CDA as Method

This blog is about method in CDA. This might not seem controversial – CDA studies do, after all, employ method, PhDs, books and articles include methodological discussion and there are numerous textbooks which describe method in CDA.

But there has been a trend recently – seen both at CDA meetings and conferences and in published articles – in which CDA is described as ‘an approach’ or a ‘movement’, and these descriptions are paired with a specific denial of CDA as method. This description of CDA as a ‘movement’ was used by some contributors to the CDA 20+ meeting a couple of years ago in Amsterdam and, in to pick up one example in print, Baker et al., say this:

We understand CDA to be an academic movement, a way of doing discourse analysis from a critical perspective, which often focuses on theoretical concepts such as power, ideology and domination. We do not view CDA as being a method nor are specific methods solely associated with it.

In my view, this position is a precarious one to take. Indeed, the contradiction in the quote above illustrates this, for what is ‘method’ if not ‘a way of doing…’?

The bulk of academic research follows a very general process: selecting and establishing some background knowledge on the topic (usually involving a review of literature), identifying what you want to do (rationale), and adopting procedures for doing it (specific method).

At this very general level the CDA ‘method’ is to pick a topic which involves a social problem. As Fairclough, Mulderrig and Wodak have written, ‘CDA addresses social problems’. The general CDA ‘method’ is to adopt a rationale in which discourse is seen as part of the problem and discourse analysis as a way of addressing the problem through interpretation and explanatory critique.

But it is at the level of adopting procedures for doing text analysis that the denial of a CDA method is being levelled. To return to Baker et al., the quote above continues:

Instead, it [CDA] adopts any method that is adequate to realize the aims of specific CDA-inspired research.

Here, I suspect that ‘method’ is being used to refer to a number of things including methods of data collection, methods of data analysis, and methods of interpretation, explanation and theory building.

I suspect, too, that individual studies rarely neglect to adopt method in whichever of these categories is relevant to the study and that the broader question is whether or not there is a recognisable ‘CDA method’ in data collection, analysis, interpretation, explanation and theory building across the body of work in CDA. My inclination is to hold that there is. Research relies on method. If one is going to do CDA then one must view CDA as having method.

I am also inclined to take the position that CDA is not a movement but an academic theory of discourse in social life and a method of research which operationalises that theory.

It is, however, the ongoing purpose of this blog to work through the questions of CDA as method more carefully.

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