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3 words: I love you. [part 1]

Wendy Hollway’s piece Gender Difference and the production of subjectivity (1984) seemed to be somewhat dated when I started reading it. She aims to theorise gender subjectivity (i.e. gender identity from a psychologist’s perspective) by looking at practices and meaning making within heterosexual relationships.
Reference: Hollway, W. (1982) Identity and Gender Difference in Adult Social Relations, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London

Hollway takes an approach based on critical discursive psychology; she distinguishes this from a Foucauldian genealogical approach that would look at the operation of power as a more neutral force that may be creative and productive. Its main limitation, she argues, is the lack of acknowledgement of potentially contradictory discourses. From her point of view, the focus on a single patriarchal ideology is a weakness.

I perceive this assessment as flawed, mainly because ideologies are not single coherent units but mosaics that include dominant views and knowledge constructed by those who hold authority and power to shape them as well as the many opposing and undermining views and perspectives which all evolve in relation to more dominant discourses within a broader ideology. However, it is important to acknowledge that this early work of Hollway was based on Foucault’s earlier studies which were criticised for their lack of recognition of agency in the context of operation of power. Hollway did not manage to ‘repair’ this very aspect in her theory as she argues that alternative discourses are often not accessible to women, which implies indeed their lack of agency and a co-dependency (or even co-ownership) in what she perceived as dominant male power. I will discuss her approach from a methodological perspective and I will question her assumptions from a view informed by contemporary use of old and new media.

For an interesting reading (different methodology, different discipline) of my critique in a contemporary context, I suggest the research findings by Angel Brantley, David Knox and Marty E. Zusman . They conducted a study, published in 2002, which investigated how 147 undergraduate students in the US handle the first stages expressing feelings in a love relationship. The survey looked at how students use and establish meaning when telling their new partner ‘I love you’. The authors suggest a socio-biological explanation for finding that

  • males were more likely to say ‘I love you’ first
  • males were more likely to say ‘I love you’ when they thought this could increase their chance to have sex with their partner.

Brantley et al. reference earlier studies by Sharp & Ganong (2000) which “found that men fall in love more quickly and have higher levels of romantic beliefs than women.” And they took into account the research undertaken by Knox, Sturdivant and Zusman (2001) which found that “men are more likely to seek sex early in the relationship (indeed, within hours) than women”.

They also found, not very romantic, though, that students might be actually aware of these patterns and that they had a good sense of what ‘I love you’ may mean in certain contexts. The study is not representative due its small sample. Moreover, the number of female participants was more than twice as large as the male students.

Whether qualitative or quantitative research, it often strikes me how little exchange there seems between or among disciplines. Discourse analysis, the way Hollway conducted it, seemed to overly support Feminist claims valid at that time. Her research then made neither use of a triangulation (for instance by adding survey research and looking at broader patterns) nor did she provide a reflexive account that would have helped readers to understand a possible bias towards certain socio-political beliefs informing her project.

Exactly 20 years later, Brantley et al. equally provide a highly biased and limited account by relying on a group of students who are by definition widely homogenous in terms of social markers such as age and social class (as well as cultural capital). As interesting as the research findings may sound, they lack depth and the richness that comes with qualitative research based on in-depth interviewing.

I will discuss love and sex further in a post that focuses on interview excerpts used in Hollway’s research and my own observations: in Part 2

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Discourse Analysis: discussions, debates, resources

I prefer having a bit of diversity among study resources, hence, I searched for some podcasts on discourse analysis. Two particularly useful podcasts have been made available on the Podbean channel ‘discourse and pragmatics, by enrodney where you find a lecture on Mediated Discourse Analysis and another one on The Ethnography of Speaking .

The Speech Accent Archive is a great research tool – but also useful for actors who want to learn a particular accent (certainly not mutually exclusive…and certainly recommended for Daniel Day-Lewis who adopted an Austrian rather than an Italian accent for Nine (2009) which makes him sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Transcription symbols have been provided by John W Du Bois, University of California Santa Barbara in a file that compares symbols and their function and meaning in terms of transcription categories.

Conversation analysis by Charles Antaki, Loughborough University, – in particular lectures 3, 4 and 5 offer valuable summaries of applied key concepts such as adjacency pairs, preferreds and dispreferreds as well as turn-takes .

Nick Llewellyn, University of Warwick, has made interesting and useful tutorial available, the material focuses on transcription of video footage .

Emanuel Schegloff, University of California LA, illustrates a number of detailed talk-in-action sequences which feature overlapping talk, micropauses and aspirations as well as intonations – all transcripts are made available as audio, this is a major plus, especially for those unfamiliar with a specific accent.

The Open University, UK, D843 course forum (i.e. communal area shared by system users) is a bit hard to find as the post-graduate course on discourse analysis does not provide a tutor-moderated forum (as common) but only a group run by students. This kind of forum is not linked to the Studenthome where students could find it easily but is embedded on a deeper level. Here is the chain of clicks required to navigate through:

Option 1:
Go to Open University studenthome > Links > OU Mailbox and discussion forums server
> Directory > search for OUSA D843 – create mail to
Option2:
Go to Open University studenthome > Links > OU Mailbox and discussion forums server > OU Student Association > OUSA signpost – D843

I recommend making the effort as there are comprehensive archives dating back to 2007, they contain discussions and resources – I am sure this will also be an efficient tool in the exam preparation. We recently discussed the meaning of reality as constructed within discourse as well as what constitutes relativism in DA.

Then there was discussion around correct referencing in Harvard style – I shared my favourite online Referencing Guide because the PDF is comprehensive and very well structured.

With regard to relativism I had come across Mette Haagen’s study: Indian Organ Trade; From the Perspective of Weak Cultural Relativism (2005) which uses discourse analysis in order to investigate the impact discourses of human rights and inequality poverty have on the understanding of the existence of the Indian organ trade. It is a fascinating read and a significant topic – explored over 30 pages.

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Semiotics revisited: Absolut

I came across this presentation which applies the key concepts of semiotics to the Absolut Vodka advertising campaign. It’s a very helpful and entertaining illustration of the terms sign, signifier, signified as well as the underlying discourse in a specific context – made available by Rashmi Athlekar on Slideshare – as embedded below. The more comprehensive guide by visual semiotician David Chandler is still one of my favourite sites, the glossary is quite extensive and delivers a more in-depth approach to semiotic studies.

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Research Design: methodology in question

One of the blogs I follow on a regular basis is Jeffrey Keefer’s Silence and Voice which is currently concerned with some issues related to research design and formulating of research questions in the wider context of auto-ethnography as methodology and identity construction as the subject of interest. Recent posts I found very interesting and commented on are the one on broader research design questions and the one on auto-ethnography and reflexivity which are worthwhile having a think over – they provide very good ground for some reflection on dilemmas and politics entailed in the underlying epistemological questions of research-related decision-making.

I am fascinated by the way crowd-sourcing can work in academic blogging, it’s a great way of engaging broader audiences and gaining some insights from outside immediate areas. I like and do value the fact that academic bloggers, busy with studies and work, research and other things, take the time and effort to reflect publicly online, open up to questions and critiques – and respond to comments and ideas. Personally, I enjoy the challenge to think about issues and see whether I can contribute some ideas and to what extent I need to improve on gaps and communication of insights.

Jeffrey’s research made me recall some podcasts featuring Stuart Hall et al. debating questions related to identity construction. They form part of the Open University’s post-graduate course D853 Identity in Question which I studied in 2008 – the interviews cover Lacanian Theory, Language Approach, subjectivity and legal definitions of personhood as well as some comments on Michel Foucault’s genealogical perspective. They last 2 to 9 minutes and deliver some great food for thought. I also came across James Schirmer’s paper on Scribd which I recommend as thought-provoking read in this context The Personal as Public: Identity Construction/Fragmentation Online

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