Curriculum Materials

Discourse Analysis
Tara Holton, PhD

This module provides an overview of discourse analysis and a variety of resources helpful in understanding both the philosophies and methodologies behind this approach to the analysis of discursive data. Included in this module are: 1) a brief introduction to discourse analysis; 2) suggested readings on discourse analysis, including, introductory material, theory and methodology; 3) online resources; 4) key people in discourse analysis; 5) relevant journals; and 6) recommended software for qualitative analyses.

Discourse Analysis
Discourse analysis is a theoretical approach to research and involves a wide variety of epistemologies and methodologies, many of which are discussed in this module. Generally speaking, discourse analysis can be defined as “a set of methods and theories for investigating language in use and language in social context” (Wetherell & Yates, 2001). Although many forms of discourse analysis exist, they all share in common the examination of language in use, where discourse is seen as a practice, a topic of interest, in and of itself, rather than a resource (Taylor, 2001). For all forms of discourse analysis, context is an integral part of interpreting data, although the attention to context differs depending on the form of discourse analysis. Among the many approaches to discourse analysis, the most well known include: 1) discourse analysis in social psychology, often referred to as discursive psychology; 2) conversation analysis; and 3) critical discourse analysis.

Discursive Psychology
In 1987, Jonathan Potter of Loughborough University and Margaret Wetherell of Open University published a book entitled Discourse and social psychology: Beyond attitudes and behaviour. This book and the subsequent Discursive psychology by Derek Edwards (also of Loughborough) and Potter (1992) offered a reconceptualization of thought and research in psychology. Often said to involve a paradigm shift, this form of discourse analysis draws from a variety of disciplines, and involves not simply a different means of conducting data analyses and collection but an entirely different set of theoretical assumptions (Wood & Kroger, 2000).

This new way of ‘doing’ social psychology reflects the ‘linguistic turn’ in a variety of disciplines such as sociology, literary studies, anthropology, linguistics and philosophy (Wood & Kroger, 2000). This turn to language is characteristic of much postmodern research in the social sciences and humanities, where language is no longer seen as an obvious reflection of the ‘real’ world, but a social practice with the power to construct versions of ‘reality’ (MacMartin & Yarmey, 1999). Discourse analysts are concerned with “the constructive nature of descriptions, rather than the entities that (according descriptions) exist beyond them” (Edwards, 1997 p. 48). Our worlds and ourselves are historically, culturally and socially situated. Discourse, according to this perspective on discourse analysis, is the medium through which this occurs. Our attention then turns to how we construct our worlds and ourselves through discourse.

Discursive psychology is a means of conducting research in which the questions that are usually asked in scientific investigation have been reframed, allowing researchers to examine actions accomplished by discourse (Wood & Kroger, 2000). Data analysis is an iterative, adaptable process in which the steps are interrelated. It may involve going back and re-thinking interpretations as the analyst becomes more and more familiar with the data. For example, analysis, which may occur as data is collected, can affect the future collection of data for the same project. Discursive psychologists recognize that their own research is inexorably linked to the world context. It is not objective.

Conversation Analysis
Conversation analysis shares the theoretical background of discursive psychology. It is widely acknowledged to be the brainchild of Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, and has its origins in ethnomethodology and the work of sociologist Harold Garfinkle (Potter & Wetherell, 1987). There exist several different forms of conversation analysis (Wood & Kroger, 2000) which range from the early works of Sacks who examined “everyday practical reasoning” such as descriptions of social life; to present day conversation analysis which focuses on the “structure and sequence of everyday conversation” (Wood & Kroger, 2000, Appendix II). Conversation analysis is focused, like discursive psychology, on discourse—specifically talk in use. In particular, this form of analysis is interested in mundane talk in interaction (Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Wood & Kroger, 2000). Mundane talk may be understood as the everyday discourse of society. Like the afore mentioned discursive psychologists, conversation analysts believe that talk is imperative to the generation and continuance of our sociocultural worlds (Potter & Wetherell, 1987). Similarly, conversation analysts do not see language as a transparent entity, as merely a carrier of ideas, thoughts, but rather, like discursive psychologists, they see talk as action.

The analyses of data are a more ‘micro’ form of analysis in which every detail of conversation is important. Conversation analysts pay special attention to the context and the occasions of use in talk, sequential organization, and suggest that in order to understand how an account functions, they must examine it verbatim, in context, in terms of its location in the conversation, thus revealing systematic characteristics of talk.

Critical Discourse Analysis
There are many forms of critical discourse analysis, but one common feature is the treatment of criticism as a crucial part of analysis. In general, critical discourse analysts are concerned with the “relationship of language to other elements of social processes” (Fairclough, 2001, p. 229). Critical discourse analysis has a role in social and cultural critique and is often focused on social concerns such as racism, medicalization or sexism (Wood & Kroger, 2000). Analysts are particularly interested in demonstrating how discourse is involved in the “social relations of power, domination and ideology” (Fairclough, 2001, p. 229). They wish to examine how discourses construct social relations and identities, as well as systems of knowledge.

Critical discourse analysts see power as capable of constructing and reproducing institutions such as medicine and science though discourse in the form of journals, reports, lectures, textbooks, programs, as well as interactions such as those between a patient and health care professionals. Critical discourse analysis is interested in “demystifying” the reification of hegemonic patterns of discourse (Potter, 1996, p. 231) and is concerned with the ‘rules’ of society and culture that allow for the accessibility of certain discourses and not others. Close attention is paid to the historical and cultural construction of subjects and objects. Critical discourse analysis draws attention to social practices which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, challenges the abuse of power and questions discourses of inequality through discourse analysis (van Dijk, 1997).

Suggested Readings

Introduction to discourse analysis

Antaki, C., Billig, M., Edwards, D., and Potter, J. (2003). "Discourse Analysis Means Doing Analysis: A Critique Of Six Analytic Shortcomings", Discourse Analysis Online, 1.

Edwards, D. & Potter, J. (1992). Discursive Psychology. London: Sage.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis, London: Longman.

Fairclough, N. & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical discourse analysis. In T.A. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse as social interaction: Discourse studies, a multidisciplinary introduction Vol. 1 (pp. 258-284). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Garfinkle, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.

Kroger, R.O., & Wood, L.A. (1998). The turn to discourse in social psychology. Canadian Psychology, 39, 266-279.

Potter, J. & Wetherell, M. (1987). "Discourse and Social Psychology," London et al.: Sage.

van Dijk, T.A. (1996). Discourse Studies: A multidisciplinary introduction (2 Volumes), London; Sage.

van Dijk, T.A. (1997). The study of discourse. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse as structure and process: Discourse studies, a multidisciplinary introduction (pp. 1-34). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Wetherell, M. Taylor S. and Simeneon J. Yates (Eds.) (2001). "Discourse as Data: A guide for analysis," London: Sage.


Antaki, C. (1994). Explaining and arguing: The social organisation of accounts, London: Sage Publications.

Billig, M. (1991). Ideology and opinions, London: Sage Publications.

Billig, M. (1996). Arguing and thinking, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edwards, D. Ashmore, M. and Potter, J., (1995). Death and furniture: The rhetoric, politics and theology of bottom line arguments against relativism, History of the Human Sciences, 8, 25-49.

Edwards, D. (1997). Discourse and cognition, London: Sage.

Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and power, London: Longman.

Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge. New York: Pantheon Books.

Harré, R., Gillett, G., (1994). The discursive mind. London: Sage.

Potter, J. (1996). Representing reality. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Potter, J. (2005). Making psychology relevant, Discourse & Society, 16, 739-747.

Potter, J. (2003). Discursive psychology: Between method and paradigm, Discourse & Society, 14, 783-794.

Potter, J. (2006). Cognition and conversation, Discourse Studies, 8, 131-140.

Ruth Wodak, (Ed). (1989). Language power and ideology: Studies in political discourse. London: Benjamins Publishing Company.


Edwards, J.A., Lampert, M.D. (Eds), (1993). Talking Data: Transcription and coding in discourse research, Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum.

Gill, R. (1996). Discourse analysis: Methodological aspects", in Richardson, J.E., (Ed), Handbook of qualitative research methods for psychology and the social sciences, Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Potter, J. & Hepburn, A. (2005). Qualitative interviews in psychology – Problems and possibilities, Qualitative research in psychology, 2, 38-55.

Potter, J. (2004). Discourse analysis as a way of analysing naturally occurring talk. In D. Silverman (Ed.) Qualitative analysis: Issues of theory and method, 2nd edition (pp. 200-221). London: Sage.

Potter, J. (2003). Discourse analysis. In M. Hardy & A. Bryman (Eds.) Handbook of data analysis (pp. 607-624). London; Sage.

Potter, J., Wetherell, M. (1994). "Analyzing discourse", in Bryman, A., Burgess, B., (Eds.), Analyzing qualitative data, London; Routledge.

Puchta, C. & Potter, J. (2004). Focus group practice. London: Sage.

Taylor, S. (2001). Locating and conducting discourse analytic research. In M. Wetherell, S. Taylor, and S.J. Yates (Eds.), Discourse as data: A guide for analysis (pp. 5-48). London: Sage.

Wetherell, M., Taylor, S., Yates, S. (2001). Discourse theory and practice: A reader, London; Sage.

Wood, L.A., & Kroger, R.O. (2000). Doing discourse analysis: Methods for studying action in talk and text. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Important Online Resources

Discourse Analysis Primer:

Discourse in Society: Homepage of Teun van Dijk.

Discourse and Rhetoric Group (DARG):

Radical Psychology Network:

Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis:

Discourse Analysis Online:

A Few Key People

Charles Antaki

Michael Billig

Derek Edwards

Norman Fairclough

Jonathan Potter

Lorraine Radtke

Hendrikus Stam

Teun Van Dijk

Margaret Wetherell

Ruth Wodak

Linda Wood


(Information taken directly from journal websites).

Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis
Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines is a free but formal, peer-reviewed electronic journal, intended to provide a publishing platform for cross-disciplinary critical discourse research. Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines aims to expand the scope of critical discourse research beyond the models and applications traditionally offered in mainstream Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). To this end, they welcome papers from CDA but also neighbouring disciplines, which might include, for example, communication studies, media studies and political science.

Critical Discourse Studies
Critical Discourse Studies is an interdisciplinary journal for the social sciences. Its primary aim is to publish critical research that advances our understanding of how discourse figures in social processes, social structures, and social change. Critical Discourse Studies has been established in response to the proliferation of critical discourse studies across the social sciences and humanities. The scope of critical discourse studies is not limited to linguistic studies, or articles that are primarily empirical or analytical. Critical examination of non-linguistic phenomena that take a significant discourse orientation, as well as theoretical and methodological papers that advance critical understandings of discursive phenomena, are welcomed.

Discourse Analysis Online
DA On-Line is an international, interactive on-line journal dedicated to the publication of discourse analysis research. Intended for all discourse researchers in the social sciences, cultural studies or humanities. They particularly encourage discussions of the practical applications of discourse studies.

Discourse & Communication
Discourse & Communication publishes articles that pay specific attention to the qualitative, discourse analytical approach to issues in communication research. Besides the classical social scientific methods in communication research, such as content analysis and frame analysis, a more explicit study of the structures of discourse (text, talk, images or multimedia messages) allows unprecedented empirical insights into the many phenomena of communication. Since contemporary discourse study is not limited to the account of 'texts' or 'conversation' alone, but has extended its field to the study of the cognitive, interactional, social, cultural, political and historical 'contexts' of discourse, it is also able to be integrated in the broader study of the societal dimensions of communication.

Discourse & Society
Discourse & Society is a multidisciplinary journal whose major aim is to publish outstanding research at the boundaries of discourse analysis and the social sciences. It focuses on explicit theory formation and analysis of the relationships between the structures of text, talk, language use, verbal interaction or communication, on the one hand, and societal, political or cultural micro- and macrostructures and cognitive social representations, on the other hand.

Discourse Studies
Discourse Studies is a multidisciplinary journal for the study of text and talk. Publishing outstanding work on the structures and strategies of written and spoken discourse, special attention is given to cross-disciplinary studies of text and talk in linguistics, anthropology, ethnomethodology, cognitive and social psychology, communication studies and law.

Journal of Language and Politics
The Journal of Language and Politics (JLP) represents a forum for analysing and discussing the various dimensions in the interplay of language and politics. The basic assumption is that the language of politics cannot be separated from the politics of language. The notion of ‘Political Discourse’ does not remain limited to the ‘institutional’ field of politics (e.g. parliamentary discourse, election campaigns, party programmes, speeches, etc.) but opens to all linguistic manifestations that may be considered to be political, provided that it is convincingly argued what makes them ‘political’. In order to illuminate new and old forms of political discourses inter- and transdisciplinary perspectives and elaborated linguistic methodologies have to complement each other.

Journal of Linguistic Anthropology
The Journal of Linguistic Anthropology (JLA), a semiannual publication of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA), a Section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), welcomes contributions of relevance to linguistic anthropology.

Journal of Multicultural Discourses
This journal is devoted to scholarship that (1) explores intellectual traditions on language, discourse and communication especially outside dominant paradigms; (2) researches into practices in, as well as concepts about, language and communication in especially marginalized communities; and/or (3) develops multiculturalist approaches to language, discourse and communication.

Journal of Pragmatics
Linguistic pragmatics has been able to formulate a number of questions over the years that are essential to our understanding of language as people's main instrument of "natural" and "societal" interaction. By providing possible theoretical foundations for the study of linguistic practice, linguistic pragmatics has helped to increase our knowledge of the forms, functions, and foundations, of human interaction. The Journal of Pragmatics identifies with the above general scope and aims of pragmatics. The journal welcomes authoritative, innovative pragmatic scholarship from all practice oriented linguistic standpoints. It provides a forum for pragmatic studies in sociolinguistics, general linguistics, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, cognitive linguistics, computational linguistics, applied linguistics and other areas of linguistic research.

Journal of Sociolinguistics
Journal of Sociolinguistics has established itself as an international forum for multidisciplinary research on language and society. Journal of Sociolinguistics promotes sociolinguistics as a thoroughly linguistic and thoroughly social-scientific endeavour. The journal is concerned with language in all its dimensions, macro and micro, as formal features or abstract discourses, as situated talk or written text. Data in published articles represent a wide range of languages, regions and situations - from Alune to Xhosa, from Cameroun to Canada, from bulletin boards to dating ads.

Language and Communication
This journal is unique in that it provides a forum devoted to the discussion of topics and issues in communication which is of interdisciplinary significance. It publishes contributions from researchers in all fields relevant to the study of verbal and non-verbal communication. The investigation of language and its communicational functions are treated as a concern shared in common by those working in anthropology, the arts, artificial intelligence, education, ethology, linguistics, physiology, philosophy, psychology and the social sciences. Emphasis is placed on the implications of current research for establishing common theoretical frameworks within which findings from different areas of study may be accommodated and interrelated. By focusing attention on the many ways in which language is integrated with other forms of communicational activity and interactional behaviour, it is intended to explore ways of developing a science of communication which is not restricted by existing disciplinary boundaries.

Language in Society
Language in Society is an international journal of sociolinguistics concerned with all branches of speech and language as aspects of social life. The journal includes empirical articles of general theoretical, comparative or methodological interest. Content varies from predominantly linguistic to predominantly social. Language in Society aims to strengthen international scholarship and cooperation in this field. In addition to original articles, the journal publishes numerous reviews of the latest important books in the field.

Political Communication
Political Communication is an interdisciplinary, international journal, published quarterly, that features cutting-edge research at the intersection of politics and communication, broadly conceived. Its expansive subject is the site of rapid changes and pressing policy concerns worldwide. The journal welcomes all research methods and analytical viewpoints that advance understanding of the practices, processes, and policy implications of political communication in all its forms. Regular symposium issues explore key issues in depth.

Research on Language and Social Interaction
Research on Language and Social Interaction is a multidisciplinary journal committed to publishing outstanding research focused on the organization and dynamics of language and embodied conduct as vehicles of social interaction. Studies of casual conversation, institutional settings, interaction mediated by computer and other new technologies, and research on interaction across cultures and languages are within the journal purview. Research may involve the close analysis interaction based on interview and observational data, collected in the laboratory or the field. Diverse approaches to the study of interaction are encouraged, including, but not limited to, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, pragmatics, and observational and ethnographic studies.

Semiotica, the Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969, appears in five volumes of four issues per year, in two languages (English and French), and occasionally in German. Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in this field, and occasional guest editorials and reports.

Theory and Psychology
Theory & Psychology is a bi-monthly journal devoted to scholarship with a broad meta-theoretical intent. It examines such issues as the conceptual frameworks and foundations of psychology, its historical underpinnings, its relation to other human sciences, its methodological commitments, its ideological assumptions and its political and institutional contexts. It fosters dialogue among psychologists and other social scientists interested in psychological analyses.

Written Communication
The essential journal for research on the study of writing in all its symbolic forms, Written Communication has a broad and interdisciplinary view of what writing is, how writing gets done, and what writing does in the world. Written Communication's aims and scope encompass a wide range of topics, and its pages consistently provide readers with new research findings, new theoretical concepts, and new ways of understanding how writing is practiced in schools, workplaces, and communities.

Software Packages for Organizing Qualitative Data:

NVivo 7

For a comparison of several qualitative software packages please go to: