Critical discourse analysis, organizational discourse, and organizational change
A realist view of discourse analysis
Discourses is an element of all concrete social events (actions, processes) as well as of more durable social practices, though neither are simply discourse: they are articulations of discourse with non-discoursal elements. ‘Discourse’ subsumes language as well as other forms of semiosis such as visual images and ‘body language’, and the discoursal element of a social event often combines different semiotic forms (eg a television programme). But the use of the ‘term ‘discourse’ rather than ‘language’ is not purely or even primarily motivated by the diversity of forms of semiosis, it is primarily registers a relational way of seeing semiosis[i], as one element of social events and practices dialectically interconnected with other elements. The overriding objective of discourse analysis, on this view, is not simply analysis of discourse per se, but analysis of the dialectical relations between discourse and non-discoursal elements of the social, in order to reach a better understanding of these complex relations (including how changes in discourse can cause changes in other elements). But if we are to analyse relations between discourse and non-discoursal elements, we must obviously see them as ontologically (and not just epistemologically, analytically) different elements of the social. They are different, but they are not discrete – that is, they are dialectically related, in the sense that elements ‘internalize’ other elements, without being reducible to them (Harvey 1996, Chouliaraki & Fairclough 1999, Fairclough 2003, Fairclough, Jessop & Sayer 2004).
A realist view of social life sees it as including social structures as well as social events – in critical realist terms, the ‘real’ (which defines and delimits what is possible) as well as the ‘actual’ (what actually happens). There is a general recognition that the relationship between structures and events must be a mediated relation, and I follow for instance Bhaskar (1986) and Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Wacquant 1992) in regarding social practices as the mediating entities – more or less durable and stable articulations of diverse social elements including discourse which constitute social selections and orderings of the allowances of social structures as actualisable allowances in particular areas of social life in a certain time and place. Social fields, institutions and organizations can be regarded as networks of social practices. Networks of social practices include specifically discoursal selections and orderings (from languages and other semiotic systems, which are counted amongst social structures) which I call ‘orders of discourse’, appropriating but redefining Foucault’s term (Foucault 1984, Fairclough 1992). Orders of discourse are social structurings of linguistic/semiotic variation or difference.
Realist discourse analysis on this view is based in a dialectical-relational social ontology which gives ontological priority to processes and relations over objects, entities, persons, organizations etc, yet sees the latter as socially produced ‘permanences’ (Harvey 1996) which constitute a pre-structured reality with which we are confronted, and sets of affordances and limitations on processes. Epistemological priority is given to neither pre-constructed social structures, practices, institutions, identities or organizations, nor to processes, actions, and events: the concern is with the relationship and tension between them. People with their capacities for agency are seen as socially produced, contingent and subject to change, yet real, and possessing real causal powers which, in their tension with the causal powers of social structures, are a focus for analysis. Social research proceeds through abstraction from the concrete events of social life aimed at understanding the pre-structured nature of social life, and returns to analysis of...
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