Power and Ideology in Everyday Discourse by Trevor Morley (2004)

Power and Ideology in Everyday Discourse:
 The Relevance of Critical Discourse Analysis in Pragmatic Linguistics Today

J. Trevor MORLEY 


This paper focuses on what is arguably one of the most compelling and contentious issues in prag- matics today. It explores the relationship between language and concepts of ideology and power in the linguistic practices of contemporary society through a critique of a critical discourse analysis (CDA) approach to linguistic enquiry, as evidenced in a study and brief review of one of its major practitioners, Norman Fairclough. Essential diŠerences with other mainstream linguistic approaches are emphasized in exploring and explaining the social basis of the ideological and power dimensions that underpin discourse in society. It is maintained that the development of a critical linguistic aware- ness, which informs a capacity to resist and change exploitative and dominating linguistic practices, is an issue which should be of importance to everyone with a concern and interest in the problems of our contemporary society.

Key words: power, ideology, critical linguistic analysis, social theory 

1. Introduction

Norman Fairclough's Language and Power4) was one of the ˆrst seminal texts to focus on one of the most compelling issues in contemporary pragmatics today―that is, the exploration of the relationship between language, power and ideology. Fairclough's aim is the raising of critical con- sciousness concerning the ideological assumptions embedded in language use in contemporary soci- ety, largely through an explanation of existing social conventions which are seen as outcomes of struggles for power.

Evidence is oŠered, by Fairclough, of a deeper level of pragmatic thinking, which goes beyond the usual interpretive stage of ethno-methodology or descriptive socio-linguistic conventions. He is particularly invigorating in the way he oŠers credible understandings of the interrelationship of language and social practices.

Fairclough persuasively argues that linguistic texts and socio-linguistic conventions incorporate power diŠerentials, that they arise out of, are the outcome of and also themselves give rise to power relations and struggles. They are embedded, Fairclough convinces us, in the common-sense as- sumptions which treat hierarchical social relationships of authority, control and manipulation as somehow the `natural' state of aŠairs.

These `common-sense' assumptions, Fairclough rigorously argues, are the ideologies that are im- bedded in language, our commonest form of social behavior. And in their recurrent, everyday, familiar, taken-for granted, discoursal nature they legitimize the existing diŠerent social relations with their power diŠerentials. In making the distinction between ``the exercise of power through coercion and that through the manufacture of consent and acquiescence'' (4)4), Fairclough recog- nizes that power is not just a matter of language―it is ideology that is the main way consent and ac- quiescence is manufactured. When Fairclough ˆrst published this text which recognized that ideol-
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順天堂大学スポーツ健康科学研究 第8号(2004) 21

ogy was ``pervasively present in language and should be one of the main themes of modern social science'' (3)4) he not only oŠered a new linguistic perspective, he also raised a crucially serious so- cial issue. Up to this time, it seems to me, critical, analytical studies of the ideological dimension of language in society were quite limited, and it is Fairclough's pioneering achievement, as exempliˆed by this study, that questions of power and ideology in language have been, for some years now, among the primary agenda items in pragmatic linguistic studies.
But Fairclough is not just addressing his concerns to other linguists and social theorists. Ques- tions of language, power and ideology are of importance to everyone, he states, with an interest in the problems of current society. And it is in this wider, educational dimension, I believe, where Fairclough's engagements can have the most impact.

Up to now, it cannot be denied that the teaching of language awareness in the majority of educa- tional institutions has been woefully inadequate. Fairclough sees his primary aim and educational objective, therefore, as the raising of educational awareness in educational settings of how lan- guage contributes to the exploitation and domination of some people through commonsense as- sumptions ideologically shaped by power relations. Despite the negative picture of the inequalities in society that Fairclough identiˆes, it is the nature of his optimism, his conviction that critical lan- guage awareness can make a diŠerence and his implicit belief in the capacity of people to resist and change existing social situations that makes him such an intellectually exciting linguist and impres- sive educator. The fundamental step in this transformatory process is the development of a critical linguistic consciousness.

This paper now brie‰y (i) looks at the diŠerences between critical discourse analysis (hereafter CDA) and other mainstream linguistic approaches; (ii) describes the centrality of CDA in modern pragmatic linguistic enquiry; (iii) examines the collaborative style of Fairclough's writing; (iv) considers Fairclough's interpretation of the concepts of inequality, domination and emancipation in society; (v) stresses the importance of a practical application of CDA; and (vi) acknowledges some perceived omissions. It concludes with a summary of the personal appeal CDA has for this reader.

2. DiŠerences with Other Linguistic Approaches

At the center of Fairclough's discussion he convincingly distinguishes between a critical language focus and other mainstream approaches and orientations in current linguistic studies.
For Fairclough, and for this reader too, present focuses in linguistic study do not go far enough in exploring ``the rich and complex interrelationships of language and power'' (2). Fairclough elucidates the tensions between a critical language analysis (hereafter CLA) perspective and other language approaches, through a ``critique of the premises and constructs underlying mainstream studies'' (vii). Although there are complex and subtle diŠerences between each of the various lin- guistic orientations described below, Fairclough shows that all of them, from a CLA perspective, share signiˆcant limitations, in that they merely describe, but do not explain, unequal socio-linguis- tic conventions relating to concerns of power. They are all, in various ways, he believes, found wanting.

First, Fairclough's main complaint with linguistics `proper' (i.e. traditionally studies in gram- mar, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics) is the narrowness of its conception of lan- guage, which, he believes, is limiting because it isolates language from the dynamic, changing, so- cial context in which it is produced (6)4). Fairclough criticizes the ``idealized, utopian image and prototype social interaction'' of the well-known, central pragmatic concept of the `cooperative principle'9) on the grounds that it assumes equal control and opportunity for all discourse par- ticipants. This, in Fairclough's judgment, contradicts social reality by ignoring the limited and so- cially-constrained nature for some participants in much of today's social interaction, especially of

22 順天堂大学スポーツ健康科学研究 第8号(2004)
the ``socio-linguistic order molded in social struggles and riven with inequalities of power'' (10)4). Pragmatics, too, is hampered by its concentration on limited discourse exchanges, particularly its tendency to concentrate on the analysis of single types of utterance. Granted that pragmatics recognizes the interrelationship of language and social context, but it still plays a relatively limited role in language study, and many linguists of the Anglo-American `school' see it as an additional layer to the study of linguistics `proper', ˆlling in `gaps', as it were, left by the more core levels of
research in grammar and syntax.

Cognitive Psychology and studies of Artiˆcial Intelligence (AI) from computer simulations also
come in for criticism from Fairclough. It is acknowledged that these studies have reinforced the construct of comprehension, as the result of interaction between the discourse text and the active, mental processes of matching this with member's resources (MRs)―i.e. the interpreters' mental schemata, resources, linguistic and `world' knowledge. However, in their interpretation of how people pragmatically work out what is meant from what is said, Fairclough considers that not enough attention has been paid to the social determinants of the MRs. The commonsense, routine, unselfconscious character and nature of MRs disguises their ideological nature and social origins, Fairclough reasons, and how they potently sustain underlying relations of power and ideology in the comprehension and interpretation of discourse.

Conversation Analysis, a prominent approach in the ˆeld of Discourse Analysis, Fairclough con- siders, is similarly limited in the scope of its enquiries. Although it interprets conversation as the skilled accomplishment of social actors, when examining the systematic structure of conversation participation (e.g. the actors' control of turntaking, reactions, repair, etc.) it makes too little of the connection between the micro-structures of conversation and the macro-structures of the social institutions in society. For Fairclough, conversation analysis gives him the impression of ``a skilled social practice existing in a social vacuum (12)4). From the participant's perspective, like pragmat- ics it also gives the impression of a conversation between equals, and it resists acknowledging the in‰uence of wider social structures. And, in a similar way to sociolinguistics, it only answers descriptive `what'-type questions, while ignoring socially determined explanations of `why' and `how'.

Fairclough acknowledges the in‰uence of a number of signiˆcant social theorists who have put language at the center of their social criticism, seeing it as the primary medium of social control and power. This corresponds with Fairclough's insights, and Foucault6) and Habermas7), in particular, are singled out for ``exploring the role of language in the exercise, maintenance and change of pow- er and the central role assigned to discourse in the development of modern forms of power'' (12)4). Fairclough draws on these social theorists to examine change in contemporary discourse, and relates it to large-scale tendencies in present-day, capitalist society. But these theorists also come in for criticism. Despite their perceived relevance, in‰uence and accurate theoretical reading of social realities it is, ironically, the theoretical nature of their enquiries and their lack of linguistic engage- ment and analysis that, Fairclough believes, has limited their impact on practical linguistic research.

3. Critical Language Study

The strength and validity of a critical language approach as proposed by Fairclough is a result of the way it is able to unite complex, wide-ranging, interpretative social theories and insights with a critical linguistic analysis of speciˆc discoursal exchanges. It thus goes beyond the approaches referred to in the previous section; it is not a complement to them, nor another branch or sub-divi- sion of linguistics, but, in its own right, an alternative orientation to language study―and such a critical approach to language study must be central to, not additional to, linguistic or social theory studies. Favoring `Hallidayan' systematic-functional grammatical principles (rather than a trans-

順天堂大学スポーツ健康科学研究 第8号(2004) 23

formative, formalist `Chomskyan' approach) Fairclough argues persuasively for the centrality of CLA or CDA as the core of a social analysis of language. Although he claims not to be oŠering an alternative to mainstream linguistics, Fairclough's work does, in fact, complement certain current proposals in systematic linguistics, also cross-disciplinary trends in discourse analysis, as well as in- sights from continental pragmatics, all of which oŠer alternative approaches to mainstream Anglo- American linguistics.

4. Style

Fairclough states that the assumed readers for his text are students and teachers in higher educa- tion and ``others in a position to act as educators in a broad sense'' (4)4). Consequently, in writing for those who may not be linguistic specialists, Fairclough has made a commendable eŠort to make the text accessible and reader-friendly. Treating his readers as intelligent partners, he is neither sim- plistic nor condescending the points he makes are coherent and well substantiated. Throughout his sustained argument he convinces the reader that he not only knows, but cares about his topic, and I think that this engaging stylistic trait is one reason Fairclough has found so many admirers. When using ˆrst person singular and plural, `I' and `we', rather than the more traditional impersonal, academic, third-person style, his purpose seems not to be manipulative; he is not trying to claim a spurious reader solidarity in an attempt to convince and persuade, but, rather, to stress the col- laborative nature of the undertaking, treating the reader as partner. In engaging us directly in this way, I think he succeeds, and the result is both instructive and stimulating.

5. Inequalities, Domination and Emancipation

Fairclough openly and unequivocally acknowledges his own political position and social values. For him, an awareness of unequal relations of power in society involving hierarchical dimensions of domination and subordination, and a consciousness of ``how language contributes to the domi- nation of some people by others is the ˆrst step towards emancipation'' (1)4). Fairclough is com- mitted to the ``emancipation of the oppressed'' (5)4), of the underprivileged, and of unequal and dominated groups and individuals in our society. In considering how CLA/CDA can contribute to struggles for social emancipation Fairclough convinces us that critical linguistic eŠorts should con- centrate on those areas, discourses and texts where participants are most at social risk. Thus, not all areas of linguistic research, in his view, have equal social signiˆcance. The sites of inequality and domination are those that aŠect socially vulnerable lives, where opportunities and potentialities― in terms of class, race, gender, inequality, and injustice socially, mentally and physically challenged groupings, for example―are jeopardized. All these sites or areas have, as Candlin too recognizes, the ``greatest meaning potential'' (quoted ix)4).

6. Practical Application

Fairclough stresses the importance of being actually involved in doing critical language analysis, rather than just reading about it, and his invitation to readers to comment on the textual examples he provides throughout the book re‰ect the practical, involved, hands-on approach of CLA. The inclusion in the text of practical examples for readers to work through makes his thesis and argu- ment easier to comprehend and accept. His own explanations and interpretations of these act as a further stimulus for thought. It is important to acknowledge that there are no deˆnitive, uncon- testable `right answers' in interpretation―diŠerent readers will have diŠerent opinions, depending, as Fairclough states, on the MRs they bring to the interpretive task.

By making explicit what is implicit, Fairclough's text can be regarded as a careful, practical guide on how to analyze social interaction, exploring linguistic texts based on critical language principles, which reveals the hidden connections between language, power and ideology.
24 順天堂大学スポーツ健康科学研究 第8号(2004)

In his book Fairclough provides an exemplary, explanatory model of linguistic features in critical analysis. At no time does he claim that his approach is a full-‰edged linguistic theory, but it is im- portant to note that in undertaking CLA, he nevertheless presents and recommends a logical, sys- tematic, analytic procedure and methodology, focusing on diŠerent stages―describing, producing, interpreting and (most signiˆcantly) explaining linguistic, social determinants and eŠects.

It can be fairly said that Fairclough in this approach is engaging in deconstruction―but it is not a negative, intellectually vandalizing, subversive, demolition job. CLA implies and involves building and architecture―Fairclough erects a framework or ediˆce, which, in its explanatory function, co- herently con‰ates and connects the macro-social interpretation with the micro-linguistic analysis, oŠering a synthesis of social theoretical concepts within a critical-discourse, analytical framework. It is this elision of two levels of interpretation which crucially distinguishes a CLA/CDA approach to language study, and which, for me, oŠers its most signiˆcant, socially just, potential achieve- meant.

7. Omissions

At several points in this study Fairclough refers to prominent social theorists, such as Bourdieu11), Foucault7), Habermas10) and Bakhtin1). But the references are insu‹ciently detailed; Fairclough has too little to say about the signiˆcance of their macro-social insights, or how their observations might link with the type of micro-critical analysis that he advocates. Little attention is paid to how their sometimes ambiguous and often contradictory social criticisms are distinguished from each other. Other important theorists who have pertinent insights into the interrelationship of discourse and language are completely ignored―critics such as the self-proclaimed `intellectual ter- rorist' Baudrillard12) with his pertinent analyses of media, information, and the semiotic aspects of commodities and consumption, or Lyotard2) whose disparate re‰ections on the paradoxes of dis- course, problems of injustice, decision-making, and social judgments and legitimation might justiˆably have expected inclusion. I am puzzled by these omissions, and by Fairclough's failure to engage with the overlaps, connections, contrasts, diversiˆcations, similarities and diŠerences of the master ideas of the social theorists he does refer to. By failing to do so he weakens his case, I be- lieve, in illuminating contemporary socio-linguistic argument. It is a bit over-simplistic and stretch- es credence to ask the reader to accept the complex beliefs of such writers when these are reduced to sound bites of a couple of lines each. This absence of providing corroborating, persuasive examples in the work of the social theorists with whom he clearly feels a strong a‹nity strikes me as the one serious omission in this study. Fairclough, I am happy to report, remedies this in a later book5).

8. Conclusion

Fairclough's work, in its attention to language as social practice dealing with the social condi- tions of discourse production and its hidden power, ideology and domination dimensions, was a forerunner of a now-prevalent linguistic emphasis. It has today clearly found its audience and has changed the nature of important aspects of pragmatic enquiry. While Fairclough energized a new approach to the study of pragmatics it would be naive to expect CLA, in itself, to begin to restore social inequalities or injustices. However, a widespread understanding of critical language analysis and the power dimensions hidden in language can be an important ˆrst step in contributing to a more informed, critical awareness of the realities of the social order, contributing to opening op- portunities to dominated groups and individuals in our society in accessing and participating more fully in various, decision-making power forums. As Fairclough says, the ˆrst step in such social emancipation is the awareness gained through an analysis of discourse in contemporary society. Candlin's wise words in the preface to this text, which perceives ``a reconciliation of the psycholog- ical and social with the textual, which radically alters the map of conventional linguistic study''

順天堂大学スポーツ健康科学研究 第8号(2004) 25

(viii)4) recognizes, pays tribute to and acknowledges the signiˆcance of Fairclough's contribution to this debate and the importance of his central concerns.
The interpretive and social explanatory emphasis of CLA, which Fairclough espoused, is now of primary concern in pragmatic linguistic enquiry. But, from a personal perspective what I personal- ly like about his work is not just the eŠective sustained manner in which the writer argues his case (even though, at times, he does get a little repetitive), but also the intellectually aŠective way in which he involves his readers. In confronting matters of grave, social concern, Fairclough has the ability to make us feel like caring participants in his endeavor. This is far preferable, in my view, to being disinterested readers of some linguistic text, bereft of any robust personal opinion or com- mitment. Despite this, Fairclough never seems polemic or disputatious in tone―although his views must seem challenging and provocative to those readers satisˆed with the acceptance of the status quo. Fairclough manages to make an armchair, would-be radical like myself, with little overt, ac- tivist social participation since student days, feel like he wants to be a fellow-traveler in acts of so- cial deˆance and liberation. I cannot help but admire someone who has contributed to our socio- linguistic understanding, in the way Fairclough has, who has objected to the way things are in aspects of our class-divided, power-ridden, consumer-addicted, corrupt, self-serving society, who has refused to compromise on fundamental social injustices, and a scholar who in his long-term commitment to social justice, has refused to safely, timidly and apologetically shuŒe through a dis- putative, confrontative and contentious academic life.


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