Discourse Analysis: A Way of Seeing

Discourse Analysis: A Way of Seeing. That should be the title of my (next) book. Copyright and patented here. Although I’ve unabashedly lifted it from Harry F. Wolcott’s Ethnography: A Way of Seeing in which he argues that ethnography is not simply a way of “looking” but — the subtitle says it — a way of “seeing”.

A way of looking refers, in this sense, to a set of methodological techniques to look at the field, e.g., participant observation, interviewing, case studies, field work in general, etc. A way of seeing, on the other hand, is this way of looking plus “how data subsequently are organized, analyzed, or reported” (p. 46), i.e., an interpretive position integrating the methods with a purposeful way of looking and describing, integrating theory and — central to Wolcott — an orientation to culture.

Now this all sounds eminently plausible and chimes with the way I have begun to think about discourse analysis. Many people think of it as a set of methods; some think of it as an approach, a perspective, a way of seeing, but then conduct and write up studies in which it turns into a way of looking. And many researchers engage with discourse analysis as a way of seeing. This was, in a way, what Teun van Dijk was trying to achieve by renaming the field “discourse studies” rather than “discourse analysis”, since the term “analysis” does seem to encourage the reduction to method.


Review of the second edition of Ethnography: A Way of Seeing (2008) available here, including:

This casual yet informed synthesis, written in an engaging style, is what sets Wolcott’s book apart from the humdrum of texts that discuss methods formally, often in a staccato, bland, and abstracted tone, usually detached from application except to highlight the method by tacking on a case study. By contrast, Wolcott’s excursion is a wonderful raft ride through the flows, eddies, and rapids of anthropological experience that is always theoretically informed.


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