Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context. With such dissident research, critical discourse analysts take explicit position, and thus want to understand, expose, and ultimately resist social inequality. Some of the tenets of CDA can already be found in the critical theory of the Frankfurt School before the Second World War (Agger 1992b; Rasmussen 1996). Its current focus on language and discourse was initiated with the “critical linguistics” that emerged (mostly in the UK and Australia) at the end of the 1970s (Fowler et al.1979; see also Mey 1985).
CDA has also counterparts in “critical” developments in sociolinguistics, psychology, and the social sciences, some already dating back to the early 1970s (Birnbaum 1971; Calhoun 1995; Fay 1987; Fox and Prilleltensky 1997; Hymes 1972; Ibanez and Iniguez 1997; Singh 1996; Thomas 1993; Turkel 1996; Wodak 1996). As is the case in these neighboring disciplines, CDA may be seen as a reactionagainst the dominant formal (often “asocial” or “uncritical”) paradigms of the 1960s and 1970s. CDA is not so much a direction, school, or specialization next to the many other “approaches” in discourse studies. Rather, it aims to offer a different “mode” or “perspective” of theorizing, analysis, and application throughout the whole field.
We may find a more or less critical perspective in such diverse areas as pragmatics, conversation analysis, narrative analysis, rhetoric, stylistics, sociolinguistics, ethnography, or media analysis, among others. Crucial for critical discourse analysts is the explicit awareness of their role in society. Continuing a tradition that rejects the possibility of a “value-free” science, they argue that science, and especially scholarly discourse, are inherently part of and influenced by social structure, and produced in social interaction. Instead of denying or ignoring such a relation between scholarship and society, they plead that such relations be studied and accounted for in their own right, and that scholarly practices be based on such insights. Theory formation, description, and explanation, also in discourse analysis, are sociopolitically “situated,” whether we like it or not.
Reflection on the role of scholars in society and the polity thus becomes an inherent part of the discourse analytical enterprise. This may mean, among other things, that discourse analysts conduct research in solidarity and cooperation with dominated groups. Critical research on discourse needs to satisfy a number of requirements in order to effectively realize its aims.
As is often the case for more marginal research traditions, CDA research has to be”better” than other research in order to be accepted.
It focuses primarily on , social problems and political issues, rather than on current paradigms and fashions.
Empirically adequate critical analysis of social problems is usually multidisciplinary.
Rather than merely describe discourse structures, it tries to explain them in terms of properties of social interaction and especially social structure.
More specifically, CDA focuses on the ways discourse structures enact, confirm, legitimate, reproduce, or challenge relations of power and dominance in society.
Fairclough and Wodak (1997: 271-80) summarize the main tenets of CDA as follows:
1. CDA addresses social problems
2. Power relations are discursive
3. Discourse constitutes society and culture
4. Discourse does ideological work
5. Discourse is historical
6. The link between text and society is mediated
7. Discourse analysis is interpretative and explanatory
8. Discourse is a form of social action.
Whereas some of these tenets have also been discussed above, others need a more systematic theoretical analysis, of which we shall present some fragments here as a more or less general basis for the main principles of CDA (for details about these aims of critical discourse and language studies, see, e.g., Caldas-Coulthard and Coulthard 1996; Fairclough 1992a, 1995a; Fairclough and Wodak 1997; Fowler et al. 1979; van Dijk 1993b).