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Seminar on Activity Theory, Discourse and Critical Discourse Analysis

September 15th, 2009 - Seminar on Activity Theory, Discourse and Critical Discourse Analysis

Time: Tuesday 22nd of September 2009 at 12.30-15.30 pm
Location: University of Helsinki, CRADLE seminar room, Teollisuukatu 23, 3rd floor.

12.30-13.00 The Meaning of 'Critical' in Applying Critical Discourse Analysis. Some Methodological Considerations
Lecturer, Ph D. Pekka Pälli, Finnish and Communication, Helsinki School of Economics

13.00-13.30 Discussion
13.30-13.50 Coffee break

13.50-14.20 Language, Ideology and Social Change: Taking forward the CHAT tradition with Critical Discourse Analysis? Senior Lecturer Ph.D. Chik Collins, University of the West Scotland/Paisley

14.20- 15.30 Discussion

Pekka Pälli's introduction:


“In my presentation, I address critically the question of what does it mean to be critical when doing Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). However, I concentrate on the pros of CDA as a method, outlining CDA as a type of analysis that enables the analyst to bridge the micro-level of text and the macro-level of social practices.

As a brief example, I use a recent study by Pälli, Vaara & Sorsa (2009) "Strategy as Text and Discursive Practice". This study is an interesting example here in the sense that in some ways it resonates with CDA, but it does not really go into questions of power and hegemony, nor does it present a clear critique of neo-liberalist doctrine, which are often crucially important for Critical Discourse Analysis.

In this spirit and after reading the article, the readers might consider the following questions:

- On what grounds could you see the paper as critical discourse analysis?
- Or is it just simply an analysis of strategy text and related conversation?
- Is there - or should there have been - a political agenda in this analysis (given that one characteristic of CDA is often its overt politicalness?”


Pälli, Vaara & Sorsa (2009). Strategy as Text and Discursive Practice: a genre-based approach to strategizing in city administration.

Chik Collins' introduction:

The CHAT tradition, like all intellectual traditions, reflects in its strengths and in its weaknesses aspects of the sociohistorical contexts of its transmission and development. While it has notable areas of strength, one area in which it is comparatively underdeveloped is in its engagement with the ideological nature of language and the ways in which this is bound up with processes of change – and the social and political struggles which are typically part of these processes of change.
In dealing with challenges such as this, contemporary CHAT is marked by its openness to dialogue with, and assimilation of contributions and insights from, related fields and traditions which are thought to be broadly compatible with CHAT itself. And in this vein, there has been, over a good number of years, a recurring tendency among some CHAT contributors to look towards, and to suggest drawing quite extensively on, the tradition of Critical Linguistics-Critical Discourse Analysis (CL-CDA).
I want in this presentation to argue that this does not really represent a useful way of taking the CHAT tradition forward. While CL-CDA offers the kind of academic-political viewpoint which a good number – though by no means all – in the CHAT tradition will find quite palatable, its underlying theoretical basis and methodological approach is quite out of keeping with CHAT and, even more importantly, highly inadequate for accomplishing the tasks which CL-CDA has over many years set for itself. I will argue this by reference to the main works of the key writer in the CL-CDA tradition whose concerns are closest to those of CHAT, and who has mostly been invoked by those in the CHAT tradition who have advocated an embrace of CL-CDA – the English writer Norman Fairclough.
I will go on to argue that the openness to dialogue with and assimilation of contributions and insights from outwith CHAT should not be – and perhaps in this case has been – at the expense of overlooking and failing sufficiently to build upon the tools and resources which are already available within CHAT for engaging critically with linguistic processes – in Vygotsky, Leontiev, Bakhtin, Volosinov. And I will refer to some examples from my own work where these have been used to engage with the ideological nature of language and the ways in which this is bound up with processes of change – and the social and political struggles which are typically part of those processes of change. I will suggest that these, albeit limited, tools and resources, have proved more effective in achieving some of the key aims of the CL-CDA tradition than have the tools and resources of the CL-CDA tradition itself, but that they do so because the manner of their use involves a substantial departure from the basic assumptions and approach of CL-CDA.

Collins (2008). Discourse in Cultural-Historical Perspective. In B. van Oers et al. (Eds.), The Transformation of Learning (pp. 242-272). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Additional readings:

Jones and Collins (2009). “State ideology and oppositional discourses: Conceptual and methodological issues”, in Huspek, M., ed., Oppositional Discourses and Democracies, London: Routledge.

Collins and Jones (2006). “Analysis of Discourse as ‘A Form of History Writing’: A critique of Critical Discourse Analysis and an illustration of a Cultural-Historical alternative”, Atlantic Journal of Communication, 14 (1&2) pp.51-69.

Collins (2000). “Vygotsky on Language and Social Consciousness: Underpinning the use of Voloshinov in the study of popular protest”, Historical Materialism, No.7 pp.41-69.

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