Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a type of discourse analytical research. As we know that studies – Discourse Analysis – primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduce and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context.

In the words of Ruth Wodak, one of the field’s founders and foremost practitioners, “CDA is fundamentally interested in analyzing opaque as well as transparent structural relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control when these are manifested in language. In other words, CDA aims to investigate critically social inequality as it is expressed, constituted, and legitimized by language use

CDA as a scholars emerged in the early 1990s, following a small symposium in January Amsterdam in 1991. Teun A. van Dijk, in his editorial statement for the first issue of Discourse & Society, declares that the journal aims to ‘bridge the well-known gap between micro- and macro analysis of social phenomena’, that ‘research published in D&S focuses especially on the complex relationships  between structures or strategies of discourse and both the local and global, social and political context’, and that ‘both text and context need explicit and systematic analysis, and this analysis must be based on serious methods and theories’

Language and power are viewed as integrating (a) analysis of text, (b) analysis of process, of text production, consumption, and distribution, and (c) sociocultural analysis of the discursive event (be it an interview, a scientific paper, of a conversation) as a whole in critical discourse analysis.

Crucial for critical discourse analysts is the explicit awareness of their role in society. Continuing a tradition that rejects the possibility of a “value-free” science, they argue that science, and especially scholarly discourse, are inherently part of and influenced by social structure, and produced in social interaction. Instead of denying or ignoring such a relation between scholarship and society, they plead that such relations be studied and accounted for in their own right, and that scholarly practices be based on such insights. Theory formation, description, and explanation, also in discourse analysis, are socio-politically “situated,” whether we like it or not. Reflection on the role of scholars in society and the polity thus becomes an inherent part of the discourse analytical enterprise. This may mean, among other things, that discourse analysts conduct research in solidarity and cooperation with dominated groups.

Critical research on discourse needs to satisfy a number of requirements in order to effectively realize its aims:

  • As is often the case for more marginal research traditions, CDA research has to be “better” than other research in order to be accepted.
  • It focuses primarily on, social problems and political issues, rather than on current paradigms and fashions.
  • Empirically adequate critical analysis of social problems is usually multidisciplinary.
  • Rather than merely describe discourse structures, it tries to explain them in terms of properties of social interaction and especially social structure.
  • More specifically, CDA focuses on the ways discourse structures enact, confirm, legitimate, reproduce, or challenge relations of power and dominance in society.

Fairclough and Wodak (1997: 271-80) summarize the main tenets of CDA as follows:

  1. CDA addresses social problems
  2. Power relations are discursive
  3. Discourse constitutes society and culture
  4. Discourse does ideological work
  5. Discourse is historical
  6. The link between text and society is mediated
  7. Discourse analysis is interpretative and explanatory
  8. Discourse is a form of social action.

These principles resonate with the interests of many scholars around the world in a variety of disciplines, as indicated by the growing number of scholarly journals that routinely publish CDA research; CDA monographs and anthologies; doctoral dissertations and master’s theses using CDA as their primary mode of analysis; and scholarly networks, working groups, seminars, panels, and conferences devoted to CDA.


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