Defining Privacy
A critical investigation of Canadian political discourse

Critical-Discourse-Analysis

4 Introduction

Following the ‘distant reading’ of Hansard in the last chapter, the purpose of this chapter is to conduct a ‘close reading’ of a specific debate in the House of Commons. Using the method of Critical Discourse Analysis, this stage of the research will bring meaning to the data collected in the first text analysis by uncovering and contextualizing the observed patterns and trends of language used by MPs.

Discourse analysis explicitly studies language in use (Taylor 5). Though language is not the same as discourse, it is fundamental to its production and interpretation (Baker 5). A discourse is an authentic text that performs a social function (Mautner 123-124) and provides a representational view of language (Fairclough, Language and Power 7).

Text, as it was described in the last chapter, includes both spoken and written language (Stubbs, Words and Phrases 5). Texts are not only produced, but consumed by individuals in society, and this consumption is dependent on a process of interpretation that draws on the individual’s prior knowledge of language, as well as their own values and beliefs (Fairclough, Language and Power 57). This process of interpretation then serves to inform the subsequent production of individual’s own texts (Fairclough, Language and Power 57). The knowledge, values, and beliefs of individuals (which can be referred to collectively as cognition), do not exist in a vacuum, they are socially generated through the experience of ‘being’ in society (Fairclough, Language and Power 57). Discourse is the result of the social context and interactions that influence and inform the interconnected processes of the production and interpretation of texts (Fairclough, Language and Power 57).

The purpose of discourse analysis is to uncover not just the meaning, but the intention of text, which includes the context within which it was created (McEnery and Hardie 133; Stubbs, “On Text” 145). The ‘analysis’ in discourse analysis can be understood as the systematic and procedural attempt to identify patterns in a text in order to link them to patterns observed in the context of its creation (Mautner 124).

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is discourse analysis done through a critical lens. Doing analysis ‘critically’, according to Gerlinde Mautner, can be understood as “unveiling and challenging taken-for-granted assumptions about language and social life, as well as recognizing discourse as a potentially powerful agent in social change” (24). It is a study of how social power, abuse, dominance, and inequality are communicated, as well as reinforced or resisted, in the social and political context of discourse (Dijk, “Critical Discourse Analysis” 352). The purpose of CDA is to show the “non-obvious” ways in which language contributes to systems of power and dominance in society (Fairclough, “New Labour” 229).

Norman Fairclough, one of the founders of CDA, argues that language and society are not distinct entities, but two parts of an interrelated whole (Language and Power 56). Language is inherently social; the purpose of linguistic communication, whether through speech or the written word, is to interact with others in society, and these interactions are influenced by learned social conventions (Fairclough, Language and Power 56). The ways in which people communicate in one aspect of society, such as within political institutions, are drastically different from the ways in which they communicate in others, such as in their own homes. Society is also, in part, inherently linguistic; social conventions of language not only mediate, but help to maintain the structure of society itself (Fairclough, Language and Power 56). If communicating using context-specific conventions of language, such as political debate, weren’t a necessary requirement for politicians in the House of Commons, than other non-discursive elements of the institution would likely be different. For example, the absence of debate would drastically change the role of the Speaker of the House of Commons, as they are sole person responsible for enforcing and interpreting the rules and practices of parliamentary debates (O’Brian and Bosc).

In order to analyze discourse, we must analyze the social conditions within which it is created and reproduced. Fairclough describes social conditions in terms of an interconnected network of social events, practices, and institutions that comprise society as a whole (Fairclough, “New Labour” 235; Fairclough and Fairclough 328; Fairclough, Language and Power 57). Fairclough’s method of analysis requires more than a detailed investigation of individual texts, it also involves a comprehensive interpretation and explanation of the network of social conditions that led to the its creation (Fairclough, Language and Power 58-59). These three stages–text analysis, interpretation, and explanation–form the methodological basis of CDA.

According to Fairclough, society is comprised of institutions that serve to divide the experience of social life into domains of experience, made up of individual situational contexts (Language and Power 61). Politics, as an institution in Canada, can be divided into domains consisting of city, provincial, and federal governments. Within each of these domains are specific situational contexts, like City Halls, provincial Legislatures, and Parliament.

Social practices inform the ways in which a society is structured, permeating through all layers of situational contexts, domains, and institutions, as well as across them (Fairclough, Language and Power 60). Social practices consist of the expected and conventional “ways of acting, ways of representing and ways of being” associated with particular social roles in society (Fairclough and Fairclough 329). These social roles, which Fairclough describes as ‘subject positions’, determine, through an understanding of social practices, how people are expected to act, relate, and behave in particular situational contexts (Fairclough, Language and Power 68). Society is comprised of many social roles, like those of politician, business person, or parent, each with their own corresponding set of social practices. These social roles and practices can overlap, compliment, or exist in opposition to each other.

Social roles and practices influence social events, which are the concrete and individual instances of things happening in the world, where actual people act, relate, and behave in specific and observable ways in specific situational contexts (Fairclough and Fairclough 328).

For example, a politician attending a meeting or signing papers in their place of work is an example of a specific social event. Meetings and paperwork are expected social practices that those in the social role of politician participate in, though people in other social roles (like those in business) may have the same kinds of practices. Politicians may also participate in different types of practices depending the situational context they are in, such when they meet with constituents or when they are campaigning. These different types of practices become grouped together and networked in particular ways that contribute to the structure of specific institutional contexts, so that the practices that exist within one domain are understood and defined in certain ways as being distinct from the practices that exist in another. When types of social practices are grouped together this way, they constitute what Fairclough describes as social orders (Language and Power 61). Social orders can exist within situational contexts, domains, and institutions, but also across them. For example, in Canada, the social orders of the institutions of politics and business exist within the broader social order of democracy and capitalism.

Discourses exist within each of these social conditions, and as it was discussed earlier, they are both influenced by and exert influence on the structure of society. Discourse at the level of social events involves the production and interpretation of actual texts by individuals in society, like politicians debating a motion or speaking in political advertisements. Social practices result in types of discourse that are linguistic representations of aspects of reality, which are often identifiable by the ways that they reflect the perspectives and practices of different social roles (Fairclough and Fairclough 330; Fairclough, Language and Power 57). For example, political debates are recognizable in that they adhere to rule-bound conventions of language and organization, and while political advertisements don’t need to follow the same rules, they have their own rules, which also may or may not apply depending on the context, such as during an election. Both practices are distinguishable from each other in identifiable ways while remaining generally recognizable as a discursive political practice.

Much like there are social orders within and across contexts, domains, and institutions, there are corresponding orders of discourse (Fairclough, Language and Power 61-62). Orders of discourse include the myriad and complex interplay of conventions of language; from the formal properties of language itself, to genres of communication (i.e. conversations vs. speeches), to the overall ideological content (Fairclough, Language and Power 61-62).

As it has been described so far, society, its constituent institutions and domains, and their resulting social and discursive practices all have a tremendous influence on the ways in which people go about their lives, but the reality of social life does not make things completely pre-determined. Social and discursive practices are reflections of reality, and while they may influence it, they do not comprise it (Fairclough, Language and Power 69).

In reality, people ‘draw upon’ orders of discourse as they relate with others and with society, but they are also influenced by their own cognition (Fairclough, Language and Power 69). Social roles may constrain what may be said and done, but they are not absolutely binding, meaning that people are somewhat free to be creative in the ways in which they act and interact. Fairclough describes this concept with the term ‘reproduction’. The interpretation and reinterpretation of discourse, combined with individual cognition (which itself has been influenced socially), produces and reproduces discourse types to the point where they may be modified or changed completely (Language and Power 69). This happens as a result of the reflexive nature of cognition, in that individuals can actively examine their individual knowledge, values, beliefs and seek to consciously change them, which can lead to the eventual shift in orders of discourse, and ultimately a change in the structure of society itself (Fairclough and Fairclough 396).

But reproduction also maintains orders of discourse, and this is precisely what makes language so powerful in society. Part of this power is reflected in the ways in which discourse can be used to prioritize certain social roles, practices, and structures over others, resulting in a system where social relationships are unequal (Fairclough, Language and Power 71). For example, it is understood as a matter of practice that only elected Members of Parliament may participate in debates in the House of Commons, and while other people may watch, they may not speak.

According to Fairclough, conflicting orders of discourse, which are intrinsically related to social orders, lead to the implication that some discourses are more dominant, mainstream, or ‘right’ than others (“New Labour” 235). This is where the concept of hegemony is particularly useful to CDA. Hegemony refers to power and power struggles, where power is obtained and maintained through consent, rather than coercion (Fairclough, “New Labour” 233). The hegemony of a dominant social order is sustained through the communication and maintenance of certain orders of discourse as being ‘common sense’, which in turn influences the cognition and behaviour of people in their everyday lives (Fairclough, “New Labour” 233; Fairclough, Language and Power 13). Fairclough’s use of the term ‘common sense’ as a construct of hegemony is heavily influenced by Antonio Gramsci, a neo-Marxist theorist and politician who argued that the power of the ruling class is effectively exercised by the cohesive nature of the ‘common sense’ beliefs of people in subordinate classes (Gramsci 420). A ‘common sense’ belief is a “conception of the world which is uncritically absorbed by the various social and cultural environments in which the moral individuality of the average man is developed” (Gramsci 419).

Using the previous example, it seems as though disallowing anyone but MPs to participate in debates is just ‘common sense’, but really, it is a social practice that is sustained ideologically and maintained through the entire structure of the institution of politics. While there may be valid reasons for the practice, it is still just a practice, just one that is constantly being reproduced. This relationship between power, discourse, and common sense will be explored in more depth in the next section.

A critical discourse analysis requires more than just an examination of texts. CDA requires the analysis of the relationship between texts, the discursive process of textual production and interpretation, and the social context within which they were created. This context includes immediate situational practices of society, as well as the social structures within which the social practices and roles are enacted (Fairclough, Language and Power 58). Fairclough describes these three dimensions of discourse as text, interpretation, and context (Language and Power 58).

The three dimensions of discourse construct the three interconnected, but hierarchical stages of Fairclough’s method of CDA: the first stage describes an actual text in terms of its formal properties of language, such as the vocabulary and grammar; the second stage analyzes the text as a product of a social interaction, through an interpretation of the process of production and interpretation; the third stage explains the text in terms of the relationship between the social interaction it represents and the social context within which the interaction occurs (Fairclough, Language and Power 58-59, 129).

The purpose of CDA is to uncover the social conditions that contribute to the creation of discourse by uncovering the ways in which language influences the ideological relations of dominance and power in society (Fairclough, “New Labour” 231; Fairclough, Language and Power 7). The critical nature of CDA is more than the act of identifying discourses that are open to critique, such as those that are false or misleading, but asking why the discourse exists in the first place (Fairclough, Language and Power 7). The reason for such a critique is to provide an explanation that becomes the basis for action that can advocate for change in particular aspects of the social reality under analysis (Fairclough, Language and Power 6-7).

When CDA is applied to political discourse, it can be called political discourse analysis (PDA). This type of analysis, under the broader umbrella of CDA, deals specifically with the “reproduction of political power, power abuse, or domination” found in political discourse (Dijk, “Political Discourse Analysis” 11). What defines the discourse as ‘political’ in this chapter are the texts, interactions, and context under examination: the texts are the transcripts of Hansard, and the interactions involve Members of Parliament engaging in the discursive political practice of debate in the situational context of the House of Commons, which itself exists within the context of a system of parliamentary democracy.

Purpose of this Chapter

This chapter will use the methodology of CDA to examine and critique the political discourse in the House of Commons, specifically on the topic of privacy. Although aspects of privacy are protected by law in Canada, privacy is not included as a specific right in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This legislative reality is in opposition to the results of the text analysis in the last chapter, which showed an increasing trend involving the use of the phrase ‘privacy rights’ in Hansard between the 39th to the 41st Parliaments, with the most prevalent use occurring in the 3rd Sess. of the 41st Parl., Specifically during the year 2014.

Research Question

Using the trends identified by the text analysis along with the understanding of the current state of privacy legislation in Canada, this chapter will use methodology of CDA to investigate the following question:

Why do Members of Parliament consistently refer to privacy as a right when the reality of privacy legislation in Canada is limited to the protection of specific aspects of personal information in limited domains?

It is important to point out that the subsequent analysis of the political discourse of privacy in the House of Commons will not be a neutral interpretation, in fact such an interpretation is not possible, by anyone. The analysis will reflect my own cognition. While my knowledge, values, and beliefs may be socially constructed, they are also my own, which means that the following work will reflect my own experiences and ideology.

Overview of this Chapter

Section 4.1 of this chapter, Politics and Power, will describe the defining characteristics of political discourse in the context of the debates that occur in the practice of Parliamentary democracy. This section will also will examine the role of power in political discourse, with a specific investigation of the ideological concept of ‘common sense’.

While CDA is not a methodology unique to Fairclough, his version of CDA will guide and inform the analysis in Section 4.2. Using the method outlined in his book, Language and Power, 3rd ed., this section will describe the procedure and considerations of the first two stages of CDA through the analysis of a specific text from Hansard. The text and interpretation stages will analyze a debate on privacy that occurred on May 5, 2014.

Section 4.3 will conclude the chapter with the final stage of CDA, which is an examination of the text and the ways it which it shapes and represents the greater discursive and social practices within the House of Commons.

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