Discourse Analysis

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

This course aims to introduce the students to social science discourse analysis, and in particular to interpretive discourse analysis as a family of approaches that emphasise the constructed nature of politics and the importance of struggles over interpretive and definitory hegemony for political processes and for the definition of political “realities”. Such approaches have become popular in various fields of political science, including policy studies, social movement research, international relations, organisational studies, etc. They allow to raise research questions that ask how worldviews are constructed, how discourses emerge and change, and how they influence political processes.

The course starts out on a more general overview of the field of discourse analysis (including more positivist strands such as discursive institutionalism), with the aim of zooming in more precisely on what various kinds of discourse analysis can and cannot do. Subsequently, for the major part of the course, we will then focus on post-structuralist discourse analysis: its epistemological bases, its various uses (such as the analysis of systems of meanings, discourses and counter-discourses, genealogical analysis, etc.). We will go over the most important bases and methodological tools of this type of analysis (tools from linguistics, socio-linguistics and post-structuralism for instance), some of its more practically-oriented manifestations (such as critical frame analysis), and some more general methodological issues proper to qualitative-interpretive research.

By the end of the course, the participants should have gained an understanding of the importance of language in politics and of discourse analysis as a conceptual and methodological approach. Through practical work in- and outside of the classroom, they should also have acquired some practical skills enabling them to begin to use discourse analysis for their own purposes, and to find their way through the literature in discourse theory and analysis.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, the students should :

  1. Understand the rationale, theoretical basis and key concepts of discourse analysis as used in social and political analysis, and its limitations;
  2. Be able to apply a discourse analytical approach to a (limited) object of their choice, and to present their findings in an appropriate manner, in writing as well as orally;
  3. Be able to critically assess discourse analytical work done by others

The course consists of weekly sessions consisting in lectures, class-room discussions in connection with the readings (and assignments), and practical exercises.

At the end of the semester, every (regular) participant will present his or her final paper to the class. Depending on the number of participants, we may need to extend this presentation sessions beyond the usual duration of the class (a schedule will be set up by mid-semester or so).

 The assessment will be based on the following:

  • A final paper demonstrating a conceptual understanding of discourse analysis and the application of a discourse analytical approach to an object of the student's choice (ca. 6000 words) (70%) (learning outcomes 1 and 2)
  • Intermediate assignments (20%) to be handed in the day before class, or be brought along to class (learning outcomes 1, 2, 3). They will not be graded individually, but taken as a whole.
  • Active participation and a short oral presentation of the student's own final paper at the end of the semester (10%) (learning outcomes 2, 3)

A suggestion for a topic for the final paper will have to be submitted by week 4, a more developed 2-page proposal by week 6 and a draft version of the paper by week 10 (ahead of the oral presentation). Deadline for the final paper: Friday 7th April.

Team-work is possible for final papers and assignments.