26.2000, Review: Discourse; Ling Theories; Pragmatics; Socioling: Angermuller, Maingueneau, Wodak (2014)

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Subject: 26.2000, Review: Discourse; Ling Theories; Pragmatics; Socioling: Angermuller, Maingueneau, Wodak (2014)

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Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:29:29
From: Sibo Chen [siboc at sfu.ca]
Subject: The Discourse Studies Reader

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-2847.html

EDITOR: Johannes  Angermuller
EDITOR: Dominique  Maingueneau
EDITOR: Ruth  Wodak
TITLE: The Discourse Studies Reader
SUBTITLE: Main currents in theory and analysis
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Sibo Chen, Simon Fraser University

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Discourse Studies (hereafter as “DS”) is a fast-growing field studying the
social production of meaning. In recent years, the swift development of DS has
attracted researchers across the entire spectrum of the humanities and social
sciences. Today, as a truly interdisciplinary field, DS is at the crossroads
of language and society. Such an interdisciplinary tendency, however, has also
created a unique gap within the existing DS literature: despite the
proliferation of new publications on DS in the market, few of them are able to
offer comprehensive coverage of the major approaches within DS due to the
increasing complexity of the field. Therefore, it is encouraging to see the
publication of “The Discourse Studies Reader”, which offers a timely solution
to the  problem.

Edited by Johannes Angermuller, Dominique Maingueneau, and Ruth Wodak, “The
Discourse Studies Reader” includes excerpts of 40 readings from some of the
most influential discourse researchers in Europe and North America, covering
the main theoretical strands within DS, from its early theoretical
inspirations to its latest developments in critical scholarship (i.e. Critical
Discourse Analysis). This book is divided into seven sections: (1)
‘Theoretical Inspirations: Structuralism versus Pragmatics’, (2) ‘From
Structuralism to Poststructuralism’, (3) ‘Enunciative Pragmatics’, (4)
‘Interactionism’, (5) ‘Sociopragmatics’, (6) ‘Historical Knowledge’, and (7)
‘Critical Approaches’.


The Introduction discusses the social nature of discourse and offers a brief
historical review of DS. As a polymorphous notion, the term “discourse” has
been used in two distinctive ways in DS literature: a socio-historical
understanding and a pragmatic understanding. The common denominator of the two
strands, according to the editors, is that both approaches consider meaning as
a product of social practice and assert that the understanding of language can
be only accomplished in specific contexts. The editors further argue that the
field of DS should be understood as an integration of both discourse theory
and discourse analysis. Discourse theory mainly deals with the symbolic
construction of society, whereas discourse analysis mainly refers to studies
on language in use in the Anglo-American pragmatics tradition. Despite the
above distinction, however, it would be problematic to divide DS into
theoretical and analytical camps since the two approaches are interdependent
with each other. For the editors, the aim of this reader is two-fold: to
present the main currents in DS, as well as to bridge the gap between the two
strands within DS. The Introduction ends with a quick overview of the 40
selections and the organizing principles of these texts.  

Section One: ‘Theoretical Inspirations: Structuralism versus Pragmatics’

The first section introduces theoretical precursors whose profound thoughts on
language have laid the foundation of DS. The section starts with three
pioneers of structuralism: Ferdinand de Saussure, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Zellig
S. Harris. For Saussure, the meaning of a sign is determined by its value in a
semiotic system. Bakhtin’s discussion of polyphonic discourse in the novel, by
contrast, originates the dialogic conception of language and culture. The
excerpt by Harris here comes from his influential 1952 article on
distributionalism, which takes linguistic scrutiny beyond the levels of words
and sentences. The section then switches its attention to four pioneers of
pragmatics: George Herbert Mead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John L. Austin, and H.
Paul Grice. Mead, unlike other theorists in this section, was a social
philosopher and psychologist specializing in social action theory. In contrast
to structuralism, Mead insists that meaning-making activities of individuals
emerge from their daily interactions. The selected work of Wittgenstein here
comes from his second phase, in which he introduces the term “language game”
to highlight the notion that the source of meaning is ordinary speech. The
next excerpt from Austin offers a glimpse of his influential speech-action
theory, which has inspired a variety of theoretical strands in pragmatics. The
section ends with H. Paul Grice’s discussion of the intentionality of
communication and its complex cognitive process, which offers a cognitive
explanation of the speech-context interaction.

Section Two: ‘From Structuralism to Poststructuralism’

The second section presents excerpts from various authors engaged in the
international debate on structuralism. Altogether, the intellectual
contributions from both structuralism and post-structuralism have delineated
the contour of contemporary DS. The section’s excerpts are selected from seven
scholars: Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Michel Pêcheux, Michel Foucault,
Stuart Hall, Ernesto Laclau, and Judith Butler. Best known as the pioneer of
psychoanalysis, Lacan regards language as a medium of the subject. The excerpt
here demonstrates his view on the universal relations between subject,
signifier and the object of desire. Compared with Lacan’s wild
conceptualization, Althusser’s theorization concerns discourse’s determinant
role in the creation of the subject and ideology. His excerpt here focuses on
how subjectivity is created through language use. In line with Althusser,
Pêcheux considers the subject as a discursive effect, and the excerpt here
illustrates his views on the close connections between language, ideology, and
discourse. For many discourse researchers following the socio-historical
tradition, Michel Foucault represents the project of discourse theory. The
selected excerpt by Foucault here is translated into English for the first
time;  in it Foucault provides a succinct summary of his ideas on discourse
around 1970. The remaining part of Section Two is dedicated to three prominent
scholars who have developed the discourse project in their respective fields.
The excerpt by Hall describes his famous “encoding/decoding” model of
communication, which, from a discursive perspective, highlights the relative
autonomy of information receivers. Laclau’s excerpt mainly deals with how
hegemony is achieved through discursive practices. The final text by Butler
represents her recent work on discursive construction of political identities.

Section Three: ‘Enunciative Pragmatics’

The third section overviews enunciative pragmatics, a contemporary strand of
discourse pragmatics mainly developed by linguists in the French-speaking
world. The focus of enunciative pragmatics is analytical perspectives on
discourse; that is, how the world is enunciated via discursive practices. The
section includes excerpts from five scholars: Êmile Benveniste, Dominque
Maingueneau, Jacqueline Authier-Revuz, Oswald Ducrot, and Johannes
Angermuller. The beginning text by Benveniste summarizes his arguments on a
pragmatic understanding of language and the process of enunciation as an
appropriation operated by parole toward langue. The excerpt by Maingueneau
considers enunciation from the perspective of discourse genres. Specifically,
Maingueneau promotes the concept of “enunciation scene” that defines the
frames of enunciation activities. Authier-Revuz’s text deals with the
heterogeneity of enunciation activities. According to Authier-Revuz, a
discourse is not strictly controlled by the intention of its producer(s): it
is also restricted by “interdiscourse”, a discursive entity affiliated with
ideology. The theoretical focus of Ducrot is the polyphonic aspect of
enunciation. The polyphonic theory of enunciation decentralizes the enunciator
as the center of the enunciation activity. The section ends with Angermuller’s
writing on subjectivity within enunciation, in which he approaches discourse
as a positioning practice toward texts.

Section Four: ‘Interactionism’

The fourth section focuses on symbolic interactionism, a school of thought
mainly inspired by micro-sociology in North America. From an interactionist
point of view, social reality is created via symbolic negotiations of
countless everyday situations and discourse has played an important role in
this process. As such, interactive discourse analysis emphasizes studying the
sense and meaning making mechanisms in daily contexts. The section includes
excerpts from six scholars: Harvey Sacks, Erving Goffman, John Gumperz, Anron
V. Cicourel, James Paul Gee, and Jonathan Potters. As one of the foundational
figures of conversation analysis, Sacks focuses his research mainly on verbal
interactions in clearly defined and brief genres such as telephone calls. The
excerpt here provides a brief introduction to the rule-governed nature of our
daily conversations. Compared with Sacks, Goffman considers interactions as
rituals and his excerpt here offers a broad conceptualization of
presupposition, which not only refers to a speech’s logical assumptions, but
also its commonly shared background knowledge. The excerpt by Gumperz is
dedicated to the topic of intercultural encounters. For Gumperz, cultures
differ in the communicative resources offered to their members and as a
result, cultural background presents a critical analytical perspective for the
study of interactive conventions. The excerpt by Cicourel provides an example
of his recent work on language and cognition, which emphasizes the value of
discourse in child development and childcare. Gee’s entry in the section
introduces his conceptualization of discourse and discourse analysis. Gee
argues that the study of meaning must consider language as an integration of
saying (presentation), doing (practice), and being (identity). The final
excerpt by Potter summarizes his definition of discursive psychology, arguing
that traditional concepts of socio-cognition should be re-formulated from a
social-constructivist and discursive perspective. 

Section Five: ‘Sociopragmatics’

The fifth section discusses sociopragmatics, an approach focusing on the
constraints on discourse imposed by the context. To be specific, the
contextual constraints discussed here mainly refer to (1) the resources/rules
of the linguistic system and (2) the institutional settings of discursive
practice. The section’s excerpts are selected from the following authors: M.
A. K. Halliday, Theo van Leeuwen, Konrad Ehlich, Patrick Charaudeau, Ruth
Amossy, and John Swales. The section starts with an excerpt from Halliday, in
which he proposes a sociosemiotic theory of language and discusses key notions
such as text, situation, and register within this framework. Using a selected
article from a conservative English newspaper, van Leeuwen’s text highlights
the various discursive resources in English for depicting social actors. The
short text by Ehlich aims to clarify the definitions of two terms: “text” and
“discourse”. According to Ehlich, the theoretical confusions imposed by these
overlapping terms suggest: “it would be worth searching for a unified concept
of language that is able to offer a basis for an integral analysis of the
various areas of linguistic phenomena” (p. 285). The excerpt by Charaudeau
deals with the relationship between discursive strategies and contextual
constraints. Charaudeau clarifies three levels of constraints (i.e.
situational, discursive, and formal) and argues that the subject of a
discourse needs to posit his/her own existence through discursive strategies
that are in line with these constraints. Amossy’s approach to discourse is
anchored in the argumentative nature of language. In her selected text, Amossy
defends a broad conception of argumentation, in which argumentation counts as
an intrinsic feature of discursive practice. The section ends with Swale’s
discussion of genre and discourse community. 

Section Six: ‘Historical Knowledge’

The sixth section on historical knowledge reviews the historical tradition in
German and French discourse studies. In general, the historical approach to
discourse emphasizes the fact that meanings are produced under certain
historical conditions. The section starts with Régine Rohin’s reflections on
how discourse theories can be applied to historiography. Then, the excerpt by
Reinhart Koselleck introduces his conceptual history approach, which,
utilizing discourse analysis, tracks the evolution of key concepts (e.g.
citizen, criticism, party, etc.) in early modern history. Similarly, the
excerpt by Dietrich Busse and Wolfgang Teubert demonstrates their historical
semantics, which presents a language-oriented history of words and concepts.
The section’s final text comes from Thomas Luckmann, in which he reviews how
institutional settings influence the formation of communicative genres from a
historical perspective. 

Section Seven: ‘Critical Approaches’

The final section is dedicated to critical approaches, which refer to the
various methods following critical theories under the general umbrella term
“critical discourse analysis” (CDA). The common assumption shared by many
critical discourse analysts is that discourse analysis cannot be separated
from ethical or societal injustice. The section starts with two theoretical
texts on the relation between discourse and critical thinking. The excerpt by
Jürgen Habermas explores the normative aspect of discourse; that is, “real”
discourse in daily life is inevitably constrained by relations of power and
domination. By comparison, the excerpt by Han Blommaert and Jef Verschueren
deals with the discursive construction of otherness and how discourse analysis
can offer a valuable entry point into ideology. The section then introduces
the work of three leading CDA proponents: Norman Fairclough, Teun van Dijk,
and Ruth Wodak. The piece by Fairclough discusses his theoretical contour of
CDA as a problem-driven field with ethical commitment. The text by van Dijk,
on the other hand, approaches CDA from a socio-cognitive perspective, arguing
that the interaction between discourse and society requires the mediation of a
socio-cognitive interface. Wodak’s ending text illustrates her
discourse-historical approach by showing a detailed analysis of Austrian
populist right-wing rhetoric and its underlying anti-Semitism. 


Despite the proliferation of new publications on DS, there can be little doubt
that this volume still makes an important contribution to the field since just
in one book, it manages to offer a comprehensive coverage of a vast range of
work by some of the most influential researchers in DS. Compared with other
handbooks on DS (e.g. Gee and Handford, 2013; Jaworski and Coupland, 2014),
this volume has a stronger theoretical orientation. As shown in the selected
excerpts, the editors have paid special attention to the various epistemic
traditions of previous DS literature and how these traditions, despite their
differences, have together drawn the contour of current DS research. Another
important feature of this reader is the breadth of the selected texts. Some
theorists (e.g. Stuart Hall and Ernesto Laclau) included in the volume are not
discourse scholars per se. Nevertheless, their theories have been particularly
influential for discourse researchers outside the traditional disciplinary
boundary of linguistics. Such a well-rounded view of DS would benefit readers
and bridge the gap between the existing strands within DS. Finally, the short
introduction before each excerpt offers an essential elaboration of the
selected theorist’s approach toward DS, which also makes the book an ideal
resource book to learn the history of DS itself. 

Unfortunately, this volume also has some minor limitations, which might be
addressed in future editions. First, the volume could be criticised for the
lack of consistency of some excerpts. Restricted by the length of publication,
it is almost impossible to comprehensively discuss some prolific theorists
(e.g. Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas) in several pages. As a result,
readers may want to explore the individual theorists after finishing the
volume. Another issue is the lack of explanation of key terms. Due to the
theoretical breadth and depth of the selected texts, many excerpts in the
volume suffer from the absence of explanations of key terms. As a result, this
volume is not for everyone: a certain level of background knowledge of DS is
required to fully comprehend the theoretical issues addressed in some

Despite the issues outlined above, overall the volume is an ideal reading for
graduate students and early career researchers who are looking forward to
broadening their theoretical understandings of DS. 


Gee, J. P., and Handford, M. (2013). The Routledge handbook of discourse
analysis. New York; London: Routledge.

Jaworski, A., and Coupland, N. (2014). The discourse reader (3rd ed.). New
York; London: Routledge.


Sibo Chen is a PHD student in the School of Communication, Simon Fraser
University. He received his MA in Applied Linguistics from the Department of
Linguistics, University of Victoria, Canada. His major research interests are
language and communication, critical discourse analysis, and genre theories.

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