Approaches to Research on Discourse

Module fact file

Masters Level
Summer Term
10 credits
Contact Hours:
10:00-16:00 (Over two days)
MA Social Research

Contact details

Module lead
Ben Kotzee

Module description

This module introduces students to the principles and practice of Discourse Analysis. It introduces students to the field and discusses the main theories of, and orientations to 'discourse'. Next, it steps students through four different approaches to Discourse Analysis, summarising and highlighting the different ways that we can collect and analyse discourse data for social science research. Lastly, it provides an opportunity for students to practice gathering and analysing their own discourse data in a group work setting. 

The module starts by discussing the ‘discursive turn’ in contemporary social science research. It surveys a broad range of definitions of ‘discourse’, from an interactionist view of discourse as simply ‘situated talk’ to the critical, post-structuralist view of discourse as ‘ways of understanding and constituting the social world’.  

The second view of discourse has been developed, more recently, by researchers concerned with the ways in which power relations are played out within institutions. In this body of work, the term ‘discourse’ is often used in the plural, and discourses are seen as socially constitutive systems of meaning which are embedded in particular social, institutional and historical contexts, and “as different ways of structuring areas of knowledge and social practice” (Fairclough, 1992:3) They are also viewed as sources of power – the power to define boundaries and categories and to construct objects and social subjects. Contemporary studies of discourse sometimes combine these two broad views of discourse. They do so in diverse ways and offer different means of conceptualising the relationship between ideological and interactional processes. The multimodal nature of communication in contemporary social life is also becoming a focus of intense research interest and has led researchers to combine perspectives from discourse studies and semiotics. This short course will focus primarily on the second view of discourse outlined above and will illustrate some of the ways in which this view has informed research practice.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should aim to be able to:

  • Critically evaluate different approaches to the study of discourse
  • Assess the appropriateness of particular approaches to the design of your own research (or similar projects)
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how approaches might be combined
  • Apply a particular approach to the analysis of your own data


A 2000 word assignment.

Related degrees:

The optional modules listed on the website for this programme may unfortunately occasionally be subject to change. As you will appreciate key members of staff may leave the University and this necessitates a review of the modules that are offered. Where the module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you make other choices.