Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis

Like other perspectives on the analysis of written language, Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis (PDA) is an umbrella term to cover a range of research approaches. The work of Foucault, in particular “The Archaeology of Knowledge” (Foucault, 1972), is a significant influence for analysts in this tradition, who share an understanding of the “opacity of discourse, neither reducible to ‘langue’ nor to social or psychological instances” (Maingueneau & Angermuller, 2007: np). Poststructuralist Discourse Analysts problema- tise the view that meaning is centred in the speaking subject, rather arguing that there is no hidden meaning to be uncovered in text, but that the practice of discourse constitutes objects, institutions and identities. In Foucault’s words, discourses are “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault, 1972: 49). Writers in the tradition of PDA (e.g. Angermuller, 2011, 2014; Baxter, 2002, 2008; Weedon, 1987) reject the possibility of a definitive reading of a text, and the discourses that it may encode, acknowledging reflexively within their theoretical approach the situated, deferred and partial nature of the analysis of discourse(s). However, to accept this perspective is not to accept that there is an infinite number of possible interpretations of a text, and “preferred readings” (Hall, 1980) can be indicated through socially shared codes and contexts.

This centrality of discourse for Foucault did not translate into proposed methodologies for the analysis of discourse; indeed he regarded linguistics, with de Saussure, as the science of “langue” (the system of language rather than language in practice). Nevertheless, PDA researchers have drawn on a range of areas for language study to investigate discourse from a poststructuralist perspective, including deixis, modality, tense, speech acts and genre studies. For written text analysis, one recent area of study, enunciative pragmatics, has been particularly productive for the investigation of multiple subjectivities (Angermuller, 2011, 2014; N0lke, 2006, and see the ScaPoLine project). Building on the work of Bakhtin (1984) and Ducrot (1984) on polyphony in discourse, researchers in this area propose analytical models for recovering traces of the points of view of multiple “enunciators” encoded in the linguistic output of the “locu- tor” (speaker/writer). In this way, myriad subjectivities can be systematically explored in naturally occurring written texts.

I note the importance of poststructuralist writers (particularly Barthes and Baudrillard) to my own semiotic perspective, and I share with PDA an understanding of representations as partial, unfixable and subject to the negotiation of writer and reader. However, in proposing a method of discourse analysis drawing on the work of Barthes, I need to clarify that I will deploy some semiotic concepts as frameworks for language investigation, rather than claim to realise his ideas as discourse analysis practice. Barthes wrote extensively on the analysis of texts of all kinds, including visual texts (1972), written fiction (1977b) and narratology (1977a). This book does not extend these methods of textual analysis, but rather uses Barthes’ conceptualisation of language as a starting point for the systematic examination of written representations at different levels of meaning.

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