Research Essay

9Analysis of the Discourse Theory

Analysis of the Discourse Theory

Analysis of the Discourse Theory


Foucault defines discourse as a method of constituting the knowledge, incorporation with the social practices, and subjectivity and power relation forms that to ensure inherence in such knowledge and relations between them. The identified relationship tends to constitute the body’s nature, both conscious and unconscious mind, and the emotional life experienced by the subjects while seeking the governance. Foucault majorly focuses on the question of the manner in which discourse shapes and creates the meaning of the systems gaining the status and the currency of “truth” and dominance in the manner that people define and organize themselves and the social world while marginalizing and subjecting other the other alternative discourses (Baxter, 2011, p.122). In a bid to understand the existing relationship between power, subjectivity, language, and social institutions, Foucault developed the “discursive field” which include the family and law containing different competing and contradicting discourses that vary in degree of power and gives meaning to social institutions. Until recently, the linguistic studies have been focusing on the premise that a sentence is the basic unit of expression.

Nonetheless, there is increasing interest and acceptance of the discourse analysis in understanding the use of language contrary to the traditional sentence based grammars. Most utterances that people make are more than one sentence with the discourses having more psychological reality than the sentences. Moreover, the grammar often leaves much ambiguous materials while in the discourse grammar, there is elimination of the potential ambiguity through referencing to the surrounding textual matter (Dahlberg & Phelan, 2011, p.142). The critical idea presented by discourse is that the surface phenomena within the texts are manifestations of deeper underlying semantic relations. To such extent, the discourse theory holds that the textual deep structures have the essentially the semantic character rather than the syntactic. Therefore, it is possible to summarize the text through a string of logical symbols having the universal validity. The universally valid meaning makes translation of text from one language to another.

The Discourse Theory

The theory proposes that the manner in people carry out their daily activities, speak, and write are shaped by the power structures within the society. However, since the struggle and conflict defines the society, people’s discourses tend to reflect and create the conflicts. In each day language, people use discourse to mean conversation and discussion (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002). Nonetheless, the scholars view the term in far more than the conversation and discussions as it encompasses all forms of communication. More importantly, the discourse suggests the truths that people live by and the manner through which people create them throughout their lives especially by interacting. Therefore, the discourse theory associates with the postmodernism and the skepticism of the natural sciences. Generally, the discourse theory relates with the human expression majorly through the language, as it tends to highlight the linkages between the expressions and human knowledge (Blakemore, 2011, p.107). The shared argument from different theorists on discourse is that the things that people write or say draw from a pool of widely accepted knowledge within the society while simultaneously feeding back into the society in a bid to shape and reinforce the knowledge. Therefore, with time, what the society holds to be true changes with time depending on the types of ideas that societal members exchange and the manner in which such exchange happens. Another common concern is the manner in which people or groups tend to shape their flow of knowledge.

From the theory, it is clear that some people may be in a position of defining what they consider true while excluding others from the discussions. In other words, the discourse theory majorly relates with the question of power and institutional hierarchies, which often contributes, to domination and resistance especially when people try to assert the person who should speak with the authority on various issues. According to Foucault, the world that people live is structured through knowledge; that is; some people or social groups ensure creation and formulation of ideas about the world, which under some condition yield unquestionable truths and start to seem normal. Therefore, the discourse theory aims at analyzing the regimes of truths and their associated history. Despite the common concerns among the theorists, the discourse researchers have different views on the exact definition of discourse, manner in which it precisely works, and the associated impacts. Besides, the researchers draw different approaches, which analyze textual sources. According Foucault and Derrida, the major factor distinguishing the poststructuralist theory is the recognition of the language and discourse which are not transparent or the neutral methods describing and analyzing the social and biological world. However, they ensure effective construction, regulation and knowledge control, institutions, and social relations (Schneider, 2013). With such regards, there is nothing outside or prior considered the manifestation in discourse.

In Foucault’s analysis of the discourse, the researchers analyzes whether the natural and social worlds are knowable, analyzable, and accessible without the recourse of the consecutive forces behind the discourse theory. With such analysis, there is no limitation of the discourse notion to the language but embraces the commonly reiterated critical words and statements recurring within the local texts of various kinds. Moreover, the statements tend to appear inter-textually across the different texts which comprise of familiar patterns associated with disciplinary and the paradigmatic knowledge and practice.

The poststructuralists discourse theory tends to examine the construction phenomena of writing, texts, and discourses shaping the identities and practices of the human subjects. In Foucault’s analysis, the researcher focused on the historical studies associated with the prisons, schools, governments, and asylums to determine the manner in which the historical configurations contributed to new kinds of the human subjects (Wetherell, Yates, Taylor & Open University. 2001, p.188). Furthermore, Foucault argues that institutionalized discourse often consist of different categories referred to as “grids of specification” which ensure classification and regulation of identities, bodies, social practices, and civil spaces of the people about various relations of knowledge and power. The discourses often work within the local contexts in a manner that cannot be explained through referencing any motivation, role, and intends of the groups and individuals. Indeed, from the analysis of the poststructuralist theory, the theory questions whether there are important human subjects, social realities, and individual agents which are independent of the dynamic historical construction within the social and cultural discourses.

Evenlyn Hatch conceptualized the discourse theory and currently becoming one of the rapidly developing theories in past five decades especially with the emergence of the second language acquisition research among the researchers globally. Besides, the theory originated from the theory of language use and emphasizes that the development of language needs to be viewed within the framework on how the learners discovers the meaning capacity of language through taking part in communication (Pensky, 2008, p. 188). According to the theory, people can learn language through effective communication with the target language speaker with the learners discovering the potential meaning of the language through communication. Even in the acquisition of the first language, there is a need for successful interaction rather than the exposure. The acquisition of the first language relates to the theory as the acquisition process depends on learning how to communicate in the language in question. The discourse theory results from the integration of different language levels including the phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, and discourse. According to the discourse theorists, the acquisition of knowledge can only be successful when the language learners understand the language and utilization in different settings and successful cognition of different competence such as grammatical and pragmatic. However, the learners need to understand various conversational strategies of acquiring the knowledge.

Discourse Analysis Technique

Zelling Harris first coined the term discourse analysis as a method of analyzing the connected speech or writing for continuing descriptive linguistics beyond the limit of a one sentence at a time and for cultural and language correlation. Therefore, discourse analysis studies the stretches of the language used while communicating the assumed meaning, purpose, and ensuring unity for the users and the quality of coherence. To interpret the discourse from the sociological point of view, it is critical to first analyze the discourse from the textual and contextual approach. Therefore, the sociological discourse analysis technique presents three different analytical levels including the textual, contextual, and interpretive level (Howarth & Torfing, 2005, p.182). Although both the context and text based analysis are the elements of sociological discourse analysis, they are not in themselves sociological analyses. Concerning the textual analysis, it allows the characterization of the discourse since it focuses majorly on the utterances and considerations of the discourse based on the subject of study. On the other hand, the contextual analysis allows people to understand the discourse since it focuses on the enunciation with much consideration of the discourse as a singular event. Moreover, the interpretation provides the explanation of the discourse considering the fact that it addresses various aspects of discourse with a focus on the information, ideology, and social product.

In advertisement, the language used is a functional dialect, which results from the processes language is chosen to specific utilization, and consequently the product becoming a variety of its own. The advertisement language needs to be colloquial and simple rather that complex and formal. The introduction of the ad clearly reflects the significance of the Arctic Defenders. Moreover, the commitment by Shell to drill the oil within the Arctic shows the extent to which both parties would go to ensure the achievement of their needs. From the discourse theory, children are susceptible to factors that they interact with on the daily basis. Filling them with the propaganda on the LEGO’s halo effect is unethical from the media and sociological perspective. The imaginations of the children on the destruction issue are unspoilt; therefore, it is critical to ensure that the information from the ads meets the needs of the targeted audience (Dahlgren, 2010, p.115). Considering the formality and complexity of the of the advertisement language, the ads need to imply the vocabulary that is fairly concrete and comprehensible. From the analysis of the advert, both the texts and context involves standard advertising English that is a concept involving loaded language with an aim of changing the will, opinions, and attitude of the audience. The choices associated with language within the market driven discourse are rarely made without serious consideration (Kivisto & Faist, 2007, p.154). From the ad, the language used performs different functions including informational, expressive, and vocative. The informational language within the ad aims to inform or report the effects associated with oil drilling in Arctic. Advising, recommendation, and persuasion are the vocative and directive function of the advert. On the advertising discourse, the informative and directive functions might be considered the most common purpose of the language.


The essay focused on the analysis of the discourse theory with an aim of ensuring proper understanding of the social as disruptive construction. First, the essay presented the theoretical of the discourse to language then incorporation of the theory within the social fields. Due to its broader focus, the discourse theory is important in laying the theoretical foundation of various social constructionist approaches to the analysis of the discourse. The overall idea presented by the social theory is the social phenomena are never finished which makes it difficult to ultimately fix and open up the ways of constantly struggling with the definitions of the society and the identity. As a result, the discourse theory contributes to the social effects. According to the poststructuralist, meaning is unambiguous and definite unfixable. Moreover, the poststructuralists agree signs often acquire meanings through being different from one another. However, with the ongoing language utilization, people tend to position the signs in different relations to each other for the acquisition of new meanings. As a result, the language is a social phenomenon in application. Through various conventions, the negotiations, and conflict within the social contexts structuring the meaning re challenged and fixed. Discourse analysis is the study of different ways in which the language is used within the text and contexts. Discourse analysis also concerns itself with the utilization of the language within the running discourse and continued over the number of sentences.


Stanford, CA: Stanford Law Books. .Habermas: The discourse theory of law and democracyBaxter, H. 2011.

(2), 100-118. 4, The Handbook of Discourse AnalysisBlakemore, D. 2011. Discourse and Relevance Theory.

. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Discourse theory and critical media politicsDahlberg, L., & Phelan, S. 2011.

(2), 97-122. 5, Discourse Theory and Critical Media PoliticsDahlgren, P. 2010. Mobilizing Discourse Theory for Critical Media Politics.

. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Discourse theory in European politics: Identity, policy, and governanceHowarth, D. R., & Torfing, J. 2005.

Jørgensen, M., & Phillips, L. 2002. Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method. Retrieved June 6, 2016, from

. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. Citizenship: Discourse, theory, and transnational prospectsKivisto, P., & Faist, T. 2007.

Albany: State University of New York Press. .The ends of solidarity: Discourse theory in ethics and politicsPensky, M. 2008.

Retrieved June 6, 2016, from the Hang of Discourse Theory.Schneider, F. 2013, May 6.

. London: SAGE. Discourse theory and practice: A readerWetherell, M., Yates, S., Taylor, S., & Open University. 2001.