Discourse analysis “with an attitude”?

Today I received an email linking a short article written by Teun van Dijk. His argument is that CDA is not and should not be considered a method. This is hardly anything new, of course, but probably is worth reiterating. It’s this paragraph I found interesting though:

“Playing with words, then, CDA is DA “with an attitude” as one would say in the USA, that is, with a rebellious attitude of dissent against the symbolic power elites that dominate public discourse, especially in politics, the media and education. In other words, CDA is (any) DA of critical scholars, and hence CDA is rather a social or political movement than a method. Of course, the kind of DA they do, should be adequate to realize their critical goals, namely to analyze and denounce domination and social inequality.”

This is hardly a new stance from van Dijk, who has positioned CDA as dissent before. But is a “rebellious attitude” really enough? Are CDA scholars really in a position to “denounce domination and social inequality”? If they are, are they even doing this?

When CDA scholars refer to CDA as a political movement they set up problems for themselves. I’m not referring to the sorts of problems Widdowson identifies, but if you’re arguing that your research is socio-politically committed then it has to be… well… socio-politically committed. And it needs to be made explicit how.

Norman Fairclough makes a series of points in the 2001 edition of Methods of critical discourse analysis that are still very useful. He argues that CDA scholars should work alongside the groups they are ‘rooting’ for and think about how their research is distributed. While getting a newspaper article published is of course highly problematic, there is no reason why every CDA scholar should not be distributing their research via slideshare/prezi, blogs, and Twitter. There is no reason for not uploading every article you write – while there may be issues of copyright, this usually does not stop you uploading an earlier draft (or, say, ‘accidentally’ uploading your article to Scribbd, or asking someone else to do it).

If you’re arguing that people are deceived into believing certain representations of the world and your aim is to enlighten them (and some CDA scholars have argued this), then publishing in Discourse & Society, or reading a paper at CADAAD, is hardly going to achieve this. It will hardly put pressure on the ‘elites’ that van Dijk talks about either.

This isn’t meant to devalue publishing in Discourse & Society or presenting at conferences, however. Nor is it meant to devalue the transmission of research to students in a University setting. There isn’t, for example, a choice to be made between publishing in a journal and writing something for a blog. What’s more, if you finish a research project and cannot make it understandable for a wider audience then there is a problem with what you are researching in the first place.

Rather than making statements like that quoted above, van Dijk ought to be thinking about (a) how to distribute research in such a way that denouncing domination and social inequality will make a difference and (b) how to work alongside the many groups and organisations who are challenging the very same inequalities that CDA analyses.

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