Critical Discourse Analysis: Definition and Purposes

Definition of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

Kramer (2007, 93) defined critical discourse analysis as a system of analysis that “attends to discreet portions of the language with a particular socio-historical context with an aim of providing a multi-layered analysis of how the language operates communicate surface level language as well as underlying dynamics of interpersonal relations, cultural traces, institutional influences, and ultimately power.” Critical discourse analysis, which is a subset of the critical theory, considers the functioning of texts in developing and changing social systems in relation to demographic aspects such as race, economic status, education levels, sexual orientation, religion, age and gender. It development resulted from the inclusion of social aspects in the analysis of texts.

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Budd and Raber (1996) supported this definition suggesting that CDA pays attention to confirming a discourse’s constructive implication by studying texts in a systematic and structured manner. From the two definitions, CDA seeks to understand the connection between power and language through the study of social imbalance as people develop, legitimise and express it through language. The definitions imply CDA is the assessment and analysis of transparent and opaque system and structural links between discrimination, power and control as well as dominance manifested in the use of language.

Purposes of Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical discourse analysis helps in the use of critical thinking to various societal circumstances and unraveling the underlying politics based on the social systems, beliefs and interpretations of the society. Indeed, analysts can apply CDA understanding any text, which is a social situation or problem. The analysis has no particular guidelines for analysis; rather, it is open to different deconstruction and interpretation of prevailing situations or texts. In the thinking, analysts may choose to use various theoretical perspectives to interpret or deconstruct texts. Therefore, critical discourse analysis does not aim at providing definite interpretation of situations; rather the purpose is to expand people’s level of thinking and make individuals realize shortcomings and unknown motivations. From this perspective, critical analysis guides the actions of people by looking beyond the horizon.

Methods of critical discourse analysis

Various methods and approaches are useful in critical discourse analysis. The methods include political, rhetorical, historical, interpretive policy, and discursive psychology methods. The political method follows the political discourse theory, which tackles essentialism in the society occasioned by Marxism’s economic determinism and class reductionism problems in society. Based on the method, the emphasis is on the historicity and contingency of objectivity and the significance of power and politics in informing objectivity (Kramer 2007). The rhetorical method of analysis is based on the language and it focuses on the character and nature of rhetoric as well as its position on the societal text analysis. The method uses theoretical and practical approaches in interpreting and analysing rhetoric.

The interpretive policy method focuses on important aspects of text such as storylines, discourse coalitions, argumentation, narratives, meaning, interpretation and framing to have a critical view of societal contexts and settings. The discursive psychology method uses a wide array of intellectual sources such as conversational analysis, ideology critique, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and ethno-methodology critical interpretation. Through the method, inner mental processes are considered to be constituted of discursive processes. Finally, the Q methodology begins with the self-understanding of people to help analysts in determining patterns of analysis, which characterize narratives of topics or events (Kramer 2007).

Analytical category of critical discourse analysis

The analytical category of CDA is based on the theoretical or methodological approaches used in conducting the analysis. The approaches result in the categorisation of CDA under deductive and inductive analytical methods. Deductive CDA analysts use examples in developing their arguments and interpretation. On the other hand, inductive analysts use a large collection of information to develop their arguments and interpretation.

The two major categorisations have merits and demerits based mainly on reliability and bias. Under deductive and inductive analysis are categories such as metaphor, argumentative topoi, deixis or attributes. Based on the categories, analysts and theorists develop different frameworks for analysis. For instance, Norman Fairclough views discourse as a text, social and discursive practice with the focus being on ideologies, hegemony, media, language, politics and power discourse. Ruth Wodak’s historical categorization focuses on background knowledge and context as important aspects of SDA. The socio-cognitive categorization focuses on common beliefs, knowledge and mental representation of language users for analysis.

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Budd, JM, & Raber, D, 1996, ‘Discourse analysis: method and application in the study of information’, Information Processing & Management, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 217-226.

In this discourse analysis, the authors begin with the indication that communication is important for professional development and concludes with the assertion that critical discourse analysis is important tin understanding various professional literatures (Budd & Raber 1996). Inference for the effects on practical and theoretical positions is drawn from the investigation of the current research. Thus, the article is essential in analysing the components and progress of debates with regard to critical discourse analysis.

Forrester, MA, Ramsden, C, & Reason, D, 1997, ‘Conversation and discourse analysis in library and information services’, Education for Information, vol. 15, 4, pp. 283-295.

The authors use discourse analysis to analyse and make explanation about the importance of conversation in generating information.

Personal examples of discourse analysis include living in the age where politics play a major role in shaping individual identity enhanced by the development of information and communication technology (Forrester, Ramsden & Reason1997). The factors contribute to the development of specific types of subjectivity in the society. Another example is the relationship of the student with librarians which is a kind of power relationship. A student visiting the library may need the assistance of the librarian to look for some information whose location may not be clear in the student’s mind. This indicates the interaction and identification of aspects that are important in fulfilling personal fallacies. However, fallacies might vary from one person to another.

Strengths and weaknesses

Critical discourse analysis is characterised by strengths and weaknesses. Strengths of critical discourse analysis are because of its interdisciplinary nature, which implies more information and perspectives considered in the analysis. The analysis is accessible and flexible, which means people can make individual interpretations and explanations based on their understanding. Furthermore, CDA enables ideas from different areas of study to combine in developing explanations. It supports taking of stances and positioning for analysts. Weaknesses of the CDA are the results of the difficulty in defining the approach and daunting task of gathering information. There is the problem of bias, as the analysis leaves room for people to make personal description, analysis and explanation. CDA offers no definite explanations. However, it offers insights based on ongoing argumentation and debate.


Budd, JM, & Raber, D, 1996, ‘Discourse analysis: method and application in the study of information’, Information Processing & Management, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 217-226. Web.

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Forrester, MA, Ramsden, C, & Reason, D, 1997, ‘Conversation and discourse analysis in library and information services’, Education for Information, vol. 15, 4, pp. 283-295. Web.

Kramer, B. P. 2007, Examining hybrid spaces for newcomer English language learners a critical discourse analysis of email exchanges with business professionals. University of Texas, Austin, TX. Web.

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