Approaches to Critical Discourse Analysis

As a research enterprise, CDA is methodologically diverse and interdisciplinary, comprising a number of approaches directed toward a variety of data (Weiss and Wodak 2003: 12).  Critical discourse analysts argue the relationship between language and society is so complex that, in line with Horkheimer, who maintains that no single method is sufficient to fully understand any object of social inquiry but several methods must supplement one another, multifaceted research is required (Wodak 2001: 8).  The methodology of CDA can therefore only be presented ‘with reference to particular approaches and with regard to their specific theoretical backgrounds’ (Titscher et al. 2000: 144).  Four 'mainstream' approaches may be identified:

  • Critical Linguistics (Fowler et al. 1979; Fowler 1991, 1996; Kress 1985; Kress and Hodge 1979)
  • The sociosemiotic approach (Fairclough 1989, 1992, 1995a, 1995b)
  • The discourse-historical approach (Reisigl and Wodak 2001; Wodak 1996, 2001)
  • The sociocognitive approach (van Dijk 1995, 1998, 2002)

They can be distinguished from one and other, in part, by the linguistic theory they apply, as well as the type of data they analyse. However, one theory in particular has been predominant. Halliday's Systemic Functional Grammar features in all strands except the sociocognitive approach.  Critical Linguistics and the sociosemiotic approach have mainly been concerned with the exercise of power and mystification of responsibility in texts.  The discourse-historical approach and the sociocognitive approach both draw heavily on pragmatics, and argumentation theory in particular, in analysing the expression of racist attitudes and the legitimisation of exclusionary actions in texts.

More recently, new approaches have begun to emerge which apply contemporary theories in linguistics, including Cognitive Linguistics and Corpus Linguistics.