Selected Analysis

Discourse and Discourse Analysis Theory: An Overview

In classical philosophy, discursive thinking, which unfolds in a sequence of concepts or judgments, is opposed to intuitive thinking, which grasps the whole independently and without any sequential deployment. The division of truths into direct (intuitive) and mediated (accepted on the basis of evidence) was already carried out by Plato and Aristotle. Plato distinguishes between the universal, integral, non-partial and non-individual “mind” and the discursive mind, embracing all separate meanings. Thomas Aquinas contrasts discursive and intuitive knowledge, considering discursive thinking as the movement of the intellect from one object to another (Mojeyko, 2022).

The concept of “discourse” occupies the position of one of the most important concepts of medieval scholasticism, denoting the rational activity necessary for the systematization of sensory experience, but alternative to extrasensory and non-rational (“intuitive”) cognition as the comprehension of transcendent truths. According to Richard de Saint-Victor, “the mind” (ratio discursivus), subject to sense impressions, “runs (discurrit) in its cognitive aspirations from object to object.” In the context of medieval mysticism, the linguistic form of expression was perceived as inadequate for fixing the content of the experience of revelation, which actualized the original etymological meaning of the term “discourse”

In general, in traditional philosophy, discursive thinking is understood as rational cognition, associated with sensory experience and human corporeality, which makes knowledge clothe in verbal form: dianoia in Plato, logisticon in neoplatonism, logicon in patristics, ratio and intellectus naturalis in scholasticism (Mojeyko, 2022).

Belgian linguist Eric Buyssens was one of the first to introduce “discourse” into the academic vocabulary. Based on the binary antinomy of language as a system and speech as a real process, developed by Ferdinand de Saussure, Buyssens in 1943 introduces a third component – discourse as a special case of text, a mechanism for translating language as a sign system in a specific living speech. According to Buyssens, discourse is the language constructs and combinations of word forms that speakers use to implement the language code. For Zellig Harris (1952), discourse is a connected speech and writing, and it needs to be analyzed using formal procedures similar to those of descriptive linguistics. In Harris’ view, discourse analysis is an analysis of statements, a segment of text, more of a sentence, that is, it is a purely formal approach. Stepanov gives the following detailed description of this concept: “discourse is a “language in a language”, but presented as a special social entity. Discourse does not really exist in the form of its own “grammar” and its own “lexicon”, just like a simple language. Discourse exists first and foremost in texts, but those that are followed by a special grammar, a special lexicon, special rules of word usage and syntax, a special semantics, – ultimately – a special world. The world of any discourse has its own rules of synonymous substitutions, its own rules of truth, its own etiquette. This is a “possible (alternative) world” in the full sense of this logical-philosophical term. Each discourse is one of the “possible worlds”.

So, the discourse appears as a text immersed in real communication, having multi-layered and different dimensions. Discourse, as a rule, emphasizes the dynamic nature of a phenomenon that unfolds in time, while the text is conceived mainly as a static object, the result of this phenomenon. Sometimes discourse is understood as including two components at the same time: both a dynamic process inscribed in a context and its result (i.e. text). In our opinion, such a representation of discourse is preferable, since discourse in this sense is considered both as something complete, complete and connected, on the one hand, and as something that flows in time, dynamic, changing. In its simple definition, discourse is a special way to talk about the world and understand it (Jorgensen and Phillips, 2002).

Discourse analysis is the analysis of language in use. In this case, it cannot be limited to the description of linguistic forms independent of the goals and functions that these forms were created to deal with in human affairs (Fairclough, 1995). Among the various perceptions and views on discourse analysis, the distinguishing feature of Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis is that have brought Norman Fairclough’s critical discourse from the field of linguistics to the world of politics and society and have used it as an efficient tool for analyzing political and social phenomena. In the system that discourse analysis creates to investigate political thoughts and behaviors, and according to the framework prepared by Laclau and Mouffe, several concepts are very significant: Articulation is an action that establishes a relationship between scattered elements within a discourse, in such a way that the identity of these elements is modified; in other words, articulation is an action that creates connections between different elements such as concepts, symbols, behaviors, etc., so that its first identity changes and finds a new identity.

Nodal points (master signifiers) and floating signifiers are also two important elements in the theory of discourse analysis. The basic and central point in the articulation of a discourse is the central sign. Every discourse conveys its ideas and concepts through the employment of some signs and symbols. These signs are temporarily fixed around a nodal point. The nodal point is the central nucleus of the discourse system, which gravity attracts and organizes other signs. The nodal point is like the vertical of the tent, if it is removed, the tent will collapse. It is impossible to understand the theory of discourse without understanding the concept of otherness. Discourses are basically formed in opposition and difference with each other. Identifying a discourse is only possible in conflict with other discourses.

Therefore, discourses always alienate other adversary discourses; therefore, no discourse can ever be fully formed and established, because every discourse is in conflict with other discourses that try to define reality in a different way and shapes different policies for social action. Of course, discourses seek a kind of unity and coherence through the chain of equivalence and difference. In this sense, the elements lose their different characteristics and competing meanings and dissolve in the meaning created by the discourse. The logic of equivalence is the logic of simplifying the political space. But in fact, equivalence can never lead to the complete elimination of these differences.

Hegemony is another essential element of a discourse. A discourse becomes hegemonic when it has been able to coordinate and integrate all the floating signifiers around the nodal point and has established its semantic system in the minds of the subjects (humans), albeit temporarily. But if the rival discourse can undermine this semantic system, then this discourse loses its hegemony (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 115). Hegemonic intervention causes the destruction of hostile discourses and the formation of a new discourse, as well as the objectification of the discourse (Shirazi, 2009). The principles of discourse are in the atmosphere of constant competition. Adversary always marginalizes others and highlights itself. Alienation covers a range of concepts from competition to hostility and violent repression.

In the system of a discourse, power is a key element. The concept of power, taken from Michel Foucault thinking, was inserted into the theory of discourse analysis. Foucault sees power as capillaries scattered throughout society, which is not in the hands of a group or party. The power of the society affects the subjects and the whole social life and makes it meaningful. Therefore, in socio-political conflicts, a discourse that has more power to become hegemonic wins. Of course, this power arises from the ability of a discourse to highlight its own semantic system and marginalize the adversary’s semantic system. Crisis and dislocation is a situation that results from the growth of hostility and the emergence of otherness and pluralism during the decline of an objectified discourse. Dislocation tends to collapse the order and mess up the existing discourse and leads the society towards crisis.

In the atmosphere of dislocation and crisis, when the hegemon discourse is in decline other competing discourses emerge on the arena of political competition, each of them possessing their ideals and symbols create myths for a certain desirable situation. Mythologization is a kind of representation and description of social crisis and conditions of social dislocation, trying to provide an appropriate response to the existing crisis. In order to represent and explain a new social space, it is necessary to create a space that has a metaphorical and mythological dimension. The effectiveness of myth is essentially hegemonic: it involves forming a new objectivity by means of rearticulation of the dislocated elements (Laclau 1990: 61).

In order for a myth or discourse to become the imaginary horizon of society or the dominant discourse, certain conditions are necessary. The victory and dominance of a discourse is the product of its accessibility. It means being available in a context and situation where no other discourse shows itself as a real hegemonic alternative. Availability can provide the ground for the victory of a particular discourse and turn it into the imaginary horizon of society. Of course, the acceptance and supremacy of a discourse has another condition, and that is credibility.

In the discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe (1985), collective identity is formed by forming a group and individual identity under common principles. Political identity in discourse analysis focuses on two elements. First is the chain of equivalence that causes people with similar characteristics and indicators to be placed together. The second element is the negative dimension or the chain of differences that shows who people are not and what identities they are in opposition to.

Today’s world has moved away from Newton’s view of “the world in absolute time and space”, instead it has moved towards an ambiguous and chaotic world of discourse (Sözen, 1999). The complexity of modern societies in a fast-changing world where the concepts of time and space seem to have collapsed, the relationships between different societies and the common interactions between different groups within a given society can be explained based on multiple causality (Wodak, & Meyer, 2002). The causality advocated by modernism does not have the power to explain the complexity, uncertainty and dilemmas of today’s world. The uncertainty of the world emphasizes the importance of discourse a such.


Buyssens, E. (1943). Les langages et le discours: Essais de linguistique fonctionnelle dans le cadre de la semiologie. Bruxelles: Office de Publicite.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. New York: Longman Publishing.

Foucault, M. (2002). The Archaeology of Knowledge. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. London and New York: Routledge.

Harris, Z. “Discourse Analysis”, Language, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1952), pp. 1-30

Laclau, E., Mouffe C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.

Laclau, E. (1990). New Reflections on the Revolutions of Our Time. London: Verso.

Mojeyko, (2022), Discourse, Gumanitarnyy Portal.

Phillips, L., Jørgensen, M. (2002). Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method. London: SAGE Publications.

Shirazi, K., (2009). “Laclau and Mouffe discourse theory: A tool to understand and explain political phenomenon”, Politics Quarterly: Law and Political Science.

Sözen, E. (1999). Söylem: Belirsizlik, Mübadele, Bilgi / Güç ve Refleksivite. Istanbul: Paradigma Yayinlari.

Wodak, R., Meyer, M. (2002). Methods of critical discourse analysis. London: Sage Publications.

Степанов Ю. (1995). Альтернативный мир, Дискурс, Факт и принцип Причинности, Язык и наука конца XX века. Сб. статей. М. : РГГУ.

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