Critical Discourse Analysis

There are several approaches using linguistic analysis to examine in some detail claims and glosses found in management and policy statements. I have list of some approaches and a brief description of what they do in one of my own publications (one chapter online here). I also have file on a particular approach developed by Fowler and his associates here. However, there is one additional approach which is well-liked and which I summarise in this file.

Fairclough has produced a large amount of work trying to use detailed textual analysis of to show how more general processes work, especially  'ideology'. His political commitments seem clear -- in this case, he wants to offer  'ways in which social researchers can desacrilize the words of these new prophets' (207). We might not want to embrace any implicit notions of radical social change here, but everyone needs to be able to sort out genuine advice from self-serving bullshit.

I have been to a few seminars on the need for change myself, and Kanter's arguments sound horribly familiar. What no mere analysis of the text will indicate is the tremendous social pressure put upon participants in seminars to conform. Anyone wanting to challenge the dominant discourse is ridiculed or publicly condemned. Simple manipulation techniques involve  'role stripping' (Goffman's term) where everyone's status is reduced to a common denominator and we are all infantilised by making us wear single name badges, or perform demeaning tasks in public (including role play, singing a song, putting on a performance, or demonstrating our lack of physical fitness). This text gives you a clue in appealing for some sort of childlike curiosity as a stimulus to creativity.

We can leave aside this substantial theoretical labour, and political commitment, and proceed cheerfully and vulgarly as before. Let us consider an article of his written in 2002  (with Chiapello - -so I refer to the authors as Cand F). This one analyses a textbook in management theory, written by a well-known guru -- a certain Rosabeth Kanter. It is about the need to  'evolve' [a typically neutral looking term implying that organisational change is natural] towards a new management model. We need to begin by being sensitive to genre here. This genre of management text makes a number of claims about what is good and bad practice, for example. Some 'make catgeorial claims' (197) (that is straight assertions). Some are 'normative' and 'obligational' -- something must be done. Some sections offer descriptions, but these are also prescriptions -- new managers do wonderful work [they do, or they should?]. Disguises like these make the text look like it is an analysis of current conditions, as do claims that the book is itself  'based'  (somehow) on questionnaire responses. In this case, say C and F, there is actually no methodological section, and no details about which claims relate to which data -- so veternas of methods courses can have a field day?

Much of Chiappello's and Fairclough's article describes the new management models that develop as capitalism develops. Kanter's purpose is to do her best to persuade us that the latest model is better, and also inevitable if we are to continue to prosper. She is also concerned to talk up her own expertise, of course, and that of the general group of management gurus who, C and F remind us, earn considerable amounts of money in writing management books and also running expensive seminars.

The specific features of the book are of interest here, and you might want to think about applying some of these analyses to other kinds of management literature particularly, and persuasive material more generally.

C and F locate management texts like this in a framework that suggests that three key areas of legitimation need to be secured in periods of change -- 'stimulation, security and justice'  (201). This particular text is into stimulation, encouraging managers to be more creative, to embrace change, to follow their dreams and all that stuff. Security is offered to all those who want to belong to the team or community in the new company. Fairness is demonstrated by recognising everyone's talents,  'giving people "recognition",  "a warm glow", "making everyone a Hero"' (201).

Obviously, all depends on whether people are willing to embrace the changes and develop the new regime. This hints at the need to develop a  'protagonist - antagonistic relation', clearly setting out the new approach from the old, identifying the people who will support the change, and denigrating those who will resist. There is also a clear hierarchy being defended here, of course -- the  'great ones... "changemasters, and leaders, pace-setters, idea scouts, innovators, and actors, producers-directors" and so on', while the  'small ones are represented primarily as  "laggards"  (also "sceptics", "resistors")' (202). Obviously, the great ones are the main actors in the text, doing all the leading, inspiring, and so on -- [which is a great defence of the exorbitant salaries that managers pay themselves.

So,'leadership' is demonstrated by someone being able to combine different opinions and models of the firm or of capitalist society [and thus to deliver a  'knowledge effect', as in realist discourse -- see 'Be a film critic' ?]. Apparent divisions between different positions are dealt with in the process.

The most obvious differences are between leaders and laggards, and this is dealt with by simply asserting that successful companies are those that remove or disempower their laggards. A whole series of contrasts is set up to make this point -- for example, in comparing successful and unsuccessful companies, Kanter provides the inevitable list of bullet points, including this one:  'Conflict is seen as creative  (instead of disruptive)' (C&F 203). Cand F say that the frequent use of bullet-points and other lists is deliberately trivialising and 'paratactic' -- building up meanings by addition. They also ''facilitate the transition from prescription to action (think of shopping lists or "to do" lists) '(198). [I think they are now pressed on authors by publishers who have come to see this as a kiund of 'effective writing'].

Other statements include  'Communities can be mapped in formal ways, but they also have an emotional meaning, a feeling of connection. Communities have both a structure and a soul' (C&F 204). The latter is an example, according to C and F, of appropriating [feel-good] normal words like  'communities', and using them to lend support to a particular  'inspirational' discourse.

There are also equivalences or similarities -- between integration and community, in this particular case. Sometimes this is managed by adding together items in a list --'"flexible, empowering, collaborative"' (204)  [this reminds me very much of the famous three-part list identified as characteristic of the talk of British politicians, or, more recently, of Tony Blair's famous verb-free sentences  which often had lists of feel-good words that listeners could add together how they wished]. C&F say an additional feature of such equivalence is is to demonstrate the complexity of the thought of the management guru, as opposed to the simplicities of their opponents. [Reminders here of the analysis of televangelism offering  'prime knowledge'-- confusion and complexity in social life is demonstrated in order to beat off rivals, then a claim is made about some privileged insight offered uniquely to the televangelist, and coming, in this case, from God].

Metaphors are sometimes also used to suggest some equivalence or connection -- in this case, the role of the changemaster is seen as an  'idea scout', intelligence agent , or skilled monitor of the competing information being broadcast, as if by a radio.

The analysis ends by examining a list of seven skills required of the modern manager and innovator -- ' "tuning into the environment, kaleidoscopic thinking, an inspiring vision, coalition building, nurturing a working team, persisting through difficulties, and spreading credit and recognition"' (C and F 206). The list actually describes the key elements of an inspirational discourse, and some self-congratulation on being able to carry on in the face of opposition. There are hints of religion, counselling, cognitive theory and play, politics, and parenting --[ these presumably help the reader by identifying parallel and respectable activities, and of course, lead to self-aggrandisement of the manager].

EXAMPLE: Try this on any management text or seminar of your own -- or take the general principles and try it on any 'political' text  -- New Labour on the Dome? New Labour on community regeneration?

Chiapello E and Fairclough N (2002) 'Understanding the new management ideology: a transdisciplinary contribution from critical discourse analysis and new sociology of capitalism' in Discourse and Society 13(2): 185--208 or online at:

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