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Discourse analysis: what it is and uses in social psychology

Discourse analysis: what it is and uses in social psychology

June 20, 2024

Discourse analysis is a qualitative research technique which has had an important impact in social sciences as well as in social psychology, and which arises from the importance that language has acquired not only as a way of expressing a certain social reality, but as a way of constructing it.

It is also a complex orientation that has gained an important popularity in social studies and can be done in very different ways. Below you will find a general description of discourse analysis, its background and the impact it has had on social psychology.

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Language study in social psychology

Language is undoubtedly one of the most complex and interesting elements that we share human beings, that is why it has positioned itself as an object of scientific discussion and research for centuries.

In the social sciences, the twentieth century is recognized as a period in which language was placed at the center of research and social, historical, philosophical and scientific analyzes, what is known as the linguistic turn . In other words, the study of language has been a very useful tool for understanding both psychological and social processes.

From this arises the interest of social psychology to study and analyze discourses, which in turn has generated research techniques such as discourse analysis, thematic analysis, content analysis or conversational analysis.

What distinguishes discourse analysis is that it considers the theory of language as something complex. Unlike, for example, the analysis of content, which focuses on the direct manifestation of a concept and the times it is repeated, discourse analysis pays attention to some elements that structure everyday language, like irony the double meaning, the metaphors, the implications, or the context itself , among others, that can account for relationships that are implicit or latent.

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Discourse analysis: a theoretical and methodological proposal

Discourse analysis is the name that has been given to a set of theoretical and methodological proposals that are actually very diverse . Therefore it is difficult to offer a single definition of this technique and there is also a kind of recipe that can be used in the same way by all researchers.

Some background

Although its antecedents can be traced also in other traditions, the analysis of the discourse arises mainly from the linguistic philosophy of the Oxford school , which considers that language directly affects social reality (interpersonal relationships, behavior, cognition, language).

Specifically, the theory of speech acts has had an important impact on discourse analysis, since it proposes that linguistic expressions produce effects that go beyond words that are used. On the other hand, discourse analysis is also influenced by works that have a more political and sociological orientation.

Possible definitions

One of the possible ways to define discourse analysis is to point out that it is a flexible research method that is useful for perform a systematic interpretation of the speeches .

And a discourse is a set of linguistic practices that maintain and promote social relationships (Iñiguez and Antaki, 1994), with which, language is not only an individual communicative ability but is a practice that constitutes and regulates social relationships that are susceptible to be studied.

There are many ways to analyze a speech. In any case, the starting point is to ask what are and how are the social relationships that we want to explain (pose a research problem related to the discourse), and then gather the corpus of data that will be analyzed, that is, the linguistic materials (for example, press release, interviews, public policy, regulation, etc.).

From there, Speeches can be analyzed through different tools . Some researchers start by conducting a content analysis, categorizing the content of the texts according to the objectives of their research and then interpreting some of these categories.

Other researchers perform deep, careful, repeated and systematic readings of each statement looking for language resources such as irony, metaphors, contradictions, trying to reveal the social relationships that are mobilized through these resources, that is, looking for the latent effects of the language.

What in any case is important in terms of the rigor of the research is to adequately justify the steps we have followed during the analysis.

Critical discourse analysis

Critical discourse analysis has recently positioned itself as a new research method and has gained much popularity. Very broadly speaking, it consists of applying a critical perspective to discourse analysis, that is, Pay attention not only to social relationships, but to power relations, abuse of power and domination that shape the social reality and that are mobilized through language.

That is, the critical analysis of discourse seeks to understand how it is that domination is produced and reproduced through discourses. At the methodological level there is not a great substantial difference, it is just as flexible and interpretive as the traditional discourse analysis.

Your contribution to social psychology

The main impact of discourse analysis in social psychology is that it allows to develop an alternative to research methods focused on experimentation , considering that this is not a neutral process where the researcher does not affect the reality he investigates, but rather the opposite.

Likewise, it has impacted the way of doing social psychology, because it understands language not as something that is in each individual but as a way to build ourselves and ourselves, and the environment with which we interact.

Being such a broad and heterogeneous tradition, there are schools, authors and paradigms that differentiate both the theory of language and research methods, in the more traditional perspectives of discourse analysis as well as in the current of critical analysis of the speech.

Bibliographic references:

  • Íñiguez, L. (2003). The analysis of discourse in the social sciences: varieties, traditions and practice, Pp: 83-124. in Íñiguez, I. (Ed.) Analysis of discourse. Manual for social sciences, Editorial UOC: Barcelona
  • Van Dijk, T. (2002). The critical analysis of discourse and social thought. Athenea Digital. Journal of Thinking and Social Research, 1: 18-24.
  • Íñiguez, L. and Antaki, C. (1994). In discourse analysis in social psychology. Psychology Bulletin, 4: 57-75.


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