Critical discourse analysis (CDA) using systemic functional linguistics (SFL) - The analytical toolkit

In this chapter, as for Chapter 2, I take up Fairclough’s textually-oriented CDA analytic method to closely examine specific linguistic properties of chosen data texts so that linguistic form as well as content is given appropriate attention. Linguistic properties, Fairclough (1995) argues, are “extraordinarily sensitive indicators of socio-cultural processes, relations and change” (p. 4). He further

Table 4.1 Contextual information for the two sites

Beacon High

Riverdale High

Year 11

Year 12

Year 11

Year 11

Year level and teacher

Teacher 1 Margot

Teacher 2 Celia

Teacher 3 Riva

Teacher 4 Lucas

Class size





Countries of origin

Afghanistan, Burundi, China, Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda

Afghanistan, China, Japan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Vietnam

Brazil, China (mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan), Fiji, France, Germany, Korea, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Vietnam

China, Germany, Hungary Italy, Japan, Korea Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Vietnam

Proportion of international students to migrants/refugees (different visa classes and funding sources)





ESL Bandscales proficiency (McKay et al., 2007) levels across R, W, L and S





Range of achievement levels as reported by teachers

B- to C+ (Average C)

B to D (average C)

Not available

A- to D+

Pathways into senior

Via junior school or direct

Via junior school or direct

Via HSP (EQI) or direct

Via HSP (EQI) or direct


entry as international student

entry as international student

entry or LEC or other schools

entry or LEC or other schools

Projected destinations (as reported by teachers)

Tertiary study, vocational study, work

Tertiary study, vocational study, work

Tertiary study

Tertiary study

Note. R = Reading; W = Writing; L = Listening; S = Speaking; HSP = High School Preparation Program (Education Queensland International, EQI) delivered on site; EQI = Education Queensland International; LEC = Learning Enrichment Centre (specific to Riverdale High).

122 Enacting critical literacy

a One learner from New Zealand had been assessed by Riva as Bandscales Level 3 due to difficulties with writing.

Enacting critical literacy 123 elaborates on these specific properties in his 2003 book where he provides the linguistic analytic tools to allow the analyst to oscillate between the specific text in question and the network of social practices the text suggests. I describe, for each teacher, the lexical and grammatical choices made by the teachers in the data extracts using Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) (Halliday, 1978, 1994) as my guiding language analysis framework. The analysis then involved using these descriptions to undertake critical discourse analysis to interpret and explain three dimensions:

• Representations: Ways of representing aspects of the world through language (e.g., critical literacy as a concept in this study) = Discourses.

To analyse Representation, I draw on Fairclough’s (2003) suggestions and analyse the chosen data texts using three investigative lenses: aspects of transitivity (Halliday, 1978) - participants (who or what is acting) and processes (how are they acting - see below for a worked example); themes and associated lexical items; and metaphor.

• Actions: Ways of acting/interacting within a social event which includes enacting social relations (e.g., ways of doing teaching) = Genres.

For analysing Action - actors and their social relationships - Fairclough suggests the following probes: What are the predominant semantic/grammatical relations between sentences and clauses - causal, conditional, temporal, additive, clabora-tive, contrastive? Are there higher-level semantic relations over long stretches of text - e.g., problem-solution. What predominant types of exchange and speech functions exist? Are there any predominant grammatical moods (declarative, imperative or interrogative?) and what do these suggest?

• Identifications: Ways of being/identifying with some position; indicates commitment and judgement = Styles.

In terms of analysing Identification, Fairclough suggests asking the following: What styles are drawn upon in the text and how are they textured together? Is there a significant mixing of styles? What features characterise the styles that are drawn upon? To do so, I analyse the data texts for modality (commitment to “truth” - i.e., epistemic modalities) and necessity/obligation (deontic modalities); evaluation (e.g., through the use of adjectives or qualifiers); and assumed values.

These tools are useful for identifying the orientations of each teacher to critical literacy. Orientations involve approaches or stances along with realisations (Janks, 2010, p. 23) through deeds and words. Thus, I argue that it is useful to think about “orientations” to classroom practice in terms of Fairclough’s (2003) language-meaning relations: Discourses (ways of representing), Genres (ways of acting) and Styles (ways of identifying). Any “text” (including classroom interaction or an interview) contains all three meanings or dimensions simultaneously which have a dialectical relationship with one another (Fairclough, 2003). This allows an exploration of interdiscursivity, “the particular mix of genres, of discourses and of styles upon which a text draws, and of how different genres or styles are articulated (or worked) together in the text” (Fairclough, 2003, p. 218). This level of analysis mediates between the fine-grained analysis of the micro-linguistic features of texts and the analysis of social events and practices (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999). I argue these relational groups combine dialectically to construct the particular orientations to teaching critical literacy. The interest for this study is the ways the orientations themselves combine and coexist in classrooms to provide particular approaches to teaching critical literacy. Each of these categories helps comprise the orientation/s, and the orientations are dialectical in that they relate to and inform one another and arc difficult to separate from one another. I then move to the explanation phase of analysis to identify the “order of discourse” (Foucault, 1984) that is, the possibilities and exclusions regarding critical literacy with EAL/D learners.

In showing the detail of this analysis, I offer readers an example of how this kind of textual critical discourse analysis might be carried out. Fairclough’s conceptualisation of social practice including ways of representing people and ideas, ways of acting and interacting, and ways of identifying or committing to ideas and actions is an extremely useful framework tor analysing teachers’ classroom practice.

To further explore the orientations of the four teachers to critical literacy in the data, I also used Janks’ (2010) Synthesis Model of Critical Literacy as an explanatory framework to organise the data into four categories: Domination, Access, Diversity and Design. This model was explained in Chapters 1 and 3. In brief, Janks’ (2010) model suggests that literacy teaching, including the teaching of critical literacy, is contested and is not a neutral activity. In this model, Janks maintains that four orientations to the teaching of critical literacy are possible - Domination, Access, Diversity and Design - that they are interdependent and need to be held in “productive tension to achieve what is a shared goal of all critical literacy work: equity and social justice” (Janks, 2010, p. 27). Domination assumes a critical discourse analysis approach in which the language and images in dominant texts are deconstructed to discover concepts such as fore-groundings, silences and whose interests are served. Access involves making explicit the features of the genres that carry social power, for example, analytical essays and reports, hitherto assumed to be already in some learners’ heads. Diversity involves drawing on a range of modalities as resources and to include students’ own diverse languages and literacies. Finally, Design asks teachers to harness the productive power of diverse learners to create their own meanings through re-construction of texts. Students use a range of media and technologies to do so without relying on traditional print media. Offering students control over text production, the opportunity to “talk back” to texts and to produce texts that matter to them, is considered important for agency and identity transformation.

This model is useful for the analysis because it presents four common orientations to critical literacy, and suggests that “different realisations of critical literacy operate with different conceptualisations of the relationship between language and power by foregrounding one or other of domination, access, diversity or design” (Janks, 2010, p. 23). It also shows the interdependence each has with the other, and critiques unitary orientations that exclude the other dimensions. Any one dimension, without the others, creates an imbalance that denies students the opportunity to experience the full range of critical literacy education. The model explains the interdependence of the four elements and highlights the need to weave all four together in the practice of teaching critical literacy.

In the analysis of the teacher data, I indicate representations of critical literacy in the data that fit into Janks’ model and those that do not fit but that indicate aspects of the discourses in the teachers’ talk and practice in relation to critical literacy. In doing so, I capture a range of constitutions of critical literacy in the teachers’ talk and practice. One of my interests is to further extend Janks’ model. In Table 4.2, I reword Janks’ model using positive wording -with not without - and suggest what this might afford. I use this wording in my own conclusions about the teachers’ orientations. Reframing the model in terms of affordances is useful for a number of reasons. Table 4.2 is more nuanced and therefore has added explanatory power. It shows a positive picture demonstrating affordances and allows multiple, generative combinations across the dimensions. For example, Access with Domination with Diversity. This shows teachers, in particular, what can possibly occur if various combinations arc employed. Janks herself rewords her own model positively in her reflections on what was made possible in a critical writing intervention project with Grade 4 learners in South Africa. The children created a multimodal children’s game with drawings and written instructions. She reflects on the potential that Diversity offers when coupled purposefully with Design: “The imagined differences between children’s games in different countries became a productive resource, which is realised by the production of texts in different modalities” (Janks, 2010, p. 170).

Janks’ reflection inspired me to reword the table using this positive approach. Viewing the model in terms of what it can afford assisted me in mapping “the realisations” of aspects of the synthesis model in the teachers’ talk and practice. It provided me as researcher with a lens through which to observe teacher talk and practice in order to document what their practice is doing rather than what it is not. This is explored in this chapter. In doing so, I mobilise a key objective for the critical discourse analyst: to “document which discourses make a difference, how, in what ways and for whom” (Luke, 2005, p. 200). In addition, critique with no way forward remains analytical and not necessarily generative. An affordance model provides teachers with possibilities for synthesis, encouraging them to think about what synthesis opportunities might be able to co-exist in their particular classrooms and

Table 4.2 Affordances based on Janks’ synthesis model

Janks’ Synthesis Model (2010) Affordances (Alford, 2014)

Domination without access

This maintains the exclusionary force of dominant discourses.

Domination without diversity

Domination without difference and diversity loses the ruptures that produce contestation and change.

Domination without design

The deconstruction of dominance, without reconstruction or design, removes human agency.

Access without domination

Access without a theory of domination leads to the naturalisation of powerful discourses without an understanding of how these forms came to be powerful.

Access without diversity

This fails to recognise that difference fundamentally affects pathways to access and involves issues of history, identity and value.

Access without design

This maintains and reifies dominant forms without considering how they can be transformed.

Diversity without domination

This leads to a celebration of diversity without any recognition that difference is structured in dominance and that not all discourses/genres, languagcs/literacies are equally powerful.

Diversity without access

Diversity without access to powerful forms of language ghettoises students.

Diversity without design

Diversity provides the means, the ideas, the alternative perspectives for reconstruction and transformation. Without design, the potential that diversity offers is not realised.

Design without domination

Design without an understanding of how dominant discourses and practices perpetuate themselves, runs the risk of an unconscious reproduction of these forms.

Design without access

This runs the risk of whatever is designed remaining on the margins.

Design without diversity

This privileges dominant forms and fails to use the design resources provided by difference.

Domination with access allows the exclusionary force of dominant discourses to be contested and potentially dissipated.

Domination with diversity invites contestation and change brought about by alternative perspectives/ discourses/languages/literacies.

Domination with design enables creative reconstruction and agency based on an understanding of power.

Access with domination provides a view of texts and discourses as reproducible but always invested with power, and that some texts have more culturally-loaded power than others.

Access with diversity recognises that learners bring different histories, identities and values to text production.

Access with design gives diverse learners the chance to transform dominant texts using multiple sign systems.

Diversity with domination celebrates difference but recognises that it is structured in dominance and can be challenged.

Diversity with access allows difference to be brought into dominant language and textual forms.

Diversity with design realises the potential diversity offers in reconstructing texts.

Design with domination provides an understanding of how dominant practices are perpetuated and how they can be transformed.

Design with access creates the potential for new' forms to be considered and accepted by/as dominant practices.

Design with diversity provides opportunity to draw' on difference as a resource for design.

Enacting critical literacy 127 what else might be harnessed to create greater interplay between the dimensions of the model.

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