Discourse

Discourse is a contested term rooted in different disciplines and used in a variety of ways. In a narrow sense, discourse can be understood as language in use – everyday ways of talking – what James Gee in his book Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses (1990) refers to as ‘little d’ discourse.  In a broader sense it can be used to refer to a system of language use and other meaning-making practices   (e.g. behavior, dress, and customary practices/habits) that form ways of talking about social reality what Gee refers to as ‘big D’ Discourse. For example the Discourse of traffic regulation, commercial Discourse, medical Discourse, or legal Discourse. In socio-linguistics, discourse tends to be used to refer to extended stretches of speech or writing and to draw attention to the uses and organization of language in its social context. In sociology and philosophy, the writings of Foucault have been particularly important; bringing into focus not only the social origins but also the social effects of power that discourse has on social practices. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is usually associated with the work Chouliaraki and Fairclough’s work that provides a method of analyzing texts to complement Foucault’s theories and concepts as well as offers examples for the study of media discourse, policy discourse, and interactional discourse.

Discourse is an important term for multimodality and many working in this area are concerned with understanding the use and effects of Discourse through the uses of modes and their arrangement in modal ensembles. The assumption is that all multimodal texts, artefacts and communicative events are always discursively shaped; and that all modes, in different ways, offer means for the expression of discourses. From this perspective, different discourses may be brought into play modally and, therefore, the choice of modes may itself be used analytically to indicate the presence of different discourses in specific texts.

As increasingly media are multi-media forms that occupy multimodal spaces it is perhaps not surprising that CDA has strong links with multimodality, notably in the work of Chouliaraki. In her edited collection Self-Mediation: New Media, Citizenship and Civil Selves (2012), she looks into the multi-modality of new media discourses, such as convergence journalism and social networking sites, so as to explore how these discourses blur the boundaries between private and public selves and change the ways in which we understand and enact practices of citizenship.

Editor: Carey Jewitt
Other contributor: Lilie Chouliaraki

Key References
Chouliaraki, L. and Fairclough, N. (1999)
Discourse in Late Modernity: Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Chouliaraki, L. (ed) (2012)
Self-Mediation: New Media, Citizenship and Civil Selves
London: Routledge

Gee, J. (1990)
Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses

London: Falmer Press

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