Saturday, November 30, 2013


Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

I have already mentioned that discourse functions not only as the research object, but also the medium through which other (mental, social) phenomena are communicated and may be studied. 
We cannot access other people’s minds. “Mental concepts, even if they existed – writes a critic of cognitivism – would not be accessible to any empirical investigation” (Teubert 2010: 7). We can only access discourse. Thus, we cannot study actual attitudes, but only discursive constructions of attitudes. The term constructions is important here – it brings to attention the claim that discourse does not express attitudes which are stable internal states, which are something the speaker has; rather, the speaker constructs attitudes when they are needed, demanded, asked for – parallel to the construction of memories: “social psychology assumes that attitude is a mental reality and expressing it is giving expression to an inner mental state; discourse analysis shows that people do not have a single attitude, they use complex, often contradictory patterns of talk” (Billig 1991: 15) to construct them.
Due to this inaccessibility, discourse analysis cannot make references to internal states (goals, expectations, motives) of speakers (Holtgraves 2002). It may only investigate clues to such states that are explicitly or implicitly encoded in text and talk (Shuy 2008) – a text always says more than its author means to say (Angermüller 2012). 
Some approaches to discourse, such as pragmatics or speech act theory, are concerned with speakers’ intentions – according to these approaches, the hearer’s task is to correctly interpret these intentions on the basis of clues provided by the speaker’s text, e.g. by making use of conversational maxims (as in an influential theory by Paul Grice, 1989) or recognizing illocutionary force of a speech act (as in speech act theory by John Austin, 1975). More recently, relevance theorists have said that utterances do not encode speaker’s meaning at all – they just provide evidence for this meaning (cf. Wilson & Sperber (eds.) 2012). Actually, already in the 1970s Garfinkel wrote that “what the parties said [i.e. the spoken text] would be treated as a sketchy, partial, incomplete, masked, elliptical, concealed, ambiguous, or misleading version of what the parties talked about [i.e. their discourse]” (Garfinkel 1972: 317, as cited in Widdowson 2004: 11; consider also de Saussure 2007: 181: “a discourse is more than the sum of the utterances composing it”). Still, this project is not about attributing intentions to speakers, making guesses about presuppositions and implicatures, and so on, because it approaches discourse as a historical process, as a common accomplishment of society, and not as a product of an individual speaker. 

Another point to make here is that discourse is constitutive: "it constitutes situations, objects of knowledge, and the social identities of and relationships between people and groups of people" (Fairclough and Wodak 1997: 258). This means that language not only functions as a medium of construction, but also actively influences, affects, shapes "both social and psychological processes" (Wodak & Reisigl 2008). “Discourses are practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault 1972: 49). “Discourse does not transparently reflect the thoughts, attitudes and identities of separate selves but is a shared social resource that constructs identity as individuals lay claim to various recognizable social and shared identities” (Ainsworth & Hardy 2004). 
We may be reminded here of the so-called Whorf’s hypothesis whereby language shapes the way we perceive the world, to the point that linguistic categories impose restrictions on cognitive categories (e.g. Lakoff 2000: 47). Although such extreme linguistic determinism is not taken seriously anymore, it has inspired work on mutual relations and connections of language and thought, most notably the theories of metaphorical thinking (Lakoff & Johnson 1980, 2003) and rhetorical thinking (Billig 1987, 1991). Actually, these theories point to discursive determinism rather than linguistic determinism. Thinking of a concept in terms of another concept (e.g. ARGUMENT IS WAR (Lakoff & Johnson 2003: 4), TIME IS MONEY (ibid: 7), etc.) or thinking rhetorically and argumentatively (Billig 1991: 1) is only possible due to discourse understood as accumulation of all texts ever created or uttered. We rarely invent new metaphors – we inherit them from previous discourses. Our arguments build upon what we have learnt, read, heard. “Any new text is always in some way a comment on previous texts” (Teubert 2010: 4); “the text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (Barthes 1977: 146). 
Relevant here are the concepts of heteroglossia and intertextuality. In Bakhtin’s heteroglossia, or “diversity of voices” (1981), “the constant dialogic interaction(s) of meanings condition each other; the process of redefining is endless unless a powerful participant is involved, in which case meaning becomes authoritative and absolute” (Schulthies & Boum 2007: 148). “An instance of a word refers to all previous instances of that word, creating a dialogue between utterances” (Stoltz 2007: 116, quoting Bakhtin 1984); an individual’s speech is always filled by others’ words (Myles 2010: 50). Intertextuality, in turn, is “the property texts have of being full of ‘snatches’ of other texts (Kristeva 1986), which may be explicitly demarcated or implicitly merged in, and which the text may seamlessly assimilate, explicitly echo (ironically or otherwise) or confront” (Sunderland & Litosseliti 2002: 14). Intertextuality may be manifested quite explicitly with, for example, reported speech; but also when implicit, it reflects discourse as a historical process in which all texts are linked. 
Also important is the concept of interdiscursivity – “the mixing together of different discourses and genres” (Fairclough 1992). “For instance, discourse on climate change may contain discourses on finance and health and discourse on exclusion can possibly link to discourses on education and employment” (El Naggar 2012: 81). This has important consequences for ideological, persuasive, promotional effects of texts: “metaphors and analogies are always available from other discourses, and the space this gives a speaker to find a voice from another discourse, and even within the discourse they oppose, is theoretically limitless” (Parker 1992: 13). Goffman (1981) suggests talking about various voices or positions from different genres and discourses that find their way into a text in terms of footing: it is an alignment among participants of interaction typically articulated through utterances, but also through other “semiotic displays” (Agha 2007: 178). “A change of footing implies a change in the alignment we take up to ourselves and the others present as expressed in the way we manage the production or reception of an utterance” (Goffman 1981: 128). Thus footing is associated with power, and footing change reflects negotiations of power within the interaction. 

The phenomena of heteroglossia and intertextuality are believed to reflect more general, established social arrangements of power. It has been claimed that the contents of our everyday thinking – including our beliefs, attitudes and values – are cultural products, and these in turn confirm these power relations (Billig 1991: 1). Groups holding the power – we will call them power elites – provide us with patterns of thinking that we internalize and reproduce, even if they are contrary to our interests (“to secure power, it makes sense to persuade everyone else that what you want is also what they want” (Wareing 2004: 38); cf. the Marxist term false consciousness, Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony or Bourdieu’s (1991) symbolic power). According to these approaches, processing information may not be a strictly individual and independent process. Categorization and stereotyping, which are devices that help to organize masses of incoming information, are not merely individual “cognitive reflexes” or “shortcuts” (Billig 1987), but also effects of socialization, mobilized by the processes of ideology. In this light, discourse appears as “the platform where power is performed” (Wareing 2004). The most obvious means of discursive influence are manipulation and persuasion (cf. de Saussure & Schulz (eds.) 2005), but power elites have much more subtle and seemingly “innocent” resources at their disposal. The mere access to specific forms of discourse, e.g. of the media, politics, science, education – is considered a power resource (cf. van Dijk 2008a: 162: “by controlling the access to public discourse, only specific forms of knowledge and opinions may be expressed and widely circulated, and these may persuasively lead to mental models and social representations that are in the interest of the powerful”). Knowledge coming from these discourses is commonsensical, taken for granted, “unmarked” – but, in fact, language use is never neutral; it always reflects underlying ideologies (Wareing 2004; consider also the following statement by Hinton: “we accept our cultural norms as being ‘true’ rather than a specific view within our culture” (2000: 13)). Billig explains that “ideology operates through the mobilization of discourse (…) the processes of ideology (…) are also means of mobilizing (individual) consciousness” (1991: 14). What is important, these ideological contents “are perhaps most influential when they reproduce negative representations of other groups in subtle and indirect ways” (van Dijk 1997: 36; Matsuda (1993) calls this “sophisticated” or “sanitised” discourse); “work most effectively in texts which are not explicitly addressing those identities [of other groups] but construct them as part of another communicative purpose” (Koller 2012: 20). But no matter how explicit or implicit, eventually they are internalized and reproduced by members of both the in-group and the out-group(s) that are stereotyped or discriminated against. The point is, again, to recognize these ideological contents and gain awareness of their effects on our beliefs and attitudes whether we agree with them or not. The fact that a belief sounds credible does not make it true; and the fact that we like a belief does not make it more credible.

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