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Discourse Analysis Term Test


Instructions: Choose one (or more of the following) question(s) and write an
argumentative essay (a piece of writing consisting of a thesis and supporting arguments)
on one (or some) of the aspect(s) of discourse referred to in the questions below. You
should only use the questions as prompts/guidance.
Essay length: a maximum of 3 pages
a) Which participants are being represented? How are they being represented?
b) What sorts of things do they get to do in the text?
c) Which participants are being silenced? Which have a say in the text?
d) What can you say about the instituitionalized use of language in this text (in
Bourdieus terms?

The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide


There's a predictable cycle of mourning and finger-pointing that follows a massacre like
the shootings last week in Aurora, Colorado. First come the calls for unity and flags
flown at half-staff. Then the national fissures appear: The gun lobby stiffens its spine as
gun control advocates make their case. Psychologists parse the shooter's background,
looking for signs of mental illness or family disarray. Politicians point fingers about
"society run amok" and "cultures of despair."
We've been down this path so many times, yet we keep missing the elephant in the
room: How many of the worst mass murderers in American history were women? None.
This is not to suggest that women are never violent, and there are even the rare cases of
female serial killers. But why aren't we talking about the glaring reality that acts of mass
murder (and, indeed, every single kind of violence) are overwhelmingly perpetrated by
men? Pointing out that fact may seem politically incorrect or irrelevant, but our silence
about the huge gender disparity of such violence may be costing lives.
Imagine for a moment if a deadly disease disproportionately affected men. Not a disease
like prostate cancer that can only affect men, but a condition prevalent in the general
population that was vastly more likely to strike men. Violence is such a condition: Men
are nine to 10 times more likely to commit homicide and more likely to be its victims.
The numbers are sobering when we look at young men. In the United States, for
example, young white males (between age 14 and 24) represent only 6% of the
population, yet commit almost 17% of the murders. For young black males, the
numbers are even more alarming (1.2% of the population accounting for 27% of all
homicides). Together, these two groups of young men make up just 7% of the
population and 45% of the homicides. Overall, 90% of all violent offenders are male, as
are nearly 80% of the victims.
We shouldn't need Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading psychologists and the
author of the book "The Better Angels of Our Nature," to tell us the obvious: "Though

the exact ratios vary, in every society, it is the males more than the females who playfight, bully, fight for real, kill for real, rape, start wars and fight in wars." The silence
around the gendering of violence is as inexplicable as it is indefensible. Sex differences
in other medical and social conditions such as anorexia nervosa, lupus, migraines,
depression and learning disabilities are routinely analyzed along these lines.
Adapted from Time.com, July 24, 2012.

Through an experiential perspective it is possible to uncover the way in which


reality is construed in texts. In the case of The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass
Homicide, its author claims that violence is a condition which, for the most part, affects
men and not women, and that is why mass murders in the United States are committed
only by men. It is interesting to analyze the text from the point of view of the
processes and participants involved to see the way in which the writer manages to
construe a reality in which violence is just a gender issue.
The first paragraph is aimed at criticizing the position adopted by some sectors
of society regarding mass shootings. To achieve this goal, the author resorts mainly to
material processes, that is, those sectors are characterized as actors affecting a goal.
However, in the first place, the writer introduces two involuntary material processes in
which the Actor often seems like a Goal in some respects:
First come the calls for unity and flags flown at half-staff. (circumstance/
material process/ actor)
Then the national fissures appear. (circumstance/ material process/ actor)
This is followed by a series of voluntary material processes where the actors
affect their respective goals:
The gun lobby stiffens its spine (material process/ participants: actor/goal) as
gun control advocates make their case. (material process + participants:
actor/goal)
Psychologists parse the shooter's background (material process +
participants: actor/goal), looking for signs of mental illness or family disarray
(material process + participants: actor/goal).
Politicians point fingers about "society run amok" and "cultures of despair."
(process: material process + participants: actor/goal)
By ascribing material processes to the gun lobby, gun control advocates,
psychologists, and politicians, the author of the article puts all of them at the same level,
as a way of implying that, despite the apparent differences between them, their actions
are equally ineffective regarding mass shootings.
In the following paragraph, the writer introduces the thesis of the article: that
acts of mass murder and of every kind of violenceare perpetrated by men. In this

case, s/he resorts mainly to relational processes, making use also of verbal processes
these had not appeared up to now--, and to a lesser extent, of material processes. It is
interesting to see how these processes have been distributed:
The first sentence is a material process (with weve been down this path
interpreted as we have walked down this path) in which an inclusive we which is
interpreted as the Americans--, is the actor of being down (walking down) this path
before so many times. In this way, the writer ascribes her/his own point of view to the
whole American society, effect which is reinforced by the fact that they all have
repeatedly been doing the same thing before (being down this path). Then the writer
resorts to the same inclusive we as the senser of a mental process, and as the sayer
involved in a verbal process:
yet we keep missing the elephant in the room (mental process; participants:
senser/ phenomenon)
But why aren't we talking about the glaring reality (verbal process, participants:
sayer, projected) that acts of mass murder (and, indeed, every single kind of
violence) are overwhelmingly perpetrated by men? (passive material process;
participants: goal; actor)
As a result, the point of view of the author becomes one with that of the whole
American society, as they all are the same senser, actor, and sayer. By means of two
verbal processes (suggest and talk) two projected clauses are introduced: in the first one,
women appear involved in relational or existential processes, while in the second, a
material process (perpetrate) is ascribed to men (actors), the goal being mass murder
and any kind of violence:
that acts of mass murder (and, indeed, every single kind of violence) are
overwhelmingly perpetrated by men? (passive material process; participants:
goal/ actor)
Thus, the writer has stated that the debate on mass shootings should be reduced
to a problem of gender, and at the same time, by featuring men as actors of a material
process and women as carriers of relational ones, a line is drawn between men and
women regarding their responsibility on the issue and the way violence affects them.
The third and fourth paragraphs are intended to support the thesis of the writer.
Here, violence is compared to a deadly disease. In this case, this disease has become
the actor of a material process, and men its goal: a condition (actor) that strikes
(material process) men (goal); afterwards, this condition becomes the token for
violence, the value in an identifying relational process, which works as a transition to
the material process in which men occupy once again-- the role of actors in the
process of committing murder (goal). In this way, disease, violence, and men
alternatively occupy the role of actors in processes which involve some sort of violence,
thus, they become imbued with the same negative connotation. The following paragraph

resorts to statistics to illustrate the state of affairs in regards to male violence, that is
why there is a predominance of relational processes. Through relational processes,
reality can be categorized and evaluated, and it is interesting to see, on the one hand,
that the categories used by the writer as value and token here are: young white males,
and young black males, the tokens for the value population, so that it might be said that
the American society or its population-- in this text, is conceived in terms of the
following binary oppositions: man/woman, black/white, young/adult.
Finally, in the last paragraph, the writer resorts mostly to material processes, as it
is the closing paragraph, and the conclusion. Here, men are clearly identified as the
actors (this time within a projected clause of a verbal process) of the following
material processes: play-fight, bully, fight, kill rape.
This paper does not intend to be exhaustive, but, by analyzing this article from an
experiential perspective, it has been possible to see how reality comes to be represented in texts,
the participant that have been picked up to appear in the text, and the role they are meant to
play.