What is CDA? 1: Theory

In a previous post I wrote about CDA as a method, but here I want to address theory: CDA is a theory as well as a method. The importance of theory is that it informs the analytical, interpretive and explanatory/theory-building method of CDA.

A prime theoretical distinction in this theory is between text and discourse.

In CDA, the language used in a social event is a ‘text’ – either spoken or written. Social events are particular interactions between people, and these interactions can be between just two individuals or tens of thousands.

Defining features of events are that they are finite and unique: they occur, then end, never to be repeated in in quite the same way again.

Language-use can also have properties which appear and reappear in social practices. Social practices are patterns and conventions of behaviour which participants produce, reproduce and, sometimes, transform across social events in different places and at different times. In CDA, the language patterns and conventions associated with a social practice is ‘discourse’.

This distinction gives users of CDA a way of thinking about and interpreting language in use. It gives rise to analytical questions over the extent to which the properties and features of a text are unique to the event in which the text has been produced. Is the feature beyond the familiar patterns and conventions of the social practices within which the event seems to be taking place? Are the features of the text entirely within the familiar patterns and conventions of the social practice? Or, more likely, is there an interplay of features being beyond and within convention.

Using this distinction, we can begin to interpret texts. Is the speaker or writer using the conventions expertly and to the advantage of some social actor or other? Alternatively, have they been unable to overcome language convention and fallen into following convention to the disadvantage of themselves or those they represent?

The theoretical distinction between text and discourse – not unique to CDA, but crucial to it nonetheless – is an important basis for the analytical and interpretive method of CDA.

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