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CDA: Context – Interview With Norman Fairclough Part IV

Rebecca Rogers: Can you talk about your views on context?

Norman Fairclough: I find the idea of saying let’s talk about texts and contexts problematic and I would just assume not start there. I would start with social events and social practices, and social structures. I would be interested in understanding the dialectical relations between the diverse elements of the social on all of these levels. The social events, the concrete level of actual happenings, social practices in the sense of more a level more intermediate and the more durable ways of acting socially and then abstract social structures.

Now each of these levels one would find elements of semiotic or linguistic or discoursal and other elements that aren’t. So I am interested in looking at those interconnections between the semiotic and other elements all the way through. So, in a sense to say to address those questions by saying this is the text, what about the context doesn’t make a lot of sense to me anyway. Because I don’t want to start with the text anyway. I want to start with the event. So, of course, you can cast the way I approach this in terms of the notion of context, I tend not to because that does then tend to suggest a non-dialectical divide between the texts and the contexts and I do not want to see that divide.

RR: Another set of your terms that have been taken up pretty readily are local, institutional, and societal. How do you see those in the conversations about social practices and social events?

NF: Local, institutional, and societal. I think there is a bigger set of terms needed. This is a sense of scale. I guess these days, in talking about scale I would talk about I think we need to start talking about global, macro-regional, national, as well as local. These are of distinctions of scale. In a sense, institutional is rather different. It is not scale in the same sense. You can have an institution at a national level, or a local level or a global level. So I think one point, you are right, I did talk as if these were different levels but I don’t think they are now. I think the issue of scale is important.

One needs to go beyond the societal to bring in the global that is maybe always in quotes, the macro-regional in the European Union type of structure and I suppose the question of institution is more linked now, for me, to this other scale of events, practices and structures. The question of institutions, for me, comes up on the level of what networks of social practices achieve a kind of durability. And at that point one can talk again at diverse levels about social fields in a Bourdieuian sense, one can talk institutions or particular organizations.

RR: Can you talk about those networks of patterns at the global level and at the local level as well? Do you see the patterns crossing those terrains?

NF: Yes, what is of interest here is the interconnections between these levels. Some people would see what is changing is the emergence of the global level. I don’t agree with that. It is not my idea. There are a lot of people in geography and sociology inspired by geographical theory would say that there has been a global level for a very long time. What is significant is the different relationships between these social levels. And the relationships between levels is changing and maybe that is what is implied.

If we go back to some of the ethnographic work I was talking about—some of what has been said there is that—also the level of local communities people are mobilizing global resources to fight local battles. So you find, for instance, people in this Hungarian case I was referring to, they are drawing on or setting up their own global networks with environmental groups all over the place to in a sense to match the global networks of the opposition. So that sets up new connections, new flows which are a part of discourse.


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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