Critical Discourse Analysis in China
I had my third Critical Discourse Analysis (批评性话语分析 or CDA) class today. I was really starting to wonder what was up with that class, but I finally got it straight. You see, having no prior significant exposure to the field, I had this simple understanding of “discourse analysis” as basically “analyzing discourse.” It goes a bit beyond that. But CDA is even further removed:
Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an “overtly political agenda,” which “serves to set CDA off…from other kinds of discourse analysis” and text linguistics, “as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics.” While most forms of discourse analysis “aim to provide a better understanding of socio-cultural aspects of texts,” CDA “aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall organization of texts.” One crucial difference is that CDA “aims to provide a critical dimension in its theoretical and descriptive accounts of texts.” [source]
Hmmm, so that explains why the first two weeks we kept talking about ideology (意识形态) rather than discourse itself. The key theorists we have examined already are:
Can you see why the Chinese might be into this stuff? They even have a great word for it: 西马. That means something like “modern Western Marxist theory.” I get a kick out of that term. It seems like such a simple word, made up of two very basic characters, but it represents such a complex body of theory.
My current teacher has a philosophical crush on Foucault just like my first semester teacher had a philosophical crush on Wittgenstein. (In my personal experience, all female Chinese professors have a thing for brilliant gay philosophers.)
Before today’s class I had to read Althusser’s Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (意识形态与意识形态国家机器). These days I’m kinda short on time, though, so I had a little help. I don’t feel guilty… I think by “cheating” I understood the content better than my classmates, whose comments on the text mostly amounted to, “it was confusing.”
I’m not the kind of person that gets off on this kind of philosophical stuff. Sometimes I feel like an anti-intellectual (or maybe I’m just simple-minded?). To tell the truth, I’m rather disappointed with this semester’s classes. My major is “applied linguistics,” and I really am looking for material with application. I’m no longer a wide-eyed student eager to soak up any and all knowledge; I readily discard the information I feel I have no use for, and I don’t have a high tolerance for material I find overly theoretical with little practical value.
Today, though, CDA got a little more interesting. We starting actually applying the ideological framework we’d been discussing. It looks like we’re going to be looking at a lot of advertisements and analyzing them in the contexts of gender roles, social values, consumerism, etc. I was a little disappointed that our scope was going to be so focused, but I’ll certainly take analysis of ads over analysis of things like “the reproduction of the conditions of production” (Althusser) any day.
I suggested that we analyze TV commercials from past American presidential campaigns, and my teacher liked the idea, but she asked me to find them. Does anyone know where I can get that kind of video? I need the actual files, not just YouTube links (and the classroom computer is not going to support weird .flv files). Thanks!