CRITICS: Research Teun A. van Dijk

Teun A. van Dijk teun at
Thu Jun 1 17:41:05 UTC 1995


EARLIER WORK. After my earlier work on text grammar and the
psychology of text processing in the 1970s, my research during the
1980s and early 1990s focussed on the reproduction of racism in
various types of discourse (conversations, textbooks, news reports,
parliamentary debates, corporate discourse, etc.). The
(provisionally) last book in the series on discourse and racism was
Elite Discourse and Racism (Sage, 1993), which specifically deals
with the role of various elites --and their specific discourses-- in
the reproduction of ethnic attitudes, ideologies, racism and ethnic
inequality. Ruth Wodak and I are planning a joint study on "Racism at
the Top", in which we aim to examine the ethnic prejudices,
ethnocentrism, nationalism or racism of top politicians in Europe.

To my earlier work my present research still owes much of the
theoretical framework dealing with discourse structures and their
relations to the strategies and structures of (personal and social)
cognition, as studied in cognitive science. However, the fundamental
new dimensions of my current research are the social and the critical
ones, thus completing the conceptual framework of a triangle that
relates Society/Situation and Discourse via (Social) Cognition, where
Social Cognition is the crucial interface.

DISCOURSE, POWER AND ACCESS. Already at the end of the 1980s, the
research on racism was generalized towards (my) first studies on the
role of discourse in the reproduction of power, dominance and
inequality in general. One issue discussed in these studies was the
'access' different social groups have to (various types and
structures of) public discourse, and how speakers/writers of such
groups are able to monitor, manage or otherwise control discourse and
communication properties such as context characteristics (e.g., the
presence or absence of participants), and properties of text/talk,
such as topics, local meanings, syntax, style, rhetoric, speech act,
conversational moves and overall organization.

DISCOURSE AND IDEOLOGY. Part of this new direction of research about
the discursive reproduction of power is a new, multidisciplinary
project on discourse and ideology. The aims of this project are to
examine, e.g., the overall 'nature' of ideologies; the internal
structures and organization of ideologies as forms of shared social
cognitions of (specific) social groups/formations; the relations
between ideologies and other socially shared mental representations
(e.g., attitudes and knowledge); the relations between ideologies and
personal and context-sensitive cognitions (e.g., mental models of
events and contexts); and the relations between such ideologically
based models and the structures of discourse; finally, it is studied
how these various relationships are embedded in social, political and
cultural situations and the societal macro-context (e.g., as
legitimation of dominance and inequality, resistance, or simply as
organizing the social practices of the members of a group or
institution). First results of this research are published e.g., in
the article "Discourse Semantics and Ideology" (Discourse & Society,
6(2), 243-289), which uses editorials and op-ed articles of the New
York Times and the Washington Post as discourse data. A Big Book on
Discourse and Ideology is in (slow) preparation.

CRITICAL DISCOURSE ANALYSIS. Both the work on power, as well as the
study of ideology and discourse, are part of a broader approach, now
commonly designated as "Critical Discourse Analysis" (CDA). Together
with the research of other scholars (e.g., members of the board of
the international CRITICS Foundation and subscribers to the List),
the studies carried out in this general framework have aims that are
related to those of the present CRITICS List, e.g., to understand the
role of discourse in the reproduction of dominance and resistance,
and to stimulate debate in the humanities and the social sciences
about a critical perspective on the topics, theories, methods, aims,
applications and functions of scholarly research in this area. The
journal DISCOURSE & SOCIETY (Sage, London, 1990) was founded to
provide a forum for such critical research in discourse studies (and
more generally, for work on the social, political and cultural
dimensions of text and talk).


During recent symposia, courses, seminars and lectures in various
cities (e.g., in Amsterdam, Vienna, Salvador de Bahia, Santiago,
Caracas, Mexico, Birmingham, Lancaster and Madrid), I have noticed
that there are many, sometimes radically different approaches to the
concept and the discursive study of ideology.

Thus, some approaches 'locate' ideologies largely or entirely 'in'
the social practices of group members, and ignore or avoid a study of
their socio-cognitive characteristics. That is, the social 'mind' is
here largely reduced to (its manifestation in) social practices.

Other approaches limit the use of the concept of ideology to
relationships of power and inequality (e.g., as means of domination,
legitimation or manipulation), and would deny or doubt that also
other social groups or institutions (e.g., journalists, professors,
the press, the church, etc.) can 'have' an ideology. Here also
questions of 'truth' vs. 'falsity' of ideologies (and knowledge)
become relevant.

Then again, some researchers assume that ideologies are more or less
stable and coherent, whereas others emphasize the unstable,
contextual, and incoherent nature of ideologies (a property that
others --like me-- again associate with the actual 'uses' of
ideologies in invidual, context-bound social practices of persons who
may be member of various groups and hence may share several
ideologies). Along similar lines of division, ideologies may be
limited to the 'ideologues' of social groups, whereas ordinary people
are not supposed to have a (well thought-out) ideology.

In sum, many of the fundamental notions of a critical study of
language, discourse and communication become relevant in such
debates, such as the relations between (inter)action and cognition,
between societal structures and discursive structures, between groups
and inviduals, and between micro vs. macro structures of society.


Those who specifically study some of the topics, mentioned above,
about the relations between discourse and ideology and their social
embedding, are requested to contact me, and where relevant for the
other subscribers to this list to post messages on these topics on
the CRITICS List (critics at

- ---------------------------------

Teun A. van Dijk
University of Amsterdam
Program of Discourse Studies
210 Spuistraat
1012 VT Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Phone: +31-20-525.3834 (office direct, 10-12 hrs)
Phone: +31-20-525.3865 (dept. secretary)
Phone: +31-20- (home --after 13 hrs)
FAX :  +31-20-639.1727
E-mail: teun at

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