Critical discourse analysis in academic studies

Screen Shot of the Daily Show presented by John Steward at Comedy Central on 27 AUG 2014. Source:

Screen Shot of the Daily Show presented by Jon Stewart at Comedy Central on 27 AUG 2014. Source:

According to the website Foundations of Qualitative Research in Education of Harvard University:

“Discourse analysis is based on the understanding that there is much more going on when people communicate than simply the transfer of information. It is not an effort to capture literal meanings; rather it is the investigation of what language does or what individuals or cultures accomplish through language. This area of study raises questions such as how meaning is constructed, and how power functions in society”.

Discourse analysis is important for Urbanism studies because planning and design for cities and regions involves textual and graphic communication with actors and stakeholders. They constitute a network of power relations where decisions are taken. This is also called politics. Plans and designs are enacted in political arenas and must take into account the opinions, desires and wishes of stakeholders. The urbanist (planner + designer) is not an all powerful actor who decides everything. He or she needs to work in structures of governance that are already in place. In order to effectively plan and design, the urbanist must understand these relationships in order to design the processes of implementation that are crucial for any plan or project. This means that power relations must be understood, managed and perhaps redesigned in order to allow for plans, projects and designs to be conceived collectively, accepted, financed and finally implemented.

Discourse analysis helps unveil the true intentions of stakeholders and help understand what their interests and objectives are. Discourse analysis is part of a more general research skill called “critical thinking”.

According to Harvard [1]: “To conduct discourse analysis, a researcher generally selects texts. The term text connotes a wide-range of possible data sources including transcripts of recorded interviews, movie scripts, advertisements, or a company’s internal documents. Discourse analysts usually select texts that are as complete as possible – an interview transcript may be written up including all of the pauses, errors, and corrections”.

To watch a wonderful informal example of discourse analysis, watch the video of Jon Stewart of the comedic programme “Daily Show“. Stewart focuses on the racism of the media during their coverage of an incident where an unarmed black teenager was shot by policemen in Ferguson, Missouri (US).  Stewart does discourse analysis of the highest level by dissecting speeches of politicians and reporters, supporting his arguments with flawless logic and facts. To watch the video, click HERE.

[1] HARVARD (2014) Foundations of Qualitative Research in Education, Accessed on 28 AUG 2014, 13h30.

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