Who does Discourse Analysis?

Many sociolinguists have looked into the study of discourse, leading to the discipline we now recognise as Discourse Analysis. DA has grown in popularity in the the social sciences since the 1950s due to the hard work of many key researchers, so on this page we will look at three of the most important people involved with the development of Discourse Analysis.

It was perhaps a French philosopher, Michel Foucault, who set the stepping stones for many social theorists and discourse analysis itself. The theories of Foucault have actually led to a specialised variant of discourse analysis, called Foucauldian discourse analysis. In 1972, Foucault wrote “Nothing has any meaning outside of discourse”,[1] and the point he was trying to make here was that discourse creates a social context and gives meaning to anything that is spoken about. This includes institutional objects such as power and knowledge and discourse analysts work from these ideas about social objects to look for the truth in their structures. For more on Foucault and his key theories, see the video attached below.

Norman Fairclough is a key researcher in discourse analysis, although the principle of his work is concentrated on the variant of Critical Discourse Analysis, which looks at how power and ideology are reproduced through language. He is considered as one of the founders of critical discourse analysis, and his first book Language and Power (1989) was all about looking at discourse usage and how it related to unequal measures of power. The is one of the key concepts in CDA, considering how language reproduces power, and the effect of this in society.

Teun Adrianus van Dijk is a prominent scholar, who currently lectures at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. Van Dijk has published many books on discourse analysis and critical discourse analysis, with the bulk of his work looking at racism in discourse. This is important work for the social sciences as understanding how racist ideologies are reproduced by 'symbolic elites' (a term used by van Dijk to refer to politicians and journalists among others) is key to working towards cutting racism and prejudices out of society.

Michel Foucault


[1] Foucault, M., (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge.
[2] Fairclough, N., (1989). Language and Power. London: Longman.