Wodak, R., & Krzyzanowski, M. (2008). Qualitative discourse analysis in the social sciences. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Reviewed by: Thomas Owen
Wodak and Krzyzanowski's collection provides a useful 'how-to' guide for emergent researchers eager to apply interpretative analysis to 'text and talk' examples of social phenomena. Covering both the objects of analysis common to discourse analysts and methodologies used to approach them, the volume leads readers step by step through its contributing authors' own research projects, highlighting practical researcher considerations, andispeppered with examples and activities helpful for the classroom environment.
While the title may suggest a broader enquiry into the various incarnations of ?discourse within the social sciences, the studies outlined in this volume operate from within the 'text in context' linguistic-based understanding of discourse found in van Dijk, Fairclough, and co-editor Wodak's work. Setting the scene in an introductory chapter, Wodak conceptualizes ?discourse analysis here as a loose framework for examining inter-textual and extra-linguistic features alongside their textual manifestations; an approach she celebrates for the interdisciplinarity and multiperspectivity it allows.
After the introduction to key concepts is completed, however, Qualitative Discourse Analysis reveals itself as a practical - not a theoretical - guide, focusing on the practicalities of conducting discourse analytical research, rather than examining the ontological assumptions of what ?discourse and its relation to social practice might be.
The first five chapters examine common genres of discourse inquiry; print media, new media, documentary film, political rhetoric and broadcast debates. With the exception of Greg Myers' discussion of US presidential debates, all examples are Austrian, German or British in orientation - though any alienation a non-European reader may experience is duly compensated by an overall commitment to describing method over results. The final three chapters consider the application of discourse analysis to research interview, focus group, and ethnographic methods.
Written explicitly for students new to discourse analysis, each contributing author takes care to introduce their topic, argue for the importance of its analysis to the social sciences, and then systematically detail their steps through an exemplary research project - in most cases with a generous consideration for lack of prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Few pages in the volume go unadorned without highlighted text boxes, tables, diagrams or bullet-points, delivering the content in an ?info-bytes? fashion effective for readability and easy reference to the section or point required.
It is perhaps in the last section, however, that the volume as a whole most starkly expresses its strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, the chapters provide a wealth of practical tips and advice for designing and conducting research projects - the focus group chapters pragmatic project-building account, and the ethnography chapters empathetic tips and advice for first-time ethnographers provide good examples of this - invaluable for the target audience of emerging researchers new to their field. However, the scant attention paid to explicitly situating each authors theoretical assumptions is equally disorientating as it is straightforward when the ontological conception of discourse can alter subtly between chapters. Compare co-editor Krzyzanowskis focus group chapters more positivist conception of discourses as thought-organizational ?frames operating on social practice from somewhere external to it, to the following chapter on ethnography, co-authored by Krzyzanowski and Florian Oberhuber, explicitly explaining the dialectical relationship between discourse, social practice, and texts.
In and of itself, this may be a trite point in a volume that is otherwise successful in its aim to provide clear examples of research projects using discourse analysis: and, to be fair, the point is disclaimed by Wodaks introductory recognition that concepts of discourse and discourse analysis are rarely applied in explicit and consistent ways, let alone systematically defined and operationalized. However, the books overall design - generally ghetto-izing the contentious theoretical questions into the introductory chapter - may not help emerging researchers falling into perhaps the biggest trap facing discourse analysis work; that of adopting an unwitting eclecticism and conceptual incoherence by nature of dipping into the various (and distinct) traditions that have appropriated the ?discourse signifier.
While multiperspectival blends of approaches are a methodological strength recognized across the spectrum of discourse analysis, it is also typically acknowledged that the specific blend be clearly identified in order to situate the project at hand. This aspect is underdeveloped in this volume. Though space is obviously an obstacle in this regard, a little more elaboration positioning the authors assumptions within and against other popular threads of analysis (say, critical discourse analysis, discursive psychology, or discourse theory), and a greater attention to this throughout the chapters, would have gone a long way to help the target audience better position the books insights within the diverse interpretations of what constitutes ?discourse analysis.
That said, notwithstanding the ambitious sounding breadth of its title, Qualitative Discourse Analysis only ever claims to "provide researchers with the most important concepts, discovery procedures, strategies, methods and tools to analyze a wide range of genres of text and talk." This, it does indeed achieve, providing a rich buffet of text-in-context case studies presented in a student user-friendly fashion. In this sense, perhaps the most compelling argument the amassed studies present, is that text and talk are indeed worthy phenomena for social scientists to pursue, and that discourse analysis is a truly insightful lens to approach them with.
About the reviewer: Thomas Owen is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. His research uses discourse analysis to examine news coverage of activism, intellectual property rights, and medicines access in developing countries.
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