This node has been brought to you as part of the node your homework effort. This synthesis of Critical Discourse Analysis was originally written for my Discourse Analysis seminar (in Fall of 2004).
As its proponents admit, Critical Discourse Analysis (commonly called CDA) is not, in itself, a theory. Rather, the idea behind CDA is that discourse analysis should be approached keeping certain principles in mind. The principles can be boiled down to the ideas that discourse is a way of enacting power (which is discursive) and that discourse analysis must be done keeping in mind the social context (i.e., according to CDA theorists, the power context). CDA aims to explore the relationship between discourse practices and social structures; the ways in which power is realized and is recreated through discourse. Additionally, CDA aims for interdisciplinary research, wanting to combine various social sciences in order to get the fullest view of social problems possible.

CDA looks at micro (incidental) and macro (institutional) levels of power in discourse and attempts to unify them (i.e. basically to show how a conversation, speech, article, etc. can play into the greater social dynamic.) Frequent subjects of CDA include media and political discourse, and appropriately so, as these two sources are clearly ripe for analysis on the basis of power and manipulation. On the other hand, when CDA ventures into the realm of private discourse, it's more difficult to analyze the power dynamics of a relationship, and the analysis will often rely on the analyst's preconception of what social problems exist (e.g. men dominate women, whites dominate non-whites, the wealthy dominate the poor, etc.) While on a wide-scale these things may be true, these relationships may or may not be acted out on an individual level. Any discourse could be analyzed for dominance based on social groups the interlocutors belong to, but this is not necessarily what is going on between the individuals (e.g., men may dominate women in general, but most will agree that not every conversation between a man and a woman will involve him dominating her; it could even be the other way around.) In general, one of the problems with CDA is that it's so easy to read power issues into a discourse, especially when you're entering the analysis with an axe to grind.

And CDA analysts generally do have axes to grind, which makes it difficult to give them the same trust that readers give other linguists in reading about their analyses. Though it's surely impossible to be completely objective, we still believe that objectivity is a worth-while goal. We know that if you go into an analysis with your conclusion already formed, you're unlikely not to reach it.

That axe to grind can't be just anything in CDA, however. A person seems to need to be politically liberal to be considered a Critical Discourse Analyst. A person could certainly do an analysis that picks up on all of the ways that, say, a news article supports gay rights in its discussion of a same-sex celebrity couple, thus normalizing something that shouldn't be normalized, and this would certainly be a critical look at the power of the media. But apparently such an analysis wouldn't be eligible for CDA status because it doesn't take a liberal stance.

CDA has some serious problems, but I don't think it needs to be thrown out entirely. Rather than being a subdiscipline of Discourse Analysis, I think studies on discourse using a critical lens should be redirected to the journals of Critical Theory, the purpose of which is basically to enact liberal activism through academia. There's no reason a linguist can't use their linguistic skills to further a political cause, but this in and of itself is not the way to do linguistics. Ideally, an analyst would examine data and, if they saw an emerging pattern that linked with a social problem, could then go on to discuss that separately.

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