This week we read three chapters drawn from from (Rogers:2011?) that center on the subject of Critical Discourse Analysis:

  • Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis by Rebecca Rogers
  • Figured Worlds and Discourses of Masculinity: Being a Boy in a Literacy Classroom by Josephine Marsh and Jayne C. Lammers.
  • Learning as Social Interaction: Interdiscursivity in a Teacher and Researcher Study Group by Cynthia Lewis and Jean Ketter

The Rogers piece offers an overview of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) that is oriented to the field of education. And the second two papers are examples of applying or using CDA as a theory and method to answer a particular research problem.

Like other types of discourse analysis CDA studies the use of language but with specific attention to how language is used to construct social practices, and also their relation to power. Rogers points out that there is some distinction to be made between uppercase Critical Discourse Theory, which is in the tradition of Norman Fairclough’s work, and critical discourse theory, which is a bigger tent that includes a variety of theories associated with critical inquiry into language practices. Rogers also makes the point that really any analysis of language can fit under this umbrella:

Because language is a social practice and because not all social practices are created and treated equally, all analyses of language are inherently critical.

Systemic functional linguistics (Halliday, 1978) serves as a foundation for CDA. It is a socio-semiotic theory that emphasizes choice and meaning makers as agents who make decisions about the social functions of their language use. But the origins of CDA can be traced backwards to Bakhtin, DuBois, Spender, Foucault, and Wittgenstein. Other seminal books were Fowler, Hodge, Kress, & Trew (1979) and Kress, Hodge, Fowler, Hodge, & Trew (1982). It also draws on critical social theory which generally rejects the ideas that:

  • social practices represent reality
  • truth is the result of science and logic
  • truth is neutral (it doesn’t reflect particular interests)
  • individualism (this idea wasn’t fleshed out)

In CDA as in critical social theory, both theory and practice are mutually dependent and inform each other. It is important that analyses are connected to a theory of the social world and a theory of language.

Rogers interviewed three prominent individuals who have helped formulate and use critical discourse analysis. Gee, Fairclough and Kress. She emphasizes that there is a lot of crosstalk and cross-fertilization of ideas between them, and that they aren’t meant to be representative of categories or schools of CDA work.

Gee is particularly interested that language use is about relationships, identities and figured worlds. He has a framework that includes seven building tasks that are dimensions of language use: significance, activities, identities, relationships, politics, connections, sign-systems, and knowledge.

For Norman Fairclough language both reproduces and transforms social structures. His work is grounded on Marx, Foucault and Bahktin – as well as systemic functional linguistics and ethnography of communication. He uses tools such as orders of discourse, interdiscursivity and dialectics to analyze discourse.

And lastly Gunther Kress looks at other ways of making meaning than text. He is interested in how images, body language, color, movement and space/time are used along with texts to shape discourse.

Gee, Fairclough and Kress all got together as part of the New London Group and agreed that “design as a way of describing grammar as a social entity”. What this means wasn’t entirely clear to me on reading this chapter. But it seems like an interesting idea to follow up on. In CDA problems of text and context that have troubled discourse analysis are resolved by focusing instead on people and events.

Figured Worlds and Discourses of Masculinity

The Marsh and Lammers chapter adapts Gee’s guidelines for CDA to how an Chavos’ (a 18 year old Mexican-American) constructions of masculinity shaped his participation in literacy activities, and in turn what it meant to be a boy in the literacy classroom. Chavos was one of 21 individuals that participated in a “narrative inquiry” after which the authors focused on Chavos in order to a) complicate simplistic notions of male stereotypes and b) to show how CDA can help us understand the multiple Discourses that inform our beliefs about masculinity.

The analytic tools they drew on from Gee were:

  • discourses (looked at word usage in different contexts)
  • social languages (how a particular identity is enacted)
  • situated meanings
  • figured worlds (this was focus of the analysis) - what is normal and typical within a particular discourse

Marsh and Lammers used interview data, but also observational data such as when Marsh happened to hear Chavos say a class “sucked” to a friend. It seems like having access to spoken language outside the interview would be important for examining situated meanings.

They found snippets that seemed to speak to how Chavo felt when participating in the literacy classroom, and to constructions of masculinity. Then they organized transcripts into lines/stanzas as defined by Gee (2005). Once Chavo was identified as a subject they interviewed other people around him, including his mother and his honors humanities teacher.

In the interviews with her mother, the analyst really focuses on what the mother says about her son, specifically about how he was at different points in his life. The analyst paid close attention to the tone that was used when she spoke about Chavos’ literacy. This made me think that she must have been listening to the recorded segments again, and not relying too much on the transcripts once stanzas of interest were found.

She also focused on the mother’s use of “reported speech”, or when the speaker uses quotes of people (could be themselves) speaking at another time. These were important moments to focus on because they emphasized and supported her beliefs.

Descriptive nominalizations figured into the analysis of the teachers speech. Named groups like Literature Kid and Humanities Kid were important signposts to how the teacher constructed groups of students. Observational data figures pretty heavily into the analysis of Chavo–not just spoken language, but also affect and behavior in the classroom. This recalls Kress’ approach where more than just text is important.

The authors categorized I Statements into cognitive or action from Gee (2005). The cognitive statements allowed Chavo to express his opinions, knowledge and experiences of literacy. The actions provided insight into how Chavo made decisions about his identity.

I was struck by the authorial voice employed in this article. It’s important for her to reflect on her own identity and positionality relative to her interview subjects and the people she is observing. She is very up front about having children who were peers of Chavo for example. This felt a bit awkward for some reason, but also appropriate. I was left wondering why she chose to interview the mother and not the father, since masculinity was such a central idea to the research.

Learning as Social Interaction

Lewis and Ketter look at identities in practice and communities of practice from (Wenger:1999?) and specifically how the idea of interdiscursive demands relates to Fairclough (1992) ideas about interdiscursivity, which is the presence or trace of one discourse within another. Wenger argues that boundaries between discourses are interesting places to focus analysis because they are where new knowledge is produced and identities can be transformed.

The authors chose salient transcripts from their ethnographic study that were relevant to the research question that is about learning and social interaction.The focus was on segments where established Discourses were sustained or disrupted. The researchers also position their own experience as participants in identifying these discourses.

The transcripts were broken down into topical episodes, which were a series of turns that related to a topic or theme. These episodes were then examined to identify discourses where a discourses are “systematic clusters of themes, statements, ideas, and ideologies [that] come into play in the text”. Then they coded for categories of discourse.

A close analysis of genre and voice was performed on the episodes. Where Chouliaraki & Fairclough (1999) defines genre as “the language (and other semiosis) tied to a particular social activity” and voice as “the sort of language used for a particular category of people and closely linked to their identity”. Language that speaks to who they are and what they do. Attention was paid to where fixed discourses are most likely interrupted, which is when more dialogic conversations occur (Bakhtin, 1981). Also attention was paid to features such as:

  • intensifiers
  • repetition
  • pronoun usage
  • experiential value (Fairclough)
  • personal story

Self-reflection figured prominently in their own analysis, where they examine their own authority and teacherly moves, even when they were trying to insulate themselves from those moves.


These readings reminded me a lot of my independent study last semester where I researched practice theory. These CDA readings mentioned communities of practice a great deal, more so than other discourse analysis methods we’ve surveyed so far. In a lot of ways what I was trying to do in my recent study of appraisal in web archives was to get at what the emerging community of practice looks like when it comes to deciding how to archive content from the web. So it might be useful to do a crash course in communities of practice as it relates to CDA, to see if there is a useful method for me study my interview data.

Specifically I’d like to follow up on Gee’s Seven Building Tasks, which sounds like it could provide some useful pointers and structure. Also I feel like I need to get a better sense of the specific features that are examined like intensifiers, repitition, pronoun usage, story, etc. Perhaps these can be found in (Gee:2011?). It’s funny my friend Trevor was independently recommending the book to me recently since he used it in his own dissertation work.

The method used by Lewis and Ketter where they took themes from their interviews and then used their analysis of them to select to some interviews for closer analysis sounds like something I could map onto my own research. I already have done a thematic analysis of my 28 interviews, but it could be fruitful to take a deep dive into some of the salient interviews to see how CDA can help with the analysis. What are the Discourses of web archiving work that are at play, and how are they operationalized in the speech? Can they help me speak to how communities of practice are being formed?

I also like CDA (and EC) because it could provide a framework for looking at collection development policies and the interviews together. Specifically the idea of interdiscursivity that was mentioned could help see what relationship there might be between how archivists talk about collecting from the web in relation to any written policies their organization has about it. The little I was reading about Bahktin made me want to learn more – it seems like he could provide a bit of a stronger tie to the humanities if I wanted to position my work with web archives more in the digital humanities space.

Finally I was reminded of Proferes (2015) work (here at UMD currently) on technical discourse or communicative practices involving or about technology. His dissertation and previous work might provide some useful reference points for methods and theories from discourse analysis that are useful for studying the situated technology of web archives. I should follow up with Nick about that sometime if I can bend his ear.


Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. (M. Holquist, Ed.). University of Texas Press.
Chouliaraki, L., & Fairclough, N. (1999). Discourse in late modernity: Rethinking critical discourse analysis. Edinburgh University Press.
Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Oxford: Polity press.
Fowler, R., Hodge, R., Kress, G., & Trew, T. (1979). Language and control. Routledge & Kegan Paul London.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London Arnold.
Kress, G., Hodge, R., Fowler, R., Hodge, B., & Trew, T. (1982). Language as ideology. Routledge.
Proferes, N. J. (2015). Informational power on Twitter: A mixed-methods exploration of user knowledge and technological discourse about information flows. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Retrieved from