A portrait of Karl Marx.

A portrait of Karl Marx. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discourse analysis is a product of the postmodern period. While other periods are generally characterized by a belief-system or meaningful interpretation of the world, postmodern theories do not provide a particular view of the world, other that there is no one true view or interpretation of the world. In other words, the postmodern period is distinguished from other periods in the belief that there is no meaning, that the world is inherently fragmented and heterogeneous, and that any sense making system or belief is mere subjective interpretation.

Postmodern theories offer numerous readings aiming at “deconstructing” social values and assumptions. The notions of ideology, power, hierarchy, and gender, together with sociological variables are relevant for an interpretation of text. The purpose of discourse analysis is not to provide definite answers, but to expand personal horizons. Media texts often are described as dialogic, and the readings depend on receivers and settings. The focus of discourse analysis is any form of written or spoken language, such as a broadcast script or a newspaper article. The main topic of interest is the underlying social structures, which may play out within the conversation or text.

Critical media studies view discourse as interactive between producers and audience. Text is the oral, visual, or written manifestation of this. In agreement with its critical theory predecessors, CDA emphasizes the need for interdisciplinary work to gain a proper understanding of how language functions in constituting and transmitting knowledge, in organizing social institutions and in exercising power.

For instance, the aims of research might be to understand power relationships in society in order to bring about change. In the process, the researcher acknowledges his or her own bias and position on the issue, known as reflexivity. Therefore, discourse analysis is not a “hard” science, but an insight/knowledge based on continuous debate and argumentation. The method begins with a research question and not a hypothesis in the formal sense. As there is no hard data provided through discourse analysis, the reliability and the validity of one’s research/findings depends on the force and logic of one’s arguments. Even the best constructed arguments are subject to their own deconstructive reading and counter-interpretations. The validity of critical analysis is, therefore, dependent on the quality of the rhetoric.

The representation of the “Other,” the representation of cultural diversity, and the reproduction of racism through media have been key research topics in the past few decades. Such studies have traditionally used a discourse analysis and cultural studies approach. Such studies focus on the production and reproduction of stereotypes through media. Older studies focused on television. They later expanded to include race, class, and ethnicity into such analyses (e.g. Squire, 2000).

Today, critical scholars have turned their attention to new media. This became a necessity as the computer market matured, television and other devices evolved and the telecommunications industry has globalized. The digital world emerged. Telecommunications and media have morphed into a new breed of multimedia. Today’s media studies must analyze user-created content, social networking, mobile phones, virtual worlds and other emerging forms of mass media. The impact of media on political developments and decision-making must be fully explored in this new media environment. Scholars must investigate the influence of media on the production and reproduction of beliefs, opinions, stereotypes, prejudices, and ideologies.

Although the traditional empirically oriented approach to media texts, mainly represented by quantitative content analysis, is still widespread in mass communication research, speak of a “qualitative turn” in media studies (e.g. McQuail, 2000; Jensen & Jankowski, 1991). This shift of paradigm corresponds to conceptual and theoretical frameworks distinct from the traditional sender-receiver model. Recently, the texts studied have been somewhat “decentralized.” The focus of interest has shifted to the social, cultural, political context and to the “localization” of meaning (McQuail, ?). The present trend in approaches to media texts can be characterized by turning away from “text-internal readings, where readers are theorized as decoders of fixed meanings, to more dynamic models, where meanings are negotiated by actively participating readers” (Meinhof, 1994, p. 212).

Suggested citation: Moody, M. (2011). What is Discourse Analysis?. Media Studies Overview. Accessed via  http://miamedia1.blogspot.com/

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