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CDA: Changes in Approach – Interview With Norman Fairclough Part V

Rebecca Rogers: Can you talk about your thinking as you have moved from one project to the next? How have your questions developed?

Norman Fairclough: Yeah. I’ve said in the plenary here that the way I tend to see this has been embarking on a research topic, one has to undergo a process of constructing objects of
research that are coherent on the assumption that the research topic, something I take from Bourdieu. So what is transition? For some people it is ideological work, a discourse to give some sort false impression that everyone will move quite happily from socialism to capitalism but it doesn’t happen that way it all.

So if you are working with the topic like transition, obviously taking the problem as they are presented at face value (the knowledge economy or information society or whatever). So the approach is to I guess bring together if we are talking about my own work, my current understanding of critical discourse analysis as a framework and bring that into dialogue with a certain range of relevant social theories and social research and try in that way to develop a methodology and a certain set of research objects and a particular set of questions and particular methods of data collection, selection, and analysis.

As I said in the plenary lecture what I am doing at the moment is working particularly with some of the recent work in political economy because that strikes me as interesting from a number of points of view. First of all, it does, I think, provide a useful theoretical framework for generally framing the process of transformation that have been happening and are happening in this region. But also interesting because of the way in which the political economy itself has been changing in a more cultural direction. So I have worked with a colleague of mine at Lancaster—Bob Jessop—whose work now actively incorporates a version of my work and so it is a dialogical situation.

He works with the political economy and tries to incorporate critical discourse analysis. I am trying to do critical discourse analysis in a way that works with his and others’ more cultural version of cultural economy. And that is a way of working—a transdisciplinary way of working where instead of wishing away disciplinary differences, to gradually through theorizing through research projects, to develop theoretical and methodological resources that can cut across disciplinary areas and what I tend to call this transdisciplinary, a rather distinctive way of working. Because what we are trying to do, I think, is use the dialogue to develop the theories and the methods of the disciplines that are coming into the dialogue.

RR: Your new book that came out.

NF: Analyzing Discourse.

RR: I am sure you are aware that there are a group of people following your work very
closely and how your social theorization and how that is combined with your particular
methods and how you are theorizing your methods. And in the new book you were very
clear about what genre, discourse, and style means, more so than in your book Discourse in Late Modernity or some of your earlier books.

NF: I didn’t know that [laughter]. I am sure you are right.

RR: What are the linguistic textual aspects of this particular order of discourse. So in the newer book you are very clear about what those are. Which, on the one hand, makes it very possible for discourse analysts with critical perspectives to look at particular aspects of texts and is very grounded in the work of Halliday. Can you talk about some of the linguistic aspects of your work?

NF: I see what you mean. The more recent book is a book about textual analysis. So the link between categories like genre, discourse, and textual analysis is more explicit. In terms of that, that book does draw on — as I tended to draw a lot on Michael Halliday for the systemic linguistic framework for reasons I went into earlier on.

On the other hand, it does attempt to begin to do other things as well. The way I see it in the long term, is that the transdisciplinarity I’ve talked about also should begin to penetrate one’s linguistic analysis as well. That is, one should be trying to operationalize what people like David Harvey have said about in terms of space and time in one’s analysis of spatial and temporal analysis of texts or series of value or ethics or—trying to look at ethics in texts—and try to develop transdisciplinarity in that way.

That book is really only a beginning in that sense. I try to do that in the case of space and time and Harvey’s idea of space-times and I do it also, for instance, with respect to the distinction in Laclau and Mouffe’s work pm difference which is centering the problematic, if you like, of texts as constantly doing classificatory work. Texts are constantly setting up differences — classificatory boundaries—and simultaneously subverting differences. That is taking a very abstract view of the logic of the political from Laclau and Mouffe and saying this not just political logic but as a more general social logic.

But it is a logic that is operative in texts, too. So if one is seeing texts—as themselves crucial elements in social processes in processes of social change—then this question of classification and of continuities in classification and changes in classification becomes very important. It is a preoccupation that one can link to Bourdieu’s work, Bernstein’s work, all of which have been concerned with issues of classification.

Quite simply, what we put together and what we set up for one another, that can be who we put together—what areas of social life we put together. So that is one particular case where I have tried to operationalize the textual analysis — it is a very simple idea — the perspective that originates from outside textual analysis. That gives a prominence and salience to looking at things in texts that people have looked at before but not given prominence in terms of social processes and aspects of social change.

RR: In what ways has your framework helped you to understand social problems in
more detail?

NF: Social problems? I mean I think what I have done in that book (Analyzing Discourse),
the way the book is organized is, I have tried to develop aspects of textual analysis in conjunction with their potential applicability to social problems. So each chapter introduces a certain range of resources for analyzing texts and a parallel range of social issues are addressed. It is showing how a range of social issues can be productively addressed through close textual analysis.

So that is the rhetoric toward social research is that you can do what you are trying to do in a sense in a fuller way—in certain ways—a more enhanced or enriched way by bringing in textual analysis in whatever it is you are doing, or governance, or hegemony, or public space, and so on.


Rogers, R. (2004, May). [Interview with Norman Fairclough.] In Companion Website to R. Rogers (Ed.) An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education (second edition). New York: Routledge. []

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