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Lesson 2: 31 May 2005


What is CDA?

A structuralist approach to media studies has the advantage of opening up many new areas for analysis and criticism. However, questions about structuralist assumptions and methods still remain, and we are seriously lacking in satisfactory answers, many of which remain beyond the scope of this investigation.

But if we persist in the conviction that audiences should be granted the role of subject, that is, a role of "active agent" in television production, one capable of constructing meanings from the language of the media, then it is also necessary to continue under the assumption that language and meaning are in some way social constructs. Although much of the methodology and research goals used in the study of language have resisted this trend, today "society" and "criticism" have become key words in various new approaches to language study and its application to the analysis of media as discourse. Ruth Wodak, writing in Language, Power and Ideology, defines her field, which she calls "critical linguistics," as "an interdisciplinary approach to language study with a critical point of view" for the purpose of studying "language behavior in natural speech situations of social relevance." Wodak also stresses the importance of "diverse theoretical and methodological concepts" and suggests that these can also be used for "analyzing issues of social relevance," while attempting to expose "inequality and injustice." Wodak underscores and encourages "the use of multiple methods" in language research while emphasizing the importance of recognizing the "historical and social aspects."

Emphasis on both the structure and the social context of media texts can provide a solution which enables the media critic to "denaturalize," or expose the "taken-for-grantedness" of ideological messages as they appear in isolated speech and, when combined with newer ethnographic studies and newer methods of discourse analysis, create a broader common ground between structuralists and and those who see the media as manipulators. The critical use of discourse analysis (CDA) in applied linguistics is leading to the development of a different approach to understanding media messages. Robert Kaplan expressed some of these new concepts when he wrote: "The text, whether written or oral, is a multidimensional structure," and "any text is layered, like a sheet of thick plywood consisting of many thin sheets lying at different angles to each other." The basics of a text consist of syntax and lexicon; its grammar, morphology, phonology, and semantics. However, "The understanding... of grammar and lexicon does not constitute the understanding...of text." "Rhetoric intent...," says Kaplan, "coherence and the world view that author and receptor bring to the text are essential." The comprehension of meaning

...lies not in the text itself, but in the complex interaction between the author's intent and his/her performative ability to encode that intent, and the receptor's intent and his/her performative ability not only to decode the author's intent but to mesh his/her own intent with the author's.

Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an "overtly political agenda," which "serves to set CDA off...from other kinds of discourse analysis" and text linguistics, "as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics." While most forms of discourse analysis "aim to provide a better understanding of socio-cultural aspects of texts," CDA "aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall organization of texts." One crucial difference is that CDA "aims to provide a critical dimension in its theoretical and descriptive accounts of texts."

More specifically, according to Kress's definition, CDA treats language as a type of social practice among many used for representation and signification (including visual images, music, gestures, etc.). Texts are produced by "socially situated speakers and writers." The relations of participants in producing texts are not always equal: there will be a range from complete solidarity to complete inequality. Meanings come about through interaction between readers and receivers and linguistic features come about as a result of social processes, which are never arbitrary. In most interactions, users of language bring with them different dispositions toward language, which are closely related to social positionings. History must also be taken into account, as ideologically and politically "inflected time." Finally, precise analysis and "descriptions of the materiality of language" are factors which are always characteristic of CDA.

In addition to language structure, ideology also has a role to play in CDA. Kress stresses that "any linguistic form considered in isolation has no specifically determinate meaning as such, nor does it possess any ideological significance or function." Consequently, "the defined and delimited set of statements that constitute a discourse are themselves expressive of and organized by a specific ideology." Language, "can never appear by itself-it always appears as the representative of a system of linguistic terms, which themselves realize discursive and ideological systems." For example, The chairman has advised me that ..., The Chairman occupies first position and has the emphasis conveyed by that, in the equivalent passive clause I have been advised by the Chairman that... that emphasis now attaches to I. Hence a syntactic form signals not simply the prior presence of a specific ideological selection, it also signals or expresses the meaning or content of that ideological choice.

The speaker (or writer) expresses ideological content in texts and so does the linguistic form of the text: "...selection or choice of a linguistic form may not be a live process for the individual speaker...," but "the discourse will be a reproduction of that previously learned," discourse. Texts are selected and organized syntactic forms whose "content-structure" reflect the ideological organization of a particular area of social life.

To illustrate his point, Kress offers as an example the transcript of a news report in which "transactive clauses" are used (in the active voice) to portray causally the role of demonstrators against apartheid at a football match. The demonstration, therefore, which was against a particular injustice, was in fact portrayed by the media as having been somehow caused through the actions of the demonstrators. The report portrayed the demonstrators in a violent way, as "protesters" who "chanted slogans, ...blew whistles," and even tried to " ...disrupt the match, ...invade the pitch." In another incident, "the demonstrators stormed the fence," and even began "tearing the fence down." As Kress points out, "Clearly," in this particular incident, "the mode in which an action is presented, either as transactive or as nontransactive, is not a matter of truth or of reality but rather a matter of the way in which that particular action is integrated into the ideological system of the speaker, and the manner in which such an action is therefore articulated in a specific discourse." [Italics mine]

The actual decision on the part of the journalist or editor to use either a transactive or a nontransactive clause, Kress insists, was definitely a matter of choice and not chance. Kress offers another example to illustrate a common way in which nontransactive clauses are used:

Things began peacefully enough, police hurried to the back fence, violent clashes followed; More clashes...erupted, the confrontation was to last several hours; emotion subsided...

In the example (above) one can see that the adoption of a particular ideological-discursive structure on the part of the journalist expresses the values of an ideological system and of a specific "discourse authority."

The choice of lexical items, as well, is mentioned by Kress. With only minimal inspection, one is able to see that some reports, as Kress puts it, are "guided by the metaphor of a military clash." One side is cast by the journalist as "enemy" and the other as "friend or protector." "So the police guard the ground," (the policing representing the defenders of "good") "which the protesters attempt to invade, storm" (the aggressors, in this case). "In this way," says Kress, "the newscast audience's perceptions or readings [Italics mine] of the text are structured so that they will not only regard the report as 'simply reporting the facts as they were' but will also structure their interpretation [Italics mine] of the relevance of the text overall.