits through participant observation (i.e. directly observing participants, rather than focusing on pre-existing texts).

On the other hand, multimodal analysis focuses on a variety of texts that are both verbal and nonverbal (such as a combination of political speeches and written press releases). So, if you’re considering using discourse analysis, familiarize yourself with the various approaches available so that you can make a well-informed decision.

How to “do” discourse analysis

As every study is different, it’s challenging to outline exactly what steps need to be taken to complete your research. However, the following steps can be used as a guideline if you choose to adopt discourse analysis for your research.

Step 1: Decide on your discourse analysis approach

The first step of the process is to decide on which approach you will take in terms. For example, the language in use approach or a socio-political approach such as critical discourse analysis. To do this, you need to consider your research aims, objectives and research questions . Of course, this means that you need to have these components clearly defined. If you’re still a bit uncertain about these, check out our video post covering topic development here.

While discourse analysis can be exploratory (as in, used to find out about a topic that hasn’t really been touched on yet), it is still vital to have a set of clearly defined research questions to guide your analysis. Without these, you may find that you lack direction when you get to your analysis. Since discourse analysis places such a focus on context, it is also vital that your research questions are linked to studying language within context.

Based on your research aims, objectives and research questions, you need to assess which discourse analysis would best suit your needs. Importantly, you  need to adopt an approach that aligns with your study’s purpose . So, think carefully about what you are investigating and what you want to achieve, and then consider the various options available within discourse analysis.

It’s vital to determine your discourse analysis approach from the get-go , so that you don’t waste time randomly analyzing your data without any specific plan.

Action plan

Step 2: Design your collection method and gather your data

Once you’ve got determined your overarching approach, you can start looking at how to collect your data. Data in discourse analysis is drawn from different forms of “talk” and “text” , which means that it can consist of interviews , ethnographies, discussions, case studies, blog posts.  

The type of data you collect will largely depend on your research questions (and broader research aims and objectives). So, when you’re gathering your data, make sure that you keep in mind the “what”, “who” and “why” of your study, so that you don’t end up with a corpus full of irrelevant data. Discourse analysis can be very time-consuming, so you want to ensure that you’re not wasting time on information that doesn’t directly pertain to your research questions.

When considering potential collection methods, you should also consider the practicalities . What type of data can you access in reality? How many participants do you have access to and how much time do you have available to collect data and make sense of it? These are important factors, as you’ll run into problems if your chosen methods are impractical in light of your constraints.

Once you’ve determined your data collection method, you can get to work with the collection.

Collect your data

Step 3: Investigate the context

A key part of discourse analysis is context and understanding meaning in context. For this reason, it is vital that you thoroughly and systematically investigate the context of your discourse. Make sure that you can answer (at least the majority) of the following questions:

  • What is the discourse?
  • Why does the discourse exist? What is the purpose and what are the aims of the discourse?
  • When did the discourse take place?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Who participated in the discourse? Who created it and who consumed it?
  • What does the discourse say about society in general?
  • How is meaning being conveyed in the context of the discourse?

Make sure that you include all aspects of the discourse context in your analysis to eliminate any confounding factors. For example, are there any social, political, or historical reasons as to why the discourse would exist as it does? What other factors could contribute to the existence of the discourse? Discourse can be influenced by many factors, so it is vital that you take as many of them into account as possible.

Once you’ve investigated the context of your data, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re working with, and you’ll be far more familiar with your content. It’s then time to begin your analysis.

Time to analyse

Step 4: Analyze your data

When performing a discourse analysis, you’ll need to look for themes and patterns .  To do this, you’ll start by looking at codes , which are specific topics within your data. You can find more information about the qualitative data coding process here.

Next, you’ll take these codes and identify themes. Themes are patterns of language (such as specific words or sentences) that pop up repeatedly in your data, and that can tell you something about the discourse. For example, if you’re wanting to know about women’s perspectives of living in a certain area, potential themes may be “safety” or “convenience”.

In discourse analysis, it is important to reach what is called data saturation . This refers to when you’ve investigated your topic and analyzed your data to the point where no new information can be found. To achieve this, you need to work your way through your data set multiple times, developing greater depth and insight each time. This can be quite time consuming and even a bit boring at times, but it’s essential.

Once you’ve reached the point of saturation, you should have an almost-complete analysis and you’re ready to move onto the next step – final review.

review your analysis

Step 5: Review your work

Hey, you’re nearly there. Good job! Now it’s time to review your work.

This final step requires you to return to your research questions and compile your answers to them, based on the analysis. Make sure that you can answer your research questions thoroughly, and also substantiate your responses with evidence from your data.

Usually, discourse analysis studies make use of appendices, which are referenced within your thesis or dissertation. This makes it easier for reviewers or markers to jump between your analysis (and findings) and your corpus (your evidence) so that it’s easier for them to assess your work.

When answering your research questions, make you should also revisit your research aims and objectives , and assess your answers against these. This process will help you zoom out a little and give you a bigger picture view. With your newfound insights from the analysis, you may find, for example, that it makes sense to expand the research question set a little to achieve a more comprehensive view of the topic.

Let’s recap…

In this article, we’ve covered quite a bit of ground. The key takeaways are:

  • Discourse analysis is a qualitative analysis method used to draw meaning from language in context.
  • You should consider using discourse analysis when you wish to analyze the functions and underlying meanings of language in context.
  • The two overarching approaches to discourse analysis are language-in-use and socio-political approaches .
  • The main steps involved in undertaking discourse analysis are deciding on your analysis approach (based on your research questions), choosing a data collection method, collecting your data, investigating the context of your data, analyzing your data, and reviewing your work.

If you have any questions about discourse analysis, feel free to leave a comment below. If you’d like 1-on-1 help with your analysis, book an initial consultation with a friendly Grad Coach to see how we can help.

discursive psychology research question examples

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30 Comments

Blessings sinkala

This was really helpful to me

Nancy Hatuyuni

I would like to know the importance of discourse analysis analysis to academic writing

Nehal Ahmad

In academic writing coherence and cohesion are very important. DA will assist us to decide cohesiveness of the continuum of discourse that are used in it. We can judge it well.

Sam

Thank you so much for this piece, can you please direct how I can use Discourse Analysis to investigate politics of ethnicity in a particular society

Donald David

Fantastically helpful! Could you write on how discourse analysis can be done using computer aided technique? Many thanks

Conrad

I would like to know if I can use discourse analysis to research on electoral integrity deviation and when election are considered free & fair

Robson sinzala Mweemba

I also to know the importance of discourse analysis and it’s purpose and characteristics

Tarien Human

Thanks, we are doing discourse analysis as a subject this year and this helped a lot!

ayoade olatokewa

Please can you help explain and answer this question? With illustrations,Hymes’ Acronym SPEAKING, as a feature of Discourse Analysis.

Devota Maria SABS

What are the three objectives of discourse analysis especially on the topic how people communicate between doctor and patient

David Marjot

Very useful Thank you for your work and information

omar

thank you so much , I wanna know more about discourse analysis tools , such as , latent analysis , active powers analysis, proof paths analysis, image analysis, rhetorical analysis, propositions analysis, and so on, I wish I can get references about it , thanks in advance

Asma Javed

Its beyond my expectations. It made me clear everything which I was struggling since last 4 months. 👏 👏 👏 👏

WAMBOI ELIZABETH

Thank you so much … It is clear and helpful

Khadija

Thanks for sharing this material. My question is related to the online newspaper articles on COVID -19 pandemic the way this new normal is constructed as a social reality. How discourse analysis is an appropriate approach to examine theese articles?

Tedros

This very helpful and interesting information

Mr Abi

This was incredible! And massively helpful.

I’m seeking further assistance if you don’t mind.

Just Me

Found it worth consuming!

Gloriamadu

What are the four types of discourse analysis?

mia

very helpful. And I’d like to know more about Ethnography-based discourse analysis as I’m studying arts and humanities, I’d like to know how can I use it in my study.

Rudy Galleher

Amazing info. Very happy to read this helpful piece of documentation. Thank you.

tilahun

is discourse analysis can take data from medias like TV, Radio…?

Mhmd ankaba

I need to know what is general discourse analysis

NASH

Direct to the point, simple and deep explanation. this is helpful indeed.

Nargiz

Thank you so much was really helpful

Suman Ghimire

really impressive

Maureen

Thank you very much, for the clear explanations and examples.

Ayesha

It is really awesome. Anybody within just in 5 minutes understand this critical topic so easily. Thank you so much.

Clara Chinyere Meierdierks

Thank you for enriching my knowledge on Discourse Analysis . Very helpful thanks again

Thuto Nnena

This was extremely helpful. I feel less anxious now. Thank you so much.

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discursive psychology research question examples

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Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology pp 463–467 Cite as

Discursive Psychology

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Introduction

Discursive psychology is a relatively new field or subdiscipline of psychology. It developed in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, mainly from social constructionism and discourse analysis (see entries), and is strongly associated with methodological innovation and the analysis of language data. However, its greater importance is theoretical, through the challenges it has presented to conceptualizations of key psychological phenomena, such as remembering, attitudes, emotions, and to understandings of the person. It continues to be marked by disputes about its proper territory and practice, and also to generate new and differently named fields of work.

Discursive psychology is a field or subdiscipline of psychology centered on the analysis of language data, especially transcribed talk. Psychological phenomena which have more conventionally been theorized as innate, often with reference to cognition (e.g., attitudes, remembering, emotion), are...

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Motzkau, J. (2009). Exploring the transdisciplinary trajectory of suggestibility. Subjectivity, 27 , 172–194.

Potter, J., & Wetherell, M. (1987). Discourse and social psychology: Beyond attitudes and behaviour . London: Sage.

Rose, N. (1996). Inventing our selves: Psychology, power and personhood . Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. (1997). Whose text? Whose context? Discourse & Society, 8 , 165–187.

Taylor, S. (2010). Narratives of identity and place . Hove, England: Routledge.

Wetherell, M. (1998). Positioning and interpretative repertoires: Conversation analysis and post-structuralism in dialogue. Discourse & Society, 9 (3), 387–412.

Wetherell, M. (2003). Paranoia, ambivalence and discursive practices: Concepts of position and positioning in psychoanalysis and discursive psychology. In R. Harre & F. Moghaddam (Eds.), The self and others: Positioning individuals and groups in personal, political and cultural contexts (pp. 99–120). Westport, CT: Praegar.

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Wetherell, M., & Potter, J. (1992). Mapping the language of racism . London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

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Conversation analysis vs other approaches to discourse. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/100/209

Discursive psychology, rhetoric and the issue of agency. http://semen.revues.org/8930

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Taylor, S. (2014). Discursive Psychology. In: Teo, T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5583-7_82

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  • Critical Discourse Analysis | Definition, Guide & Examples

Critical Discourse Analysis | Definition, Guide & Examples

Published on 5 May 2022 by Amy Luo . Revised on 5 December 2022.

Discourse analysis is a research method for studying written or spoken language in relation to its social context. It aims to understand how language is used in real-life situations.

When you do discourse analysis, you might focus on:

  • The purposes and effects of different types of language
  • Cultural rules and conventions in communication
  • How values, beliefs, and assumptions are communicated
  • How language use relates to its social, political, and historical context

Discourse analysis is a common qualitative research method in many humanities and social science disciplines, including linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and cultural studies. It is also called critical discourse analysis.

Table of contents

What is discourse analysis used for, how is discourse analysis different from other methods, how to conduct discourse analysis.

Conducting discourse analysis means examining how language functions and how meaning is created in different social contexts. It can be applied to any instance of written or oral language, as well as non-verbal aspects of communication, such as tone and gestures.

Materials that are suitable for discourse analysis include:

  • Books, newspapers, and periodicals
  • Marketing material, such as brochures and advertisements
  • Business and government documents
  • Websites, forums, social media posts, and comments
  • Interviews and conversations

By analysing these types of discourse, researchers aim to gain an understanding of social groups and how they communicate.

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Unlike linguistic approaches that focus only on the rules of language use, discourse analysis emphasises the contextual meaning of language.

It focuses on the social aspects of communication and the ways people use language to achieve specific effects (e.g., to build trust, to create doubt, to evoke emotions, or to manage conflict).

Instead of focusing on smaller units of language, such as sounds, words, or phrases, discourse analysis is used to study larger chunks of language, such as entire conversations, texts, or collections of texts. The selected sources can be analysed on multiple levels.

Discourse analysis is a qualitative and interpretive method of analysing texts (in contrast to more systematic methods like content analysis ). You make interpretations based on both the details of the material itself and on contextual knowledge.

There are many different approaches and techniques you can use to conduct discourse analysis, but the steps below outline the basic structure you need to follow.

Step 1: Define the research question and select the content of analysis

To do discourse analysis, you begin with a clearly defined research question . Once you have developed your question, select a range of material that is appropriate to answer it.

Discourse analysis is a method that can be applied both to large volumes of material and to smaller samples, depending on the aims and timescale of your research.

Step 2: Gather information and theory on the context

Next, you must establish the social and historical context in which the material was produced and intended to be received. Gather factual details of when and where the content was created, who the author is, who published it, and whom it was disseminated to.

As well as understanding the real-life context of the discourse, you can also conduct a literature review on the topic and construct a theoretical framework to guide your analysis.

Step 3: Analyse the content for themes and patterns

This step involves closely examining various elements of the material – such as words, sentences, paragraphs, and overall structure – and relating them to attributes, themes, and patterns relevant to your research question.

Step 4: Review your results and draw conclusions

Once you have assigned particular attributes to elements of the material, reflect on your results to examine the function and meaning of the language used. Here, you will consider your analysis in relation to the broader context that you established earlier to draw conclusions that answer your research question.

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Discourse Analysis – Methods, Types and Examples

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Discourse Analysis

Discourse Analysis

Definition:

Discourse Analysis is a method of studying how people use language in different situations to understand what they really mean and what messages they are sending. It helps us understand how language is used to create social relationships and cultural norms.

It examines language use in various forms of communication such as spoken, written, visual or multi-modal texts, and focuses on how language is used to construct social meaning and relationships, and how it reflects and reinforces power dynamics, ideologies, and cultural norms.

Types of Discourse Analysis

Some of the most common types of discourse analysis are:

Conversation Analysis

This type of discourse analysis focuses on analyzing the structure of talk and how participants in a conversation make meaning through their interaction. It is often used to study face-to-face interactions, such as interviews or everyday conversations.

Critical discourse Analysis

This approach focuses on the ways in which language use reflects and reinforces power relations, social hierarchies, and ideologies. It is often used to analyze media texts or political speeches, with the aim of uncovering the hidden meanings and assumptions that are embedded in these texts.

Discursive Psychology

This type of discourse analysis focuses on the ways in which language use is related to psychological processes such as identity construction and attribution of motives. It is often used to study narratives or personal accounts, with the aim of understanding how individuals make sense of their experiences.

Multimodal Discourse Analysis

This approach focuses on analyzing not only language use, but also other modes of communication, such as images, gestures, and layout. It is often used to study digital or visual media, with the aim of understanding how different modes of communication work together to create meaning.

Corpus-based Discourse Analysis

This type of discourse analysis uses large collections of texts, or corpora, to analyze patterns of language use across different genres or contexts. It is often used to study language use in specific domains, such as academic writing or legal discourse.

Descriptive Discourse

This type of discourse analysis aims to describe the features and characteristics of language use, without making any value judgments or interpretations. It is often used in linguistic studies to describe grammatical structures or phonetic features of language.

Narrative Discourse

This approach focuses on analyzing the structure and content of stories or narratives, with the aim of understanding how they are constructed and how they shape our understanding of the world. It is often used to study personal narratives or cultural myths.

Expository Discourse

This type of discourse analysis is used to study texts that explain or describe a concept, process, or idea. It aims to understand how information is organized and presented in such texts and how it influences the reader’s understanding of the topic.

Argumentative Discourse

This approach focuses on analyzing texts that present an argument or attempt to persuade the reader or listener. It aims to understand how the argument is constructed, what strategies are used to persuade, and how the audience is likely to respond to the argument.

Discourse Analysis Conducting Guide

Here is a step-by-step guide for conducting discourse analysis:

  • What are you trying to understand about the language use in a particular context?
  • What are the key concepts or themes that you want to explore?
  • Select the data: Decide on the type of data that you will analyze, such as written texts, spoken conversations, or media content. Consider the source of the data, such as news articles, interviews, or social media posts, and how this might affect your analysis.
  • Transcribe or collect the data: If you are analyzing spoken language, you will need to transcribe the data into written form. If you are using written texts, make sure that you have access to the full text and that it is in a format that can be easily analyzed.
  • Read and re-read the data: Read through the data carefully, paying attention to key themes, patterns, and discursive features. Take notes on what stands out to you and make preliminary observations about the language use.
  • Develop a coding scheme : Develop a coding scheme that will allow you to categorize and organize different types of language use. This might include categories such as metaphors, narratives, or persuasive strategies, depending on your research question.
  • Code the data: Use your coding scheme to analyze the data, coding different sections of text or spoken language according to the categories that you have developed. This can be a time-consuming process, so consider using software tools to assist with coding and analysis.
  • Analyze the data: Once you have coded the data, analyze it to identify patterns and themes that emerge. Look for similarities and differences across different parts of the data, and consider how different categories of language use are related to your research question.
  • Interpret the findings: Draw conclusions from your analysis and interpret the findings in relation to your research question. Consider how the language use in your data sheds light on broader cultural or social issues, and what implications it might have for understanding language use in other contexts.
  • Write up the results: Write up your findings in a clear and concise way, using examples from the data to support your arguments. Consider how your research contributes to the broader field of discourse analysis and what implications it might have for future research.

Applications of Discourse Analysis

Here are some of the key areas where discourse analysis is commonly used:

  • Political discourse: Discourse analysis can be used to analyze political speeches, debates, and media coverage of political events. By examining the language used in these contexts, researchers can gain insight into the political ideologies, values, and agendas that underpin different political positions.
  • Media analysis: Discourse analysis is frequently used to analyze media content, including news reports, television shows, and social media posts. By examining the language used in media content, researchers can understand how media narratives are constructed and how they influence public opinion.
  • Education : Discourse analysis can be used to examine classroom discourse, student-teacher interactions, and educational policies. By analyzing the language used in these contexts, researchers can gain insight into the social and cultural factors that shape educational outcomes.
  • Healthcare : Discourse analysis is used in healthcare to examine the language used by healthcare professionals and patients in medical consultations. This can help to identify communication barriers, cultural differences, and other factors that may impact the quality of healthcare.
  • Marketing and advertising: Discourse analysis can be used to analyze marketing and advertising messages, including the language used in product descriptions, slogans, and commercials. By examining these messages, researchers can gain insight into the cultural values and beliefs that underpin consumer behavior.

When to use Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis is a valuable research methodology that can be used in a variety of contexts. Here are some situations where discourse analysis may be particularly useful:

  • When studying language use in a particular context: Discourse analysis can be used to examine how language is used in a specific context, such as political speeches, media coverage, or healthcare interactions. By analyzing language use in these contexts, researchers can gain insight into the social and cultural factors that shape communication.
  • When exploring the meaning of language: Discourse analysis can be used to examine how language is used to construct meaning and shape social reality. This can be particularly useful in fields such as sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies.
  • When examining power relations: Discourse analysis can be used to examine how language is used to reinforce or challenge power relations in society. By analyzing language use in contexts such as political discourse, media coverage, or workplace interactions, researchers can gain insight into how power is negotiated and maintained.
  • When conducting qualitative research: Discourse analysis can be used as a qualitative research method, allowing researchers to explore complex social phenomena in depth. By analyzing language use in a particular context, researchers can gain rich and nuanced insights into the social and cultural factors that shape communication.

Examples of Discourse Analysis

Here are some examples of discourse analysis in action:

  • A study of media coverage of climate change: This study analyzed media coverage of climate change to examine how language was used to construct the issue. The researchers found that media coverage tended to frame climate change as a matter of scientific debate rather than a pressing environmental issue, thereby undermining public support for action on climate change.
  • A study of political speeches: This study analyzed political speeches to examine how language was used to construct political identity. The researchers found that politicians used language strategically to construct themselves as trustworthy and competent leaders, while painting their opponents as untrustworthy and incompetent.
  • A study of medical consultations: This study analyzed medical consultations to examine how language was used to negotiate power and authority between doctors and patients. The researchers found that doctors used language to assert their authority and control over medical decisions, while patients used language to negotiate their own preferences and concerns.
  • A study of workplace interactions: This study analyzed workplace interactions to examine how language was used to construct social identity and maintain power relations. The researchers found that language was used to construct a hierarchy of power and status within the workplace, with those in positions of authority using language to assert their dominance over subordinates.

Purpose of Discourse Analysis

The purpose of discourse analysis is to examine the ways in which language is used to construct social meaning, relationships, and power relations. By analyzing language use in a systematic and rigorous way, discourse analysis can provide valuable insights into the social and cultural factors that shape communication and interaction.

The specific purposes of discourse analysis may vary depending on the research context, but some common goals include:

  • To understand how language constructs social reality: Discourse analysis can help researchers understand how language is used to construct meaning and shape social reality. By analyzing language use in a particular context, researchers can gain insight into the cultural and social factors that shape communication.
  • To identify power relations: Discourse analysis can be used to examine how language use reinforces or challenges power relations in society. By analyzing language use in contexts such as political discourse, media coverage, or workplace interactions, researchers can gain insight into how power is negotiated and maintained.
  • To explore social and cultural norms: Discourse analysis can help researchers understand how social and cultural norms are constructed and maintained through language use. By analyzing language use in different contexts, researchers can gain insight into how social and cultural norms are reproduced and challenged.
  • To provide insights for social change: Discourse analysis can provide insights that can be used to promote social change. By identifying problematic language use or power imbalances, researchers can provide insights that can be used to challenge social norms and promote more equitable and inclusive communication.

Characteristics of Discourse Analysis

Here are some key characteristics of discourse analysis:

  • Focus on language use: Discourse analysis is centered on language use and how it constructs social meaning, relationships, and power relations.
  • Multidisciplinary approach: Discourse analysis draws on theories and methodologies from a range of disciplines, including linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.
  • Systematic and rigorous methodology: Discourse analysis employs a systematic and rigorous methodology, often involving transcription and coding of language data, in order to identify patterns and themes in language use.
  • Contextual analysis : Discourse analysis emphasizes the importance of context in shaping language use, and takes into account the social and cultural factors that shape communication.
  • Focus on power relations: Discourse analysis often examines power relations and how language use reinforces or challenges power imbalances in society.
  • Interpretive approach: Discourse analysis is an interpretive approach, meaning that it seeks to understand the meaning and significance of language use from the perspective of the participants in a particular discourse.
  • Emphasis on reflexivity: Discourse analysis emphasizes the importance of reflexivity, or self-awareness, in the research process. Researchers are encouraged to reflect on their own positionality and how it may shape their interpretation of language use.

Advantages of Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis has several advantages as a methodological approach. Here are some of the main advantages:

  • Provides a detailed understanding of language use: Discourse analysis allows for a detailed and nuanced understanding of language use in specific social contexts. It enables researchers to identify patterns and themes in language use, and to understand how language constructs social reality.
  • Emphasizes the importance of context : Discourse analysis emphasizes the importance of context in shaping language use. By taking into account the social and cultural factors that shape communication, discourse analysis provides a more complete understanding of language use than other approaches.
  • Allows for an examination of power relations: Discourse analysis enables researchers to examine power relations and how language use reinforces or challenges power imbalances in society. By identifying problematic language use, discourse analysis can contribute to efforts to promote social justice and equality.
  • Provides insights for social change: Discourse analysis can provide insights that can be used to promote social change. By identifying problematic language use or power imbalances, researchers can provide insights that can be used to challenge social norms and promote more equitable and inclusive communication.
  • Multidisciplinary approach: Discourse analysis draws on theories and methodologies from a range of disciplines, including linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology. This multidisciplinary approach allows for a more holistic understanding of language use in social contexts.

Limitations of Discourse Analysis

Some Limitations of Discourse Analysis are as follows:

  • Time-consuming and resource-intensive: Discourse analysis can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. Collecting and transcribing language data can be a time-consuming task, and analyzing the data requires careful attention to detail and a significant investment of time and resources.
  • Limited generalizability: Discourse analysis is often focused on a particular social context or community, and therefore the findings may not be easily generalized to other contexts or populations. This means that the insights gained from discourse analysis may have limited applicability beyond the specific context being studied.
  • Interpretive nature: Discourse analysis is an interpretive approach, meaning that it relies on the interpretation of the researcher to identify patterns and themes in language use. This subjectivity can be a limitation, as different researchers may interpret language data differently.
  • Limited quantitative analysis: Discourse analysis tends to focus on qualitative analysis of language data, which can limit the ability to draw statistical conclusions or make quantitative comparisons across different language uses or contexts.
  • Ethical considerations: Discourse analysis may involve the collection and analysis of sensitive language data, such as language related to trauma or marginalization. Researchers must carefully consider the ethical implications of collecting and analyzing this type of data, and ensure that the privacy and confidentiality of participants is protected.

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10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

Published on October 30, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on October 19, 2023.

The research question is one of the most important parts of your research paper , thesis or dissertation . It’s important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.

The exact form of your question will depend on a few things, such as the length of your project, the type of research you’re conducting, the topic , and the research problem . However, all research questions should be focused, specific, and relevant to a timely social or scholarly issue.

Once you’ve read our guide on how to write a research question , you can use these examples to craft your own.

Note that the design of your research question can depend on what method you are pursuing. Here are a few options for qualitative, quantitative, and statistical research questions.

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