Analysing Political Discourse: Confronting Approaches

ECPR General Conference 2015, Montreal, section S03
Chair: Lea Sgier, Central European University. Co-Chairs: Philippe Blanchard, University of Warwick; Theofanis Exadaktylos, University of Surrey

Abstract
The analysis of political discourse, understood in the broadest sense as the analysis of written, oral, audio-visual or other forms of communication that explicitly or implicitly carry political ideas, has a long tradition in the social sciences and the humanities. It has gained considerable momentum over the last 20 years, thanks to a variety of developments that have contributed to its wider use and to making it more methodologically articulate and rigorous, such as:
– Advances in software solutions allowing for a systematic qualitative or quantitative treatment of large amounts of textual, visual or audio-visual data (for example Däubler, Benoit et al. 2012; Popping 2012; Lejeune 2008);
– An increased acknowledgement of the role of “ideas” in political science, and interest in developing tools to capture the influence of ideas (for example Schmidt 2008, Schmidt and Radaelli 2004, Majone 1989);
– The emergence of qualitative discourse analysis (poststructuralist, post-marxist or critical) within a variety of subfields of political science and international relations, such as policy analysis, European politics or social movements (cf. for example Howarth and Torfing 2005; Milliken 1999; Benford and Snow 2007 or Fischer and Gottweis 2012), and partly related discussions in the field of the analysis of ideology and conceptual history (Freeden et al. 2013; Koselleck 1985, 2002);
– The successful completion of various large international research projects based mainly on textual, content or discourse analysis: the Manifesto project, the Comparative Agenda-Setting project and MAGEEQ (Mainstreaming Gender Equality in the European Union) amongst others.

Yet, the field of political discourse analysis remains very fragmented, both conceptually and methodologically. This fragmentation is partly due to the interdisciplinary nature of the field, which borrows tools also from outside the social sciences (linguistics, philosophy of science, rhetoric, computer sciences, etc.). This section aims to bring together scholars who in one way or another are engaged in this field, whether with qualitative or quantitative tools, whether in a hermeneutic-interpretive or in a more positivist tradition, whether on small- or large-N samples, with or without CAQDAS tools. We are fully aware that this diversity is also an asset for the discipline and that diverging traditions should not be reduced to unity at any price. Yet the section proposes to critically engage with the above-mentioned developments and to promote a dialogue across approaches. We invite papers that address questions such as:
– What can hermeneutic types of discourse analysis learn from content analytical approaches, and vice versa?
– Twenty years into the use of CAQDAS tools, how useful have they been? What are their unused potential and unfulfilled promises?
– What lessons can we draw from neighbouring disciplines (linguistics, rhetoric, and history in particular) for political discourse analysis, or from political science sub-fields (e.g. institutionalism, public policy analysis and foreign policy analysis)?
– How do different methodological approaches deal with key assumptions of discourse analysis (such as the performativity of discourse, or the “ideological” functions of discourse)?
– How do different methodological approaches link discourse to other social and political practices?

We welcome papers that engage with any of the above question through concrete empirical applications.

Section panels would be organised along research strands or traditions, with all participants invited to visit panels they do not contribute to in order to exchange views.
– Advances in CAQDAS (Computer assisted qualitative data analysis)
– Interpretive discourse and narrative analysis
– Content analysis (e.g. press, party manifestos, speeches, tweets)
– The analysis of public controversies and social “problems”
– Visual and audio-visual analysis (e.g. posters, TV clips, advertisements, video games)
– Policy discourse.

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