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Political discourse

The 21st century has seen an exponential increase in the both the quantity and the urgency of the discourse which circulates within the political sphere, both national and international. In part this has been driven by the apparent succession of crises for over 15 years: from the ‘global’ financial crisis, to the continuing terrorist attacks in Europe and America, to the destabilisation of regimes in North Africa and Syria, to concerns about the integrity of these territories on the part of Russia and China, to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the menace of climate change. Post-Foucaultian critics such as Giorgio Agamben and Didier Bigot have argued that many of these crises are not necessarily what they appear to be, but their constitution enables an ‘exceptional’ state of affairs to be brought about within the nation state, which gives rise to draconian legislation curtailing civil liberties. Nevertheless, these crises do give rise to strategies in the discourse of political leaders and problematize the identities of supranational organisations such as the EU, NATO and the UN. This suggests that the need to analyse the discourse of the political sphere has also never been so urgent or so pertinent. Three trajectories of political discourse analysis are being carried out under the auspices of PAD: research into the discourse of security within the UK and the US; research into the discursive constitution of leadership within global crisis; and research into the discourses of supranational governmental organisations, such as the European Union, and its relation to national discourses.

Research projects

The Discourse of UK Security

Focus: This project interrogates the ways in which issues of security are constituted within the UK and the US. To date, we have investigated two spheres of activity have been: the changing discourse of UK counter-terrorism from 2001-2017 and the discourse surrounding the security operation for the 2012 UK Olympics. The first interrogates a substantial corpus of documents downloaded from UK government websites, and the second explored all the webpages created for London 2012 Olympics. Latterly, a corpus of websites relating to the US security services have also been analysed in order to explore the constitution of security both as a ‘disciplinary practice’ (after Foucault) and as ‘field’ (after Bigo, Bourdieu)’.

Funding: Internal

Project staff: Dr Malcolm N. MacDonald (CAL), Dr Duncan Hunter (University of Hull)

Duration: Ongoing from October 2011

Research outputs: papers published in high-ranked international peer-reviewed journals such as Discourse and Society, Critical Discourse Studies and the Journal of Language and Politics. Monograph entitled The Discourse of Security: Language, (Il)liberalism and Governmentality under contract for publication in 2018 with the series Postdisciplinary Studies in Discourse (Palgrave MacMillan).

Crisis Leadership in Global Governance

Focus: This interdisciplinary, multi-method project has been carried out with staff from Political and International Studies (PAIS) under the auspices of Global Research Priorities (Global Governance), GRP-GG. Its aim was to investigate the ways in which leadership is performed within times of global crisis, paradigmatically the ‘global’ economic crisis and the nuclear proliferation crisis. The discourse analysis element of the project explored a large corpora of newspapers articles downloaded from prominent UK and US broadsheets, reports and resolutions from key intergovernmental fora such as the UN and the G20, and media texts of the speeches of leaders given at the G20 and UN. Analysis confirmed recent theoretical insights from discourse analysis that, far from being the manifestation of an array of psychological traits, leadership is constituted in and through the discourse of human agents acting in specific contexts through a range of specific modalities of media.

Funding: Research Development Fund, strategic award (2012-2013)
Project staff: Dr Stephanie Schnurr, Dr Malcolm N. MacDonald, Dr Alexandra Homolar (PAIS), Dr Lena Rethel (PAIS)
Duration: Ongoing from June 2012
Research Outputs: papers published in high-ranked international peer-reviewed journals such as Discourse and Communication and Critical Discourse Studies.


Discourses of National and Supranational Government (with special reference to the EU)

Focus: This project aims to use corpus linguistic methods to develop language context models of macro- structures in different national political discourses. Based on different text corpora taken from discourses touching transnational phenomena such as international crises (‘Financial Crisis 2008’, ‘Euro crisis’, ‘War on terror’) or European integration (‘Bologna process’, ‘Brexit’) the overall aim of the project is twofold: first, from a point of view of comparative linguistics the project will shed light into possibilities and limits of lexicon changes and its semantics when national language systems are exposed to internationalised discourses. In this sense by drawing from various sources of largely available digitalised text-data the project will allow observing ongoing language changes. Second, based on lexicometric analyses of different corpora the project will develop language context models of political discourse allowing to assess similarities and differences in the lexical context structure of equivalent political discourses in different languages. Lexicometric methods will be used to explore macrostructures on the lexical and morpho-syntactic level concluding on the resilience of national political discourses against transnational influences. The impact of this project will demonstrate show the potentials and the pitfalls of communication on global issues, with implications for international political communication on the part of both politicians and decision makers.

Funding: Internal
Project staff: Dr Ronny Scholz
Duration: Ongoing from June 2014
Research outputs: targeted bid for funding from a major research council, to be submitted 2017. Papers to be published in high-ranked international peer-reviewed journals.