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Locating Discourse Analysis

The concept of discourse analysis was originally developed by
linguists seeking to take linguistic analysis beyond the groundlevel building blocks of language: phonemes, morphemes, words
and syntax. Hence, the continued centrality of one definition of
discourse analysis the study of language beyond the sentence.
However, research in this tradition has still focused on language
as a self-contained system.
An alternative approach to discourse analysis views discourse as
language in the world language as it functions in potentially all
aspects of human life.
This approach emanates from the various disciplines studying
humans scientifically linguistics, sociology, anthropology,
psychology, communication and so on. Sociological studies of
conversational interaction, for example, seek to discover
principles of social organization therein, while psychologists
examine (among other things) how language is processed by the
brain. It must be added that this approach to discourse analysis
frequently blends elements from different disciplines, because
complex human realities like discourse do not divide neatly along
disciplinary lines.
Two more recent conceptualizations of discourse and its analysis
are critical discourse analysis and what might be termed
Foucauldian discourse analysis. First, critical discourse analysis
emanates from neo-Marxist understandings of social inequality
and how language functions to maintain and foster such
Second, the postmodernist concept of discourses (Foucault 1972)
examines how language works together with other social
practices to naturalize perspectives on human beings which have
the effect of defining and controlling them for example,
conceptualizations of the body in Western medicine. These two
approaches to discourse analysis have become popular in recent
years in applied linguistics and are sometimes combined (e.g.
Fairclough 2003).
Discourse Analysis and Ethnography: Complementary or in
Ethnographers and discourse analysts have sometimes debated
whether their respective approaches are complementary or

oppositional. Here we focus on the single most significant

disagreement in this area between ethnographers and
conversation analysts, the latter representing a highly influential
ethnographers did not collect verbatim spoken interaction data
from the people they studied; doing so was virtually impossible
before the advent of the portable tape recorder. Where
ethnographers focused on language at all, they almost always
focused on ritualized and monologic forms.
By the 1970s, however, ethnographic studies were being
conducted which included spoken interaction; these were first
undertaken in the ethnography of communication framework
(Hymes 1964), which sought to study the particular linguistic
practices of sociocultural groups. A related innovation was
microethnography, first developed as a methodological option in
classroom ethnography (Erickson 1992). Applying these
approaches, ethnographers carried out major studies, including
some which traced at-risk students educational difficulties to
their culturally based verbal interaction styles vis-a-vis tacit
middle-class norms (e.g. Heath 1983).
Starting in the 1960s, a group of sociologists led by Harvey Sacks
(e.g. Sacks et al. 1974) developed conversation analysis (CA) (see
Wilkinson and Kitzinger this volume), seeking to discover
principles of social organization within momentto- moment social
interaction rather than via externally imposed, top-down
concepts like culture and social class. They based their findings
on the painstaking analysis of detailed transcripts of
conversations, and later other kinds of interaction. A central tenet
of CA is that the emic structure of talk can only be determined
from within the linguistic context of interaction, as reflected in
interlocutors own responses to talk. That is, recourse to
transcript- extrinsic (Nelson 1994) information of the sort
traditional ethnography gathers for example, information not
demonstrably relevant to participants in particular interactions
is ruled analytically out of court.
More specifically, conversation analysts and their allies critiqued
ethnographic studies because they: (1) depended on a priori
categories and assumed contextual influences such as cultural
norms, socio-institutional identities (e.g. doctor, female, working

class) and local factors (e.g. past relationships among individuals)

to explain social behaviour, instead of basing their explanations
directly on interactional data. In this view, CA portrayed social
behaviour as dynamic, emergent and situated vis-a-vis the
interactional contingencies of the moment, versus static
ethnographic accounts; and (2) were based on questionable
evidence, such as unsystematic, retrospective accounts of
ethnographic observations and interviews of research participants
regarding social practices which, albeit their own, they could not
adequately explain because such practices were tacit and
unreflective that is, just the way things are (e.g. Maynard 1989;
Schegloff 1992).
Ethnographers responded in various ways. First, they countered
that conversational transcripts provide only partial information
regarding the identities, social relationships, and contextual
background needed to understand social behaviour exactly the
kind of information ethnography excels in collecting. Second, they
argued that CAs emphasis on interactional structure led to arid
accounts of social behaviour, wherein form was privileged at the
expense of meaning. Third, they suggested that the long-term
nature of ethnographic studies yielded knowledge of regularities
in social behaviour which conversation analysts, who tended to
focus on single, momentary interactions, had no special access to
(e.g. Cicourel 1992; Duranti 1997; Moerman 1988).
This debate has been partly resolved by the fact that there is now
a substantial history of combining these approaches in highly
effective ways (e.g. Goodwin 1990; Moerman 1988).1 In many
senses the two approaches are highly complementary: Each is
strong where the other is weak. First, regarding what CA can
contribute to ethnography, fine interactional detail provides
valuable material for sociocultural analysis, material which can
complement data gathered through, for example, observations
and interviews because interaction is central to the organization
of culture as well as social organization (Goodwin 1990: 1).
Likewise, the ethnographic problem of attaining emicity is partly
addressed by CAs commitment to studying participants own
orientations to the interactive behaviours of their interlocutors.
Such evidence can be used to test ethnographic interpretations of

what is going on in the social lives of those being studied, since

social life fundamentally involves interactive coordination.
Second, regarding what ethnography can contribute to CA, rich,
longitudinal descriptions of social life and language use among
particular groups can flesh out fine-grained analysis of momentby-moment verbal interaction.
The same is true for more immediate contextual details, such as
the pre-existing personal and social relationships between
interlocutors, or the larger activities engaged in while talk is
proceeding. Theoretical concepts such as social class, power and
culture, properly used, can also help analysts understand the
complex sociocultural realities being studied. To sum up the
convergent possibilities of ethnography and CA in particular, and
ethnographic and discourse analysis in general, close description
of the moment-by-moment constitution of social life in talk-ininteraction can both fundamentally enrich and be fundamentally
enriched by broad descriptions of social behaviours, norms and
values. From this perspective, incorporating discourse analysis
and ethnography.
Critical Ethnography
Critical ethnography is a form of ethnography with antecedents in
neo-Marxist critical theory (May 1997). Its primary objective is to
unveil the unequal distribution of power in society, and to change
it for the better (Kincheloe and
McLaren 2000; Talmy 2010). Critical ethnography thus differs from
the previous two approaches in its broader focus and direct
critical and emancipatory intent, although, as already noted, all
three approaches have historically concerned themselves with
social inequality.
As with ethnography in general, critical ethnography depends on
long-term, intensive, emically oriented analysis of particular social
situations. However, it differs somewhat in its immediate focus:
A critically-located ethnographic methodology highlights the
interplay between social structure, material relations, and agency;
addresses the ways that social structure is (or is not) instantiated,
accommodated, resisted, and/or transformed in the micropolitics
of everyday life; contends with issues of ideology, hegemony, and
culture; critically addresses its own historically-, materially-, and
culturally-specific interpretations; works toward change; and does

so with the collaboration of research participants. (Talmy 2010:

130) As with other ethnographic approaches, discourse analysis
also adds substance and rigor to critical ethnography. The most
common approach to discourse analysis within a critical
ethnographic framework is critical discourse analysis (CDA) (see
Wodak, this volume). Like critical ethnography, CDA is directly
concerned with exposing inequality and injustice, in this case
through analysing language as a means of naturalizing unequal
social structures and relations (Bhatia et al. 2008). CDA enables
researchers to generate, warrant, and elaborate (critical) claims
in demonstrable and data-near terms (Talmy 2010: 131).
In the following section, we provide an extended example of
critical ethnography combined not with CDA per se but rather CAoriented discourse analysis. This example concretely illustrates:
(1) the specific nature of discourse oriented critical ethnography;
(2) the combined use of discourse analysis and ethnography in
general the main topic of this chapter; and (3) the basically
open-ended nature of ethnographic practice.