Potter & Wetherell’s Discourse Analysis

An alternative approach to the investigation of written text is the form of Discourse Analysis developed by Potter and Wetherell (1987). Discourse Analysis does not adopt an overtly emancipatory agenda in the same way as CDA, but is nevertheless a critical approach, concerned as it is with repeated patterns of language which serve to entrench certain social positions. Discourse Analysis has its roots in Discursive Psychology rather than linguistics, and was developed from studies by Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) into how scientific research work has been constructed and positioned within the scientific community. Writers in the Discourse Analysis tradition have more frequently used conversations and interviews as data, but the approach has also been used in the study of written media texts (e.g. Potter & Reicher, 1987).

Linguists of this school seek to identify “interpretative repertoires”, which are “broadly discernible clusters of terms, descriptions, commonplaces ... and figures of speech often clustered around metaphors or vivid images and often using distinct grammatical constructions and styles” (Potter, Wetherell, Gill, & Edwards, 1990: 212). These clusters of language usages are understood to be flexible and “selectively drawn upon and reworked according to the interpersonal context” (Wooffitt, 2005: 154). Wooffitt is inclined to draw a distinction between Foucauldian discourses and interpretative repertoires based on this variability, but other writers who use this approach do not. For example, Talja (1999: 461) suggests that the two concepts of “interpretative repertoires” and “discourses” are equivalent. Potter & Wetherell’s Discourse Analysis is appropriate and frequently used for media investigation. Its definition of interpretative repertoires chimes with my interest in varying language choices by writer and genre.

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