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Social Science and Contemporary Social Problems

Customer Reviews. Write a review. See any care plans, options and policies that may be associated with this product. Email address. Please enter a valid email address. Walmart Services. Get to Know Us. Customer Service. In The Spotlight. Shop Our Brands. All Rights Reserved. Cancel Submit. While constructivism has been the object of a long critical debate Hacking, , leaving the question of truth to philosophers and political theorists would be a mistake. One may not share their predisposition for abstract, acontextual and universalist thinking.

Yet discourse researchers should consider that all truth claims have the same value. Nor are ideas true if they are accepted by a majority. Discourse researchers can subscribe to the idea that there are discursive struggles over truth but not all truth claims have the same normative quality.

There are claims about realities, which may become true through the force of large social groups think of the dynamics of mass media discourse in the exchanges between few select specialists e. Some truth claims are about social realities, others about non-social realities. And often there is a conflict between different types of truth claims emerging in games mobilising different resources and following different rules.

While discourse is a practice mobilising linguistic, as well as non-linguistic resources, truth claims are made in and about the material world. Discourse theorists can agree with theorists of the New Materialism that there are no one-way causal relationships between discursive practices and non-discursive matter Frost, Humans do not have a monopoly of knowledge and agency over a material world seen as a passive surface waiting to be shaped by human inscriptions Barad, Discourse researchers should have no problem with recognizing the social and non-social constraints on the representations people make of reality.

A lake is not frozen because people say it is frozen and people feel hungry no matter what is said about their bodies. Discourse communities may indeed accept the idea as true and real that the lake is frozen and that you are not hungry even though the lake is not frozen and you are hungry.

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While discourse researchers should accept that there is a world which is beyond discursive reach physics, biology etc. At the same time, the social world is a heterogeneous space of articulated elements, things, practices, bodies, which should not be reduced to one all-encompassing power game which explains it all. Therefore, what one can take from both political philosophers and the theorists of the New Materialism is that claims gain specific truth values in a heterogeneity of practical expertise that constitute the specific normative quality of a truth claim.

To counter the politics of post-truth, discourse researchers, therefore, do not have to return to Truth—i. Discourse researchers can distinguish between truth claims with higher and lower normative quality without betraying their fundamental constructivist orientations. Hence, in the following, I will outline a Strong Programme that makes the case for discourse research which is constructivist without being relativist. It formulates principles that allow discourse researchers to deal with truth claims of first-order participants and second-order observers. While the Strong Programme pleads for symmetrical explanations of true and false knowledges, it recognizes that not all knowledges are equal.

Some knowledges have more truth value than others. Yet all truths are entangled in social dynamics and political struggles as a result of which not everything is accepted as equally true and valuable knowledge. Both these traditions are struggling with the heritage of structuralism, which sometimes leads them to adopt asymmetric i.

I will then look into debates in Science and Technology Studies over the social nature of scientific knowledge. In this debate, political and epistemological questions over the authority of the observers were raised similar to those discourse researchers and social researchers are struggling with today. Whenever language users enter discourse, they participate in struggles over truth, which cannot but be political. Discourse Studies is a recent field, which has resulted from the encounter of two lines of debate: discourse theory and discourse analysis.

Discourse theory deals with questions in social, political and cultural theory around the role of language and communication in contemporary society Laclau and Mouffe, ; Foucault, ; Butler, While discourse theory shows a proclivity for philosophical and epistemological problems, discourse analysis puts emphasis on analytical methods that discourse researchers use to investigate social practices in view of producing insights into empirical objects Angermuller et al. If discourse theory points to the intellectual challenges in Discourse Studies, discourse analysis reminds us of the crucial role of analytical models and empirical methods in Discourse Studies.

Whenever the theorists met the analysts turned out to be particularly productive Angermuller, While centred in the UK, it is especially popular among a large community of English-speaking discourse researchers.

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In this view, language is not like a window to the external world or to an internal consciousness. It is perceived as a surface of opaque signs whose constraints on interpretive activities need to be decrypted. Beetz, For one thing, it rejects the spontaneous interpretive practices of hermeneutics and relies on rigorous formal analysis of material linguistic forms.

In his Archaeology of Knowledge , he resolutely goes beyond the abstract formalism of linguistic structuralism while referring linguistic practice to its sociohistorical context Angermuller, , 7ff. Within France, discourse analysis has seen a decisive move toward pragmatic questions while focusing on societal institutions Maingueneau, The other major international brand is Critical Discourse Studies, which began in the UK and in countries of the Commonwealth van Leeuwen, , in the German-speaking world Wodak et al. Just as French Discourse Studies, Critical Discourse Studies has its base in linguistics and it has developed many links to other fields such as sociology, history, political science, education, psychology, anthropology, philosophy cf.

Unger, Critical Discourse Studies is an umbrella label for a broad range of theories and methods at the intersection of language and society. Therefore, almost any discourse analytical methods and tools can be and are used within Critical Discourse Studies, including quantitative corpus analysis and the whole array of qualitative methods of social research, e.

Emphasis is put on the social contexts in which the meaning potentials of semiotic resources are realised. Halliday worked in close collaboration with Bernstein, who studied the role of language among pupils from lower and upper classes in Great Britain. Footnote 1. Since the s, the label CDA has come to designate language-related research on social problems, more specifically to research on how inequalities between large social groups including relations of race, class and gender shape and are shaped by the use of language in larger communities.

It puts the text i. Fairclough, therefore, testifies to a structuralist understanding of the social context in which language is used.

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Language use is embedded within the constituted structures of society. A similar tendency of taking the social as a given rather than as the empirical problem can be observed among other representatives of Critical Discourse Studies. Society is perceived as the mute outside of linguistically organised cognition.

Wodak and Reisigl, Wodak , too, define Critical Discourse Studies as linguistic research that focuses on such given social problems. Accordingly, rather than examining how discourse participants negotiate what counts as a social problem, Wodak and Reisigl start from a social problem and assess how language use relates to the problem thus stated.

Discourse researchers from both the French and Critical traditions have been crucially interested in how truths are produced and established through language use in discourse communities e.

Footnote 2 Yet one can observe that they tend to apply different accounts to the two types of social realities they deal with, namely to the social reality of the first-order participants SR 1 and to the social reality of the second-order observers and discourse researchers SR2. Why is such an asymmetry problematical? It is a common question in Discourse Studies to ask how discursive practices, i. A classic example is how social problems SR 1 are constructed in public discourse cf.

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  5. Yet, to account for the construction of SR 1, discourse researchers typically investigate how language is used in its social and historical contexts, which one may designate as SR 2: the communities, the institutions, the economic resources which are mobilised in discursive practices. The question is how to deal with contradictions between SR 1 and SR 2, which critical research often provoke. SR 2, by contrast, is the idea the researcher has about the social context, which she or he holds as true.

    While SR 1 may be a result of systematic discourse analytical investigation, SR 2 often refers to the theoretical framework or background knowledge the researcher assumes to be true. In other words, how does one deal with the problem that the social reality that Trump accepts SR 1 will normally not accept the reality that discourse researchers presuppose in order to account for Trump SR 2? Discourse researchers usually make truth claims about SR 1 and SR 2, which is precisely what they are supposed to do. Such an asymmetric account is weak epistemologically speaking for why could not SR 2 be challenged with the same arguments that are used to deconstruct SR 1?

    SR 1 is then revealed to be a discursive construction from the point of view of SR 2, i. While the social sciences have seen a turn towards the actor during the 20th century, the actor is mostly seen with suspicion in both Critical and French Discourse Studies, and with good reasons! A similar tendency can be observed in the Anglophone and German-speaking world where critical discourse analysts were long pitted against conversation analysts as can be seen in the controversy between Billig and Schegloff For Schegloff, Critical Discourse Analysis relies on external theories of context, i.

    Conversation analysts in turn have been suspected for not taking power and inequality into account and for seeing society as a mere illusion of left-leaning ideologues. While these clashes, it seems, have pushed both discourse and conversation analysts back into their respective specialised niches, with a structuralist account of Truth for discourse researchers and a pragmatist account of a plurality of truths for conversation analysts, such an opposition is neither necessary nor productive cf.

    Taha, Language use refers to specific practices of making some context relevant, i.

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    What Schegloff challenges is the idea that discourse analysts can see society from a privileged viewpoint which is more objective than the ones other discourse participants take. The conflict between discourse and conversation analysts, therefore, prolongs struggles over who has the true expertise and authority to make true and legitimate claims about the social: the conversation analyst typically privileges the expertise of the actors and perceives their truths on the same par as his or her truths whereas the discourse analyst takes aims to reveal what the participants cannot see which places her or him in a position of Truth.

    The danger for discourse researchers is to claim an absolutist epistemological position concerning the social. To deal with this problem, French and critical traditions have been switching uneasily between two arguments which are difficult to reconcile. On the one hand, they like to see discourse as being constitutive of the social: discursive practices do not only represent the social. Rather, through representation, such practices bring forth the relationships and structures that make up the social. As a way out, I will invite discourse researchers to consider the Strong Programme, which conceives discourse as a situated practice of making and unmaking truths through the uses members make of language in a discourse community.

    The Strong Programme rejects philosophical accounts of Truth in favour of reflexive investigations of struggles over truths. At this point we will need to look into the lessons that discourse researchers can draw from Science and Technology Studies STS.

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    Footnote 3 The Strong Programme was formulated in STS in the s, when the ideal of science as pure knowledge production came under attack. While earlier sociologists of science still clung to the idea that there was Truth out there, untouched by society as it were, which scientists could reveal under certain circumstances, a new generation of more radically constructivist scholars in STS felt that all scientific knowledge needed to be seen as a product of social, political and economic dynamics.

    Commonly associated with a group of philosophers and sociologists based at Edinburgh under the leadership of David Bloor, the Strong Programme emerged from the critical interrogations over the social nature of scientific truth.