Post 4- An Introduction to Discourse Analysis

Processing and Organizing Language = Discourse Analysis.

In this week’s article, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Analysis, university professor James Paul Gee presents a concept for understanding language and the way it connects to society. He argues that individuals should study language as action and affiliation. Individuals use language to connect to others and create meaning in their everyday life. Gee states,

“If I had to single out a primary function of human language, it would not be one, but the following two closely related functions: to support the performance of social activities and social identities (i.e: different ways of participating in different sorts of social groups, cultures, and institutions) [emphasis added] and to support human affiliation with cultures, social groups, and institutions.” ( pg. 1)

Gee further explains this theory giving reason to how those two functions of language

Furthermore, Gee discusses the concept of political language. This political language he describes does not mean the common democrats and republicans stands that most people are familiar with. Instead, this political language takes a particular perspective on what the world is like and gives background context to how people view life.
Gee further discuss how both social and political language allows us to speak, write and create communication. People are able to build things through language. He presents the seven building blocks which are…

  1. Significance
  2. activities
  3. identities
  4. relationships
  5. politics ( the distribution of social goods)
  6. connections
  7. signs systems and knowledge

In the article, Gee describes each of the seven building blocks and how language is significant for each.

Social languages: 

Overall, I thought the chapter was a great resource for understanding discourse. Gee provided clear examples and discussion of different types of language analysis. Particularly, in the discussion of social languages, Gee explains how individuals experience different styles of speaking in different social context. In the text, he provides an example of the vernacular and technical version of the social language.

For example, a student studying hornworms night say in everyday language, a variety of language often referred to as “vernacular language” something like “Hornworms sure vary a lot in how big they get,” while the same student might use a more technical variety of language to say to write something like “Hornworm growth exhibits a significant amount of variation.” (pg.20)

It is clear to notice the difference in these two sentences. At any moment an individual can switch the way they use language. The switch between these two types of language is a way for individuals to recognize identities. A person will have a more technical language in a classroom setting and be more aware of their professional identity. In contrast, a person speaking with their friend or peer will be less professional and speak in vernacular language. Both of which is the identity of one individual. I understood this concept clearly because this way of speaking is practiced by everyone. People are skilled in the ways they use language to communicate in every daylife.

Click Here to Read The Chapter  

Presenting: Discourse in IS

Response to Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple

As is its title, the article focuses on the discourse analysis in research, particularly the information systems (IS). Discourse analysis can simply be described as an examination of “the details of speech or writing that are arguably deemed relevant in the context and that are relevant to the arguments the analysis is attempting to make” (Gee 2010). In this particular case, IS is chosen as “context” in which the authors of the article could demonstrate the importance of discourse analysis. The main reason for that choice is apparently the significant growth of “multiplicity [in IS field] that is echoed in the discourse, which policy makers and end-users use when they talk or write about IS”.

Information Systems (IS) is considered a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The article points out the shift in view that occurred around the 90‘s. Apparently, IS research was “dominated by the positivistic view” before the notion of “multiple perspectives on the exploration of a dynamic implementation” emerged and replaced by the interpretive view. It is stated that the goal of the discourse analyst is exploring “the relationship between discourse and reality, interpret a hidden meaning, and mediate it between the past and present”. In terms of adopting a discourse analysis in IS, this hidden meaning is apparently achieved “by a constant interplay between texts (project documents, interviews with the end-users or managers, manuals of IS), discourse (sets of the texts), and context (historical and social background)”. The article also states that “texts are almost irrelevant if taken individually. It is only their interconnection that makes discourse analysis valuable”.

I believe, the closest statement to a claim that could be found in the article is the following: “…the systematic amplification of the philosophical origins of the theory of discourse analysis” is not supported by the researchers, which leads to “…a framework bridging the philosophical foundations, theoretical implications and ‘doing’ discourse analysis” being neglected. In other words, the interpretive nature of the research is not emphasized enough. The research conducted by the authors, and presented at the end, as well as other general information related to discourse analysis that sets it up, is supposed to display what sort of bridging framework that they believe is required, or crucial for authenticity. Although, it is difficult for me to say that they fully accomplished that task —some parts were a bit confusing, they were able to describe their intentions and the results clearly.

The article draws the origins of discourse analysis to “the philosophical discussion on hermeneutics”, which “views interpretations as interminable, or open”. It is stated that “interpretation is not an occasional additional act subsequent to understanding, but rather understanding is always an interpretation, and hence interpretation is the explicit form of understanding”. Thus, discourse analysis does not indicate the interplay between the language use and society “as deterministic but implies the mediation that is in hands of an interpreter”, whose “worldview and the special goals of the project” shape his/her approach to the interpretation. This is a very important point in the article, and it relates back to the “claim” above. It is not that difficult to imagine how the negligence of this notion in a research could cause serious problems, especially in terms of “trustworthiness” of the results. Though, I wish these particular issues were addressed more, perhaps even exemplified, it the article.

Their conducted research, and the steps they had taken to reach it, displays a lot of qualitative aspects. It is indicated that the concern of the authors were “on the social context of the use of technology and discourse that supported it”, and they focused on collecting “empirical data about knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes of managerial employees, members of project teams and end-users in the companies”. Their interviews were aimed at “obtaining both consistency and diversity”. They also mention “hermeneutic levels distinguished by Oevermann (1996)”, which is also included more thoroughly in Gee’s article, and how they used it in their analysis to examine the components and the constructs they obtained during their research. Going back to the “claim”, they draw strong attention to the supportive aspect of how they conducted the research overall. As I’ve mentioned, though, it is difficult to examine its success without a clear comparison. Still, I would say the results are well put together.

Finally, in the conclusion section, the authors make the assertion that, despite its shortcomings, there are strong reasons for adopting discourse analysis in IS field; such as the reflection of real life interactions or “the trustworthiness of the discursive-based study being assessed by the interplay between open-ended interpretations and their transparency”. Still, some of the shortcomings do leave a question mark in my mind, particularly the emphasis on “shortage of clear procedures” or being “highly labor intensive”. I do not necessarily see this type of research as the best candidate for my own research proposal, but at the same time, I find the interpretive nature of it very intriguing. Perhaps, spending enough time to compare it to some of the other research methods that we examined in the class could change my mind.

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Bondarouk, Tatyana and Ruel, Huub, “Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple” (2004). ECIS 2004 Proceedings. 1.
http://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2004/1

Conducting A Case Study

In the chapter Teaching Research Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences, university professor and author Donna M. Zucker present details on How to Do Case Study Research.  At the beginning of the article, she provides a definition for this type of research. She writes…

According to Bromley (1990), it is a “systematic inquiry into an event or a set of related events which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest” (p. 302).

Although the terms “case study”, “case review” and “case report” are used interchangeably in the scientific and professional field, in essence, they all have a similar definition. A case study is about examining the phenomena within its context. The article describes how unlike an experiment, there is no subject influence during a case study. The researcher is not part of the environment or the context that is being studied. They are simply studying the cases related to the context. She explains the steps to properly conduct this type of research.

Case Study Methods

  1. The case study must fit your research question
  2. The student must select a type of case study. (single case study, multiple case study or intrinsic case study)
  3. Select a depth (holistic or embedded)

After collecting data, the researcher must analyze that data and determine common themes between all the cases. The themes they create will provide meaning to the case.

Reflection: 

Zucker presents a logical and clear strategy to conduct this type of research. I believe this type of study is the most used research strategy because it can provide the researcher with interesting data and results that may not have been able to be collected through other types of studies. Although this type of study allows you to do go more in-depth into the phenomenon of a subject, the methodological method of this study is more difficult to justify. Even so, I agree with the author’s reasoning on why case study research is the most effective form of research on at any educational level.  

The article highlights data as the most important aspect of this type of study. Case study research entails multiple sources of data including interviews, observations, artifacts, documents, and other important sources. Mapping the data from multiple data sources is an important task. I believe this is the most important part of case study research because analyzing data is what creates meaning and relationship between subject and context. I also believe that because it is the major aspects of this study it is also the most challenging to complete. Even so, Zucker concludes that any student is able to conduct this type of research by carefully following the methods.

 

A Brief Look at the Case Study

I thought describing the case study would be fairly easy. This article, How to Do Case Study Research by Donna M. Zucker, made me reconsider that notion. Apparently, there are a lot of layers that require more attention than one would expect. If I may be frank though, the explanation of these layers were a bit confusing at times.

A case study, simply put, is a qualitative research method that consists of analyzing “the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time”. According to the article, its overall design includes five specific components: “research question(s), propositions, unit(s) of analysis, a determination of how the data are linked to the propositions, and criteria to interpret the findings”. So far, if I were to conduct a case study, I have a research question and potential propositions to begin a research. I guess I’m halfway there. My main concern would be dealing with the latter two components. Figuring out the unit(s) of analysis based on the specifics of research is easy but I’m not certain about the criteria aspect. Although, I believe that I did work on a case study before, when I was an undergraduate, I can’t seem to be able to recall the details about it. I need to examine more examples in order to grasp it and utilize it effectively myself.

The article breaks the case study into three stages/categories: “An instrumental case study is used to provide insight into an issue; an intrinsic case study is undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of the case; and the collective case study is the study of a number of cases in order to inquire into a particular phenomenon”. If I’m not mistaken, that case study I mentioned above was about figuring out the reasoning behind common errors by ESL students in terms of pronunciation. As I’ve said, I do not necessarily remember the details. I do remember, however, that after going over some of the individual cases presented, I analyzed multiple cases to draw parallels between them… somehow —did I skip out on the intrinsic one? It did get pretty convoluted though. Hence, it is important to note that “using more than one case may dilute the importance and meaning of the single case”.

It is also stated that “each case study must outline the purpose, then depending on the type of case study and the actions proposed by the researcher, the researcher could determine the possible products of the study”. The four specific purposes of a case study research are indicated as exploratory, descriptive, interpretive, and explanatory. If I had to pick one for my potential research question (reminder: Does the proficiency level of language has any impact on the students’ ability to improve learner autonomy?), I’d go with exploratory as the main purpose —right? I’d basically be exploring the existence of that impact by conducting studies related to it; interview with students, review of grading on assignments, and review of proficiency examinations. It is suggested in the article that “developing a protocol will serve as a frame of operation and include all the necessary elements in the proper conduct of research”, which is pretty much crucial for the final write-up and presentation. I do not believe developing that protocol is as easy as the article makes it sound like though.

There were a few other aspects mentioned in the article but I wasn’t able to keep up with all the details. I might’ve also rushed through the article. So, I’ll leave those for the in-class discussion as usual.

 

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Zucker, Donna M., “How to Do Case Study Research” (2009). Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences. 2. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umass.edu/nursing_faculty_pubs/2