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What Is Political Discourse Analysis?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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Political discourse analysis is the study of politically-related writings and speeches. These can be by a single individual or by multiple individuals, but relating to a single event or topic. Such analysis does not, generally, include actual political actions taken unless the political discourse analysis has been set up to compare discourse with action. The aim of the analysis is to better understand political thought.

Discourse analysis studies all forms of written and spoken word. Discourse usually concerns speeches, articles, letters and books composed by people within the area being studied. With regard to events, these people might have firsthand experience of the event, such as first responders at 9/11, or they might be expressing an opinion on the event. Discourse analysis is a social science related to anthropology, psychology, international studies and literature. It uses critical thinking, analytical and research skills.

During political discourse analysis, the researcher first identifies the exact subject matter to be studied. This can take two forms: a general overview of a particular event or person’s discourses, or a specific question relating to said event or person. For example, a specific question might concern the influence of race on US President Barack Obama’s political discourse.

The research then examines the various modes of discourse available. In past times, this was largely a case of reading documents and speech transcripts. As modern technology developed, this allowed the researcher to access radio, television and Internet resources relating to a person’s discourses.

The analytical element of political discourse analysis occurs after the research stage. The researcher examines the texts and looks for common elements and themes, signs of development or regression and influences. The research may also look for bias, discrepancies and other evidence of doubt on the part of the reader. Such findings are then summarized in a conclusion to the study.

A common and perhaps dominant strand of political discourse analysis is critical discourse analysis (CDA), which is based on social sciences and linguistics. CDA focuses on areas such as the use of political discourse to examine the phenomena of abuse, inequality and dominance in society. The method, however, does not make use of cognitive science.

Studies into individual politicians or political thinkers would gather together the individual’s various discourses in order to answer a specific question or to produce a general analysis. This could be, such as in the case of Barack Obama, used to look at the difference between the discourse of an aspirational presidential candidate and that of the US President. With 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, it might look at how the discourse changed from being a maverick to being a presidential candidate.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Mar 25, 2014

There are different types of analysis. For example, text linguistics analyzes the structure of text. But discourse analysis is more about analyzing the reasoning behind the text. In a way, discourse analysis, analyzes the speaker's or writer's psychology.

By ysmina — On Mar 25, 2014

@fify-- Political discourse analysis isn't just about analyzing words and ideas. This type of analysis also takes into account grammar, style, rhetoric and psychology. Moreover, the context in which a discourse is used is very important. So you are absolutely right that political discourse analysis is difficult. But it's difficult regardless of whether the discourse is contradictory or not. I'm sure that analysts would have something to say about it being contradictory as well.

By fify — On Mar 24, 2014

I find political discourse analysis very interesting. Sometimes, news channels do a basic form of this analysis where they compare speeches of a politician at different time periods. This gives us an idea of how a politician's opinions have changed or remained the same during this time.

At the same time, I think that analyzing political discourse could be difficult too, especially if a politician often makes contradictory statements or frequently changes his or her position. I'm not sure what type of results would be found in these cases.

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