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What Is Critical Discourse Analysis?

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  • Written By: A. Gamm
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2014
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Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is an interdisciplinary study of all forms of communication that is primarily focused on power and its relationship between inequality and society. It became an important form of communicative analysis after the 1989 publishing of Norman Fairclough's Language and Power. Unlike other forms of discourse analysis, its aim is to utilize all analytical methods to not only describe the discourse but to explain how it affects its targeted audiences.

A common misconception about critical discourse analysis is that it is a method. In actuality, it is not a method but a specific approach and perspective for studying discourses. What makes CDA work is that it takes from both social and political methods of analysis, making it an interdisciplinary field, which separates it from other types of analysis. The practitioner of critical discourse analysis must study not only the oral and written communication, but also every other way of communicating. This includes, but is not limited to, movies, gestures, music and pictures.

The purpose of critical discourse analysis is to focus on social and political problems, mainly those involving inequality and power dominance. In the simplest terms, this means that the focus is on how a source of influence and power uses communication methods to influence and legitimize ideologies within people. It uncovers how the power source manipulates and manufactures consent.

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CDA also studies social groups, their differences and how they each react. The reactions of people of different sexual orientations, classes, age groups, locations and other groups all vary according to their own ideologies. Their ideologies behind the messages being communicated are compared during critical discourse analysis.

Instead of being a purely descriptive form of discourse analysis, the aim of CDA is to explain. It is not enough to know what is happening. The reasons why and how are also important. This makes critical discourse analysis more proactive. The end goal is to change or stop the social or political problem of inequality.

Those who practice critical discourse analysis accept certain facts on the social and political issues. The first is that language and power are intricately linked. The second is that the practitioner is inherently biased and influenced by the communication he or she studies. Lastly, the practitioner must also recommend strategic counter-powers and ideologies.

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