Language and Power in the Discourse of an Islamist Thinker

A Case Study

Master's Thesis, 2012
160 Pages, Grade: with honours






1.1 Background of The Study
1.2 Problem of The Study
1.3 Significance of the Study
1.4 Overview of the Thesis

0. Introduction
2.1. What is Critical Discourse Analysis?
2.2 What does a CDA-Analyst do?
2.3 What is Discourse?
2.4 What is Ideology?
2.5. What is Power?
2.6 Major Approaches to CDA
2.7 How does a CDA-analyst conduct Critical Analysis?
2.8 Multidisciplinarity in CDA
2.9 Derrida’s Deconstruction
2.10 CDA’s analytic Tools

3.1 Objectives of the Study
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Data and Data Sources
3.4 Rationale
3.5 Method of Analysis

4.1 Research Findings
4.2 Discussion





In this chapter I will present the background of my study, its objectives and research question, its scope and limitations, as well as its theoretical and practical contribution to the field of Critical Discourse Analysis. This chapter will also discuss how this research makes a contribution to the study of the Islamic fundamentalist discourse.

1.1 Background of The Study

This study aims at exploring the relationships between language and ideology and how such relationships are represented in the talk of Mohamed Emara, an Islamist Egyptian thinker; and the host of al-Bayyena, a religious TV talk show. More specifically, this study investigates the lexical style and discursive strategies used by the host and Emara, his guest-speaker, while they discuss the relationship between secularism and Islam from a religious view point. These discursive strategies are analyzed within the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). The latter is a type of discourse-analytical research which studies the relationship between discourse (i.e. language use) and social power. Critical Discourse Analysis describes and explains how power abuse is enacted, reproduced, and legitimized by the text and the talk of dominant groups or social institutions (van Dijk, 1996:84). More specifically, the use of Critical Discourse Analysis in this study will show how meaning and ideology are produced through the medium of language and how the latter is used by Muslim fundamentalists as a tool to exercise social power and political control.

Critical Discourse Analysis’ scholars (van Dijk, 1995) (Fairclough,1989) (Wodak & Meyer, 2001) assert that Critical Discourse Analysis focuses on discourse or language use, and how the latter is constructed by the social milieus or institutions that people belong to. From a Marxist point of view, powerful people in society not only own the materialistic capital of society, namely raw materials and means of production, but they also have a hand in the symbolic capital of their society (Online: New World Encyclopedia); this symbolic capital includes the discourses produced by influential social institutions such as the parliament, the mosque, the school, the university, and the media. These discourses are not produced in vacuum but they are rather the product of the interaction of many social variables such as economic interests, religious beliefs, customs, social class, gender, and the political orientations of people. In short, discourses are the product of ideology and social struggle. Powerful people usually tend to impose their ideology on those who are less powerful; some of these powerful people tend to naturalize their ideology and makes it sound as if it were a shared norm or common sense. And one of the means through which the powerful impose their ideology and naturalize their world view is language. Wodak points out that “Dominant structures [or dominant social classes] stabilize conventions and naturalize them, that is, the effects of power and ideology in the production of meaning are obscured and acquire stable and natural forms: they are taken as "given"” (Wodak & Meyer, 2001: 3). In this respect, Critical Discourse Analysis has a role in piercing the opacity of these naturalized conventions which, in van Dijk's view, are more powerfully established via the subtle, everyday, textual work of persuasion, dissimulation and manipulation that set out to change the minds of others in one's own interests (van Dijk, 1993a : 254).

If the dominant discourse is a reflection of the ideology of the dominant class, then the main task of Critical Discourse Analysis is to analyze the verbal aspects of the dominant discourse to shed much more light on the omissions, classifications and other linguistic choices that signal the text producer's intentions. In this respect, Fowler asserts that:

We [critical discourse analysts] show how linguistic structures are used to explore, systematize, transform and often obscure, analyses of reality; to regulate the ideas and behaviour of others; to classify and rank people, events and objects; to assert institutional or personal status. Many of the processes mentioned here happen automatically, eluding the consciousness of source and recipient. (Fowler et al., 1979:3)

Van Dijk (1998) and Fairclough (1989) assert that the use of words, sentences, propositions, and phrases by a speaker or a writer is a practice which is systematically used to achieve a political goal or make people adopt some attitude. By using it in a systematic way, language is no longer viewed as a way of conveying information but rather as the medium through which a speaker or writer influences and controls the recipients’ minds, creates, supports, strengthens, and legitimizes an ideology or maintains a political power.

Critical Discourse Analysis takes a clear political and ethical stance towards the issues and discourses it studies; it sets out to reveal subtle manipulations of language, provide the reader with the necessary tools to become aware of the hidden and subtle meanings in discourse, expose issues of inequality and racism, and strive to promote a democratic society. Fairclough and Wodak (1997: 271–80) summarize the main tenets of CDA as follows:

1. CDA addresses social problems;
2. Power relations are discursive;
3. Discourse constitutes and is constituted by society and culture;
4. Discourse is ideological;
5. Discourse is historical;
6. The link between society and text is mediated;
7. Discourse analysis is interpretative and explanatory;
8. Discourse is a form of social action.

Generally speaking, a word has two meanings: a denotational meaning and a connotational one. The former represents the literal meaning of the word, whereas the latter represents the sum of cultural or social meanings that a community associates with that word (Hall, 1997a). Huckin (1997) further explains the influence of word choice in a discourse and asserts “That even one word can convey strong meaning connotations. These connotations are not always or seldom assigned in the dictionary, but often assigned on the basis of the cultural knowledge of the participants.” To put it differently, the meaning of a word is not always limited to the literal meaning found in a dictionary but it can also have other connotational meanings related to the cultural schema and mental models of the community of people using it. To illustrate this point, the use of, for instance, the word “terrorist”, which is commonly used in the American media during the Iraqi war, rather than the word “freedom- fighter, is ideologically oriented and is used to make Americans believe that the action of “terrorists” is unjustifiable and thus the American government should spare no means and no weapon to fight those “terrorists”. This kind of ideological use of language also shows that the media tend to marginalize if not stigmatize minority groups or people with an ideology different from the ideology of those who own power and thus control the media discourse itself. Therefore, by using their power or authority, powerful human groups want to control other people’s mental models and want them to believe what they say about the powerless groups who are against their social ambitions or political agendas.

Another example which shows that language is not a neutral entity, and that language and social power are closely related, is the use of words such as [ʕahera] (prostitute), [ʕanes] (spinster), [ʔaʕzeb] (bachelor) in the Arabic language. These three words are true forms of discrimination towards women. According to the Arabic grammar, which is a masculine grammar, it is absolutely correct to say or write [ʔemraʔatun ʕaher] “a woman prostitute” but it is nonsensical to say or write the same thing about a man. The word bachelor and spinster have the same definition: persons that are not married. But, if the term “bachelor” does not convey negative connotations, the pejorative nuance of spinster cannot be denied. If these language hierarchies or forms of discrimination have any explanation, it must be a socio-political one. Men are the dominant group in society and women are an economic and political minority. The patriarchal mentality of society considers the fact of a man to have free sexual relationships or to choose not to get married a very normal thing, whereas if a woman does the same thing she will be stigmatized as a “prostitute” and a “spinster” respectively. In addition, the two forms of addressing a woman: [sayeda] (Mrs.) and [ʔanesa] (Miss) make the woman declare her marital status and, thus, her “sexual availability” and, at the same time, the fact that she is possessed by a man (Fowler, 1991: 94). The addressing term for men is “Mr.”, irrespective of their marital status. In short, the privileged social status and political power of men enable them to use language in a way that maintains their domination over women.

In sum, CDA is not a school of one trend but rather an approach under the scope of which we can find many trends. The CDA models of Fairclough and van Dijk are considered as the most popular CDA models. The linguistic model of Fairclough is however valued as more effective in dissecting the ideological structures of discourse; his CDA model is commonly used in analyzing discourse in a critical way. So, I intend to apply his model of Critical Discourse Analysis as it is relevant to the objectives of the present study.

1.2 Problem of The Study

Fairclough and many CDA scholars claim that language is a social practice; it reflects the ideology and power ambitions of the person using it. So, based on this claim and the background of the study mentioned above, the research problem of my study can be formulated as follows:

1. How can language be a means of power and domination?
2. How does language reflect the ideology and power ambitions of the participants in al- Bayyena TV talk show?
3. How are secularists linguistically represented in Emara’s discourse?
4. Are there any linguistic traces in the text that highlight the policy of exclusion?
5. How is language discursively used to create positive self-presentation and negative other-presentation?
6. To what extent is al-Bayyena the mouthpiece of orthodox Islam?

1.3 Significance of the Study

This research has both theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, this research is expected to enrich the CDA literature with new tools for analyzing text and talk, especially how to use Fairclough’s CDA model to examine language abuse and the manipulation of people’s mental models. Practically, this study can be of valuable use to any researcher who wants to understand the interconnections between language and ideology, particularly how to analyze and interpret the lexical style which reflects social practices such as racism, discrimination, intolerance, and political exclusion. This research’s findings can also show how to apply linguistic analysis to a discourse as an exercise in dissecting the ideological structures of a TV talk show. Moreover, researchers can also employ this research results as one of the sources of information to analyze similar discourse genres with more complex discussion such as in media press, mosque sermons, movies, election campaigns, etc. In addition, this research results can be a reference for other researchers who want to conduct further research in this area to give significant contributions to the wide range of CDA studies.

1.4 Overview of the Thesis

This thesis contains five chapters. The present chapter, the introduction, presents a short theoretical background of the study, the problem of the study, its significance, its scope, and the contents of the paper. The second chapter is essentially theoretical, comprising a presentation and a discussion of the key concepts in Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) together with a discussion of ideas and analytical tools borrowed from other research fields and disciplines.

The third chapter is methodological. It describes, first, the objectives of the research, its design, the source of data, the data collection, the procedure and the scope of the study. This is followed by a presentation of the method of analysis illustrated through examples.

The fourth chapter is more practical; it is devoted to the critical study of the fundamentalist religious discourse of Emara, an Egyptian Islamist thinker. More specifically, this chapter will test Fairclough’s claim that language is not a mere means of communication but rather a “social practice” (1989). Another task that will be undertaken by this chapter is the examination of the interrelationships between language and ideology and how language is constructed by ideology. The fifth chapter, the conclusion, recapitulates the objectives of the study, its design, the method of analysis, the summary of the results, and finally some recommendations.


This chapter presents some theories that are related to this study. The discussion covers Critical Discourse Analysis, some models of Critical Discourse Analysis such as Fairclough’s (1989) linguistic model, van Dijk’s (2001) cognitive model, and Wodak’s (2001) historical approach. This section also covers Halliday’s (1985) Systemic Functional Grammar, and a taxonomy of the basic terms and analytic tools that can be used by any CDA practitioner.

0. Introduction

For many centuries, the majority of linguists, grammarians, and philosophers thought that language is a mere means of communication used by human beings belonging to the same community. However, some 20th century linguists (Whorf (1956), Sapir (1949), De Saussure (1967)) started making some comparative approaches to different languages and came up with some surprising results. Some of these results are that languages are not sheer linguistic media, but in fact they play crucial roles in the formation of the thought and worldview of every speech community. In this connection, Whorf (1956), for instance, claims that language is not simply a way of voicing ideas, but is the very thing which shapes our ideas. One cannot think outside the confines of one’s language. We are mental prisoners and unable to think freely because of the restrictions of the vocabulary of the language we speak. To illustrate this point, Whorf says:

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary , the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds– and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds […] We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way- an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language.

(Whorf, 1956: 212–14)

Language, therefore, is not just a means of communication; instead, it is a social behavior which reflects people’s social, cultural, political, economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds. When people speak to each other, they do not use language only for the sake of transmitting some information; but in fact they use it for more subtle and complicated functions. Hence, humans use language for perceiving, persuading, convincing, debating, manipulating, and controlling. To shed some light on the social and political functions of language, Hayakawa (1978) asserts that

With words…we influence and to an enormous extent control future events. It is for this reason that writers write; preachers preach; employers, parents, and teachers scold; propagandists send out new releases; statesmen give speeches. All of them, for various reasons, are trying to influence our conduct—sometimes for our good, sometimes for their own. (Hayakawa, 1978:91)

When you watch a TV talk show or attend a lecture, a conference, a discussion, a sermon, or a debate in a parliament, what you hear is not mere strings of words isolated from the socio-political affiliations of the speaker uttering those words. In fact, what you hear is not only a person speaking but also a person conducting a social practice. According to Fairclough (1989), language is a form of social practice and is shaped by the social structures of society (1989:17); and by this he means that language is not separate from the social context in which it is practiced; that is to say, language is organically related to society and it reflects its cultural practices and political institutions. To clarify this point, Fairclough (1989:22) states that

Firstly, language is a part of society, and not somehow external to it. Secondly, that language is a social process. And thirdly, that language is a socially conditioned process, conditioned that is by other (non-linguistic) parts of society.

Language, then, is a linking element between one’s perceptions of the world and one’s social belonging or political affiliation. It mediates a person’s thought and behavior; but it also reflects the way a person interprets the world around them. However, one’s use of language is not always neutral. Sometimes, people do not use language to tell the truth, to clarify things, or to treat people and things on an equal basis; on the contrary, they use language to lie, to mystify, to manipulate, to control, to dominate, and to create inequalities be they social or political.

History clearly shows how language can be used for ideological or propagandist aims. Prominent figures like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Saddam Husain, Gaddafi and all types of totalitarian regimes used language to win supporters, control people, and oppress opponents. Yet, the ideological and hegemonic use of language is not limited to the discourses of these historical figures and political systems mentioned above, but, as Foucault (1993: 334) says, power is everywhere in society “power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society”. What Foucault means by this is that power can be seen not only in matters that are exclusively political; instead, it can be detected in all aspects of social life; when power takes a concrete form, one can see it, for instance, in clothes, body gestures, and ways of behaving. However, when power takes a linguistic form, one can see it in the type of language one chooses to speak about the world and other people.

Nowadays, we live in a complicated world where different groups and institutions with different ideologies and interests are constantly striving to win hearts and minds; and a great deal of the language used in newspaper articles, the news, the sermons in mosques or churches, and the political debates in parliaments is not innocent. A great part of the discourses is laden with prejudices, undemocratic claims, socially loaded words, and political biases; these biases, however, are not always overtly stated like in typical racist, chauvinistic, or fundamentalist discourses; but they are sometimes subtly and implicitly stated in these discourses. Hence, one needs a kind of analysis which enables one to read between the lines of discourses and uncover every undemocratic, hegemonic, biased, and unjust linguistic utterance. The kind of analysis that would help us uncover these unjust discursive practices is what has come to be termed Critical Discourse Analysis (Wodak and Meyer, 2001).

2.1. What is Critical Discourse Analysis?

Critical Discourse Analysis (henceforth CDA) is a multidisciplinary discipline that studies language use in its relation to society. It is multidisciplinary in the sense that it approaches language use with the help of humanities such as classical rhetoric, ethnography, sociolinguistics, philosophy, functional linguistics, and pragmatics. It is “critical” in the sense that it criticizes and deconstructs the dominant social or political order through discourse analysis. CDA regards discourse as a form of social practice (Fairclough, 1989); in other words, it views the relationship between discourse and society as a dialectic relationship: society shapes discourse and discourse shapes society; the two are mutually constitutive. A society is inconceivable without discourse and discourse cannot exist without social interaction. To elaborate on this point, Fairclough and Wodak (1997), two critical discourse analysts, provide us with the following definition of CDA:

CDA sees discourse – language use in speech and writing – as a form of ‘social practice’. Describing discourse as social practice implies a dialectical relationship between a particular discursive event and the situation(s), institution(s) and social structure(s) which frame it: the discursive event is shaped by them, but it also shapes them. That is, discourse is socially constitutive as well as socially shaped: it constitutes situations, objects of knowledge, and the social identities of and relationships between people and groups of people. It is constitutive both in the sense that it helps to sustain and reproduce the social status quo, and in the sense that it contributes to transforming it... Both the ideological loading of particular ways of using language and the relations of power which underlie them are often unclear to people. CDA aims to make more visible these opaque aspects of discourse.

(Fairclough and Wodak, 1997: 258)

From the above definition, one can see that CDA has at least six features and functions: first, CDA is mainly concerned with spoken and written language as it is related to social problems. Second, power relations are discursive. Third, discourse constitutes society and culture. Fourth, discourse has an ideological function. Fifth, discourse is a form of social action. Sixth, CDA’s pivotal function is to expose and reveal social dominance and inequality in discourse.

Discourse analysts like Fairclough, Van Dijk, Wodak, Van Leeuwen, Fowler, Kress, and Hodge study discourses to find links between the kind of language used in a specific discourse and how this kind of language can be explained in socio-economic and political terms. Relying on the philosophical and linguistic works of Halliday (1985), Gramsci (2006), Foucault (1972), Derrida (1981), Althuser (1971) and Bordieu (1991), discourse analysts draw our attention to how discourses are so closely related to power relations in our societies. The news and political analyses that we read in a newspaper, for example, are not isolated from the power relations in society, Bielsa and O’Donnell (2012) claim that the content of a newspaper is controlled by the ideology of its owners. In reporting news, these owners always respect the ideologies and interests of their advertisers. A great part of the revenues of a newspaper comes from advertising; and the larger its readership, the more revenues it gets from advertising. Editors, therefore, are always careful about respecting the ideologies of both their readership and their advertisers. In case they make any ideological mistake, they will lose some of their readership and advertisers. Put in different terms, the content of a newspaper is to a large extent determined by the powerful influence that advertisers and readership exert on chief editors, who, in turn, control writers and journalists themselves. To clarify this point, Bielsa and O’Donnell write:

Writers soon learn how to write a story to improve its chances of being accepted. Editors also change what the writer originally wrote to fit ‘house style’. Writers themselves have ideologies, and choose the types of news they chase, and the way they perceive that news (which ‘story’ they find within the complex set of events they observe), keeping in mind that they want their articles printed, and to keep their jobs.

(Bielsa and O’Donnell, 2012)

News reporting, it should be noted, does not happen in vacuum; it is organically related to the political and official institutions within society. If a political party or social group owns a newspaper or a TV channel, then they can control the content transmitted through that medium, and also how the content is presented to the reader or viewer. In the case of a TV report, for instance, the reporter who witnesses an event will choose the vocabulary in the report they present according to their ideological or political attitude toward that event. Thus, they may refer to the latter as a ‘demonstration’ (or a ‘protest’), a ‘rally’, a ‘riot’, ‘a street battle’, ‘a war in the streets’, a ‘confrontation’, and so on. After that, as they write their report in whole sentences, they need to make linguistic structures and refer to the actions, the people involved, the effects of the actions, the place where they happened and so on. They might choose ‘demonstrators confront police’ or ‘police confront demonstrators’; ‘rioters attack police’ or ‘police attack rioters’ or ‘riot disperses’. Each of these lexical and syntactic choices has important discursive implications and functions as to the role assigned to the different ‘characters’ or ‘agents’ in the event reported; and certainly these choices reflect the text producer’s attitude and the perspective from which they view the event.

2.2 What does a CDA-Analyst do?

When a discourse analyst works on a discourse, they have a threefold objective: first, they look for power manifestations in the discourse, especially at the level of the language formulations used in that discourse. Second, they show the link between those formulations and the ideology the discourse serves. However, before I show how discourse analysts do their critical analysis, I will elaborate with much more details on some of the basic concepts that are used in any typical Critical Discourse Analysis, namely the concepts of discourse, ideology, and power.

2.3 What is Discourse?

Linguists and language philosophers have defined discourse in many different ways. Stubbs (1983:1) defines it as, “language above the sentence or above the clause”. Hanks (1996, cited in Blommaert, 2005) sees discourse as language-in-action and studying it demands attention both to language and to action. Brown and Yule (1983: 1) claim that “the analysis of discourse is, necessarily, the analysis of language in use. As such, it cannot be restricted to the description of linguistic forms independent of the purposes or functions which these forms are designed to serve human affairs”. According to Fairclough (1992: 28), “Discourse is [….] more than just language use: it is language use, whether speech or writing, seen as a type of social practice.”

Within the paradigm of CDA, “language is a part of society; linguistic phenomena are social phenomena […] and social phenomena are in part linguistic phenomena” (Fairclough, 1989: 23). Language, in other words, is not independent of the political and social workings of society; and when a political leader gives a speech, a priest a sermon, a thinker a lecture, and when a journalist writes an article, they do so in socially determined ways that have social effects and implications(Fairclough, 1989: 23).What these social figures say and write is not far from the influence of the institutions (i.e., a parliament, a church, a university, or a media corporation) they belong to. As such, discourse is defined by critical discourse analysts as a mode of representation and action (Fairclough, 1992: 63) or a “systematically organized set of statements which give expression to the meanings and values of an institution” (Kress, 1985a: 6).

Within the framework of CDA, discourse analysts start with the assumption that language use is always socially and politically driven and that language investigation should go beyond the sentence or clause unit. In this respect, discourse both reflects and shapes the social world and is referred to as constitutive, dialectical, and dialogic. It is constitutive in the sense that it shapes and re-shapes the social order by assigning new meanings to it and by setting new rules; discourse, in short, is the process of producing Truth in society. It is dialectical and dialogic in the sense that discourse is the outcome of social and political interactions between the individual and the social conditions they live in, on the one hand, and between this individual and the people they live with on the other hand. Thus, discourse is not just a product, but a set of consumptive, productive, distributive, and reproductive processes closely related to the social world.

Gee (1996) claims that there are two notions of discourse: little “d” discourse and big “D” discourse. Little “d” discourse is the sum of words, language bits, or the grammar of what is said. Big “D” discourse refers to the ways of representing, believing, valuing, and participating with the language bits. Big “D” discourse is made of language bits and grammar structures, but it differs from little “d” discourse in that it also includes the identities and meanings that go along with such ways of speaking and believing. This distinction helps us see that the form of language cannot exist independently of the language function and the speakers’ intention. It is intricately connected to identity, culture, political allegiance and class struggle. Gee (1996:127-29) further explains that discourse has a number of theoretical characteristics and functions:

1. Discourses have ideological functions. They are structures of philosophies and viewpoints about the relationships between people and the distribution of social goods. Discourses also set rules and values as to what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, who is an insider and who is not, who is “normal” and who is not and many other things as well.
2. Discourses resist any kind of criticism and investigation. Anyone who adopts views that threatens them makes one an outsider. The Discourse puts rules as to what is acceptable criticism and what is not.
3. Any Discourse concerns itself with certain objects and puts forward certain concepts, viewpoints, values, and rules at the expense of others. Foucault (1972) argues that “nothing has any meaning outside of discourse.” Concepts such as ‘madness,’ ‘punishment,’ or ‘sexuality’ only exist meaningfully within the discourses about them. Thus, one of the mechanisms of discourse is marginalization or exclusion; it marginalizes or excludes viewpoints and values central to other Discourses. A discourse of ‘terrorism,’ for instance, would have to include the following elements: (i) statements about and definitions of ‘terrorism.’ (ii) the rules which prescribe certain ways of talking about ‘terrorism’ and exclude other ways- which control what is ‘sayable’ or ‘thinkable’ about terrorism.
4. Discourses do not exist without a social power that backs them up. They are strongly related to the distribution of social power and hierarchical structure in society, and this explains why they are very often ideologically loaded and rarely neutral. Monopolizing certain Discourses can lead to the monopoly of social goods (money, power, status) in a society.

Blommaert (2005: 26) writes that CDA-theorists’ preference for working on the articulation of language and social structure is manifest in the choice of topics and domains of analysis. Hence, CDA-practitioners like to work on discourses such, as political discourse, the discourse of economics, advertisements and promotional culture, media language, gender, education, and bureaucracy.

Critical discourse analysts investigate discourse or language-in-use in ways different from linguists, sociolinguists, or conversation analysts. Discourse within the framework of CDA is not a reflection of social contexts, but it is a reflection of the ideological system of the social community it stems from, since the linguistic choices that constitute every discourse are socially and politically determined. Discourse, in the eyes of critical discourse analysts, is constructive because it contributes to building, perpetuating or changing the dimensions of the social structure where it has been formed. Discourses are always socially, politically, racially, and economically loaded.

2.4 What is Ideology?

Ideology is one of the most frequently-used-political terms; whenever there is a debate between two opposing sides it is very likely that you would hear the word ‘ideology.’ As a term, ideology is slippery, controversial, and unstable. For Marxists, ideology means ‘false consciousness’ (Ponzio, 1993: 8-9) or ‘ideas of the dominant, ruling class.’ Thus, the working class may have misguided ideas about the conditions of its existence as a result of their indoctrination by those who control the means of production. For some people, especially those who are engaged in political activism, ideology simply means the ‘false ideas’ of their political opponents; that is why, in the Arab World, for instance, when Islamic fundamentalists talk about liberalism or secularism they refer to them as ‘the liberal ideology’ or ‘the secular ideology.’ Liberals, too, when they talk about political Islam they refer to it as the ‘Islamist ideology.’ Originally, the term ‘ideology’ did not have these slippery and contradictory meanings. In the 18th century, the French philosopher Destutt de Tracy introduced the term in order to denote the science of studying ‘ideas’: idéologie (Geyer, 1997:12). On the whole, the general public understands ideology as the system of ideas and beliefs that serve the interests of a given community, be it a social class, a religious group, or a political party.

Ideology is one of the cornerstone concepts in CDA’s studies of discourse. Language, as has been mentioned above, is a social practice or action; it reflects the needs, hopes and anxieties of people in society. However, human societies are not utopias where people are equal and live in peace and love; human societies are sites of struggle where people from different social classes are always fighting materially and symbolically for their shares of social goods. Everyone is fighting from their position in society; this position is nothing but one’s ideology and political interests. In fact, fighting can be seen not only in a literal sense, as in wars and political crises but also in a symbolic sense, as is the case of language. In this respect, Kress (1985b: 29) asserts that

Any theory of language that is serious about the social function and effect of language cannot make do with asocial categories such as “worldview.” Rather, it has to focus quite deliberately on the relations of language to the material condition of its users. […] it is essential to accept the category ‘ideology’ as the term that covers concerns with forms of knowledge and their relation to class structure, to class conflict, and class interest, to modes of production and of economic structure, and with forms of knowledge in specific social practices. […] Ideologies, in the sense here outlined, find their articulation in language.

Theoretically speaking, an ideology has two dimensions: a cognitive/ ideational dimension and a material/practical dimension (Blommaert, 2005: 165). In the first dimension, an ideology stands for the set of ideas, values, and perceptions of a group of people. In the second dimension, an ideology is the sum of ideas produced within particular material and economic conditions. A social theorist interested in studying this second dimension of ideology would focus on the nature of social institutions, mode of production, and instruments of power behind the formation of truth and value within a group of people.

Within the framework of CDA, ideology is investigated as it manifests itself in language. Fairclough (1989) asserts that ideologies are strongly related to language, the latter is a social practice determined by the political and economic structures of society; and because language use, Faiclough claims, is the most common form of social behavior, investigating the ideology of the members of a community starts by the way these members use language when they talk about themselves and about others. Kress (1985b) points out that any linguistic form studied out of its social context does not have any ideological meaning or function. An example of CDA- scholars who are interested in ideology as it appears in language or discourse is van Dijk. According to him, “an ideology is the foundation of the social representations shared by a social group.” (van Dijk, 2005: 729). To put it differently, an ideology is a group-schema: a set of abstract ideas and representations located within the minds of members of a social group. These group-schemata organize the way these members see the world, speak about it, and behave in it. To use van Dijk’s (1995: 19) own terms:

As basic forms of social cognitions . . . ideologies also have cognitive functions. […] They organize, monitor and control specific group attitudes. Possibly, ideologies also control the development, structure and application of sociocultural knowledge.

Van Dijk (2005: 729) further postulates that ideologies, no matter how they differ from each other, have a lot of basic characteristics in common. Below is a summary of such characteristics:

- Ideologies have both social and cognitive features.
- Cognitively, ideologies are social belief systems, stored in long-term memory.
- Socially as well as cognitively, these ideological belief systems are socially shared by the members of specific social groups, or ideological communities.
- Ideologies, like languages, are basically social. There are no personal or individual ideologies, only personal or individual uses of ideologies.
- Ideologies are not necessarily negative. They have similar structures and functions whether shared by dominant or dominated groups, ‘bad’ or ‘good’ groups. Thus we may have negative as well as positive ideologies (utopias), it all depends on the social position, perspective, values and beliefs of the one who evaluates them.
- Many -but not all- ideologies are relevant in situations of competition, conflict, domination, and resistance between groups, that is, as part of a social struggle. This also explains why many of the mental structures of ideologies and ideological practices are polarized on the basis of an ingroup – outgroup differentiation, typically between Us and Them, as ideological discourses also show.

2.5. What is Power?

As I have already mentioned in section (2.1. What is Critical Discourse Analysis?), CDA is concerned with the critical study of spoken or written discourses. These discourses, in turn, are far from being always neutral insofar as they are sometimes ideologically loaded and reflect the ambitions, needs, and interests of social groups. Accordingly, studying the manifestations of ideology in a discourse is nothing but the study of power relations in that discourse. If most of ideologies are intimately linked to the social context which is full of conflict, hegemony, and resistance (van Dijk, 2005: 729), then it is very likely that the discourses of these ideologies will use linguistic and non-linguistic strategies that would empower their in-group members and put their out-group members in vulnerable or unfavorable positions. The investigation of power relations in discourse is, therefore, an important, if not the most important, thing in the methodological paradigm of CDA.

In common usage, the notion of power and politics are strongly related to the extent that they very often mean the same thing and thus can be used interchangeably. They both allude to the domain of politicians, governmental authorities and state affairs. However, within the framework of CDA, the term power is not always used in its political sense, for not all forms of influence and control are governmental. To illustrate the point that power is not necessarily governmental, consider the following possible sources of power:

- Gender; masculinity.
- Delegated authority (for example in the democratic process).
- Social class (material wealth can equal power).
- Resource currency (material items such as money, property, food).
- Personal or group charisma.
- Expertise (ability, skills) (the power of medicine to bring about health).
- Persuasion (direct, indirect, or subliminal).
- Knowledge (granted or withheld, shared or kept secret).
- Celebrity.
- Force (violence, military might, coercion).
- Moral persuasion (including religion).
- Social influence of tradition.
- In relationships; domination/submissiveness ( Online: Power)

According to CDA analysts, language is not powerful in itself; instead, it derives its power from the way people use it (Blommaert, 2005). When an individual or a group of people use language to control people’s minds, beliefs, and action, then what we have is not a neutral use of language that aims at transmitting information but an ideological use of language which aims at acquiring more power and directing things and events towards a specific goal or agenda. For this reason, CDA theorists often work on the manifestations of power abuse in discourses; they focus on the participants in the discourses and analyze the language of those who dominate and those who are dominated, those who are responsible for the existence of inequalities and those who suffer from them. To cast much more light on this aspect of CDA, van Dijk (1998:5) confirms that

CDA focuses on the abuse of […] power, and especially on dominance, that is, on the ways control over discourse is abused to control people’s beliefs and actions in the interest of dominant groups, and against the best interests or the will of the others. ‘Abuse’ in this case may be (very roughly) characterized as a norm-violation that hurts others, given some ethical standard, such as (just) rules, agreements, laws or human rights principles. In other words, dominance may be briefly defined as the illegitimate exercise of power.

Within the framework of CDA, texts are viewed as sites of struggle (Weiss & Wodak, 2003). They are arenas where different discourses, world views, and ideologies are competing with each other and struggling for more dominance and more control. According to van Dijk (1993a: 254), power means control; the control that one group exercises over another group. This kind of control has two spheres in which it operates: the sphere of action and the sphere of cognition. Whereas the first sphere means limiting the actions and behaviors of a group of people, the second sphere simply means making an influence on their minds. Van Dijk asserts that cognition control is more subtle and sophisticated than action control. If the former means using corporal punishment or physical coercion (as in police violence against demonstrators, or male violence against women), the latter, that is cognition control, uses smart strategies such as persuasion, dissimulation or manipulation to make heavy impact on minds and to change attitudes in one’s own interest (Van Dijk, 1993a: 254).

Fairclough (1989) states that power emerges in discourse by the way powerful participants in discourse control and constrain the contributions of non-powerful participants. In any type of discourse, there are various constraints acting on the participants. Fairclough distinguishes three types:

- contents, what is said or done;
- relations, the social relations people enter into in discourse;
- subjects, or the ‘subject positions’ people can occupy.

(Fairclough, 1989:46)

To give a concrete example from the real world about the convergence of language and power and how the three constraints, I mentioned above, take shape in discourse, let us consider the interview below which takes place at a police station in the UK and involves a witness to an armed robbery (W) and a policeman (P). W is rather shaken by the robbery and P is recording the information elicited in writing.

(1). P. Did you get a look at the one in the car?
(2). W. I saw his face, yeah.
(3). P. What sort of age was he?
(4). W. About forty-five, he was wearing a …
(5). P. And how tall?
(6).W. Six foot one.
(7). P. Six foot one.Hair?
(8).W. Dark and curly. Is this going to take long? I’ve got to collect the kids from school...
(9). P. Not much longer, no. What about his clothes?
(10).W. He was a bit scruffy looking. Blue trousers, black...
(11). P. Jeans?
(12). W. Yeah.

(Fairclough, 1989:18)

Theoretically speaking, it is the witness who has information that would help arresting the criminal, and thus in one sense, the witness holds power. However, the social context - a policeman in a police station interviewing a member of the public- and the legal and social privileges he has put the policeman in a powerful position. The contents, relations and subject positions in the interview reflect the asymmetrical power relations and also maintain the reproduction of the dominant ideology. For example, even though W has had the difficult experience of witnessing an armed robbery P does not make any effort to mitigate the task of getting information, by the use of cushioning phrases such as ‘did you by any chance…’ etc. To the contrary, P’s questions are bald (1), unmitigated and directly put (5, 7, 11). P is more concerned with the norms of form-filling and ignores the sensitive nature of the situation. For this reason, in most cases his questions are reduced to words or minimal phrases (5, 7). Moreover, P does not thank W for the information she supplies; P assumes that supplying information on the part of P is compulsory, and thus its provision is taken for granted. Further, when W wants to answer in her own way P interrupts (5 and 11) without even apologizing. And when W expresses concern about her children (8) P gives a minimal answer, not acknowledging her problem and immediately reasserts his control with another question relevant to the only topic he considers worthy (9) (Fairclough, 1989:18-9).

The unequal relationships in the interview above, says Fairclough, are not arbitrary but they stem from the nature of police/ public relation in society. It is social conventions which distribute power and determine the way people should look at and talk to each other. To put it differently, it is social structures and conditions which determine the properties of discourse. However, these conventions and power relations are not fixed and unalterable. Fairclough (1989: 19) remarks that these power relations could undergo a dramatic change if some members of a community were elected by other members of this same community to act as police officers on a triennial renewable basis, then it is very probable that police/public relations would also dramatically change.

Thus, CDA’s ultimate purpose is to uncover opaque as well as transparent structural relationships of hegemony, dominance, discrimination, power and control as manifested in language. To put it in other words, the objective of CDA is to deconstruct social inequality as it is expressed, constructed, and legitimized by language use in text and talk. Most critical discourse analysts would thus agree with Habermas’ claim that ‘language is also a medium of domination and social force. It serves to legitimize relations of organized power [and in this way] language is also ideological’ (Habermas, 1967 cited in Weiss & Wodak, 2003: 15).

2.6 Major Approaches to CDA

Discourse is not a mono-dimensional thing; it is the outcome of many factors: there are discourses which are politically loaded, those that are historically oriented, or else others that have political, cultural, social, ethnic, and cognitive implications. Thus, there is more than one approach to CDA; every scholar in the field of CDA tends to focus on the specific dimension of discourse they are interested in, or use the approach they see as the most effective. As far as approaches to CDA are concerned, one can say that there are, roughly speaking, three major approaches: (i) Fairclough’s linguistic approach, (ii) Wodak’s historical approach, and (iii) van Dijk’s cognitive approach.

2.6.1 Fairclough’s Linguistic Approach:

Fairclough’s critical approach to discourse has three levels: the first level is discourse-as-text, the second level is discourse-as-discursive-practice, and the third level is discourse-as-social-practice (Blommaert, 2005: 29). In the first level, that is discourse-as-text, Fairclough investigates discourse by using Halliday’s systemic functional grammar (Tracy et al, 2011:250). This kind of analysis focuses on the syntactic characteristics of the language used in discourse, such as transitivity, nominalization, modality, metaphors, agency, passive voice… etc ( cf. section 2.10 for more details). In the second level, discourse-as-discursive-practice, discourse is studied as something produced, distributed and consumed in society. In this respect, the emphasis is put on, first, the speech acts (i.e., what the text is being used to do socially), second, on coherence (i.e., how the target audience are able to infer meaningful relationships and to understand the discourse as a whole), and third, on intertextuality (i.e., how texts are related historically to other texts.) All these three aspects relate discourse to its wider social context (Fairclough, 1992: 83-5).

In the third level, discourse-as-social-practice, discourse is looked at from a Marxist perspective by using the concepts of ideology and hegemony. In other words, Fairclough traces the ideological effects and hegemonic processes through which the discourse operates. As to the type of issue he is most interested in, Fairclough has been mainly concerned with issues such as globalization, new liberalism, new capitalism, and mass media.

2.6.2 Wodak’s Historical Approach:

Wodak (2001) has developed an approach to CDA she calls the “discourse-historical approach”. This approach integrates all available information on the historical and political topics and texts; it attempts to integrate much available knowledge about the historical sources and the background of the social and political fields in which discursive ‘events’ are shaped. Further, it analyzes the historical dimension of discursive actions by exploring the ways in which particular genres of discourse are subject to diachronic change (Wodak & Meyer, 2001: 65). This approach, according to which 'discourse . . . is always historical... connected synchronically and diachronically with other communicative events which are happening at the same time or which have happened before' (Wodak & Ludwig 1999: 12), is, to some extent, similar to Fairclough's notion of intertextuality.

The basic features of the discourse-historical approach may be summarized as follows: First, setting and context should be recorded as accurately as possible, since discourse can only be described, understood and interpreted in its specific context. Second, the content of an utterance must be analyzed in the light of historical events and facts. Third, texts must be described as precisely as possible at all linguistic levels; in this description argumentation theory, rhetoric, and Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar are combined (Wodak & Meyer, 2001: 69-70).

2.6.3 Van Dijk’s Cognitive Approach:

Van Dijk’s approach to CDA is cognition-oriented; he claims that constraining critical analysis of discourse to systemic functional linguistics is not enough. This is because this kind of linguistic analysis would neglect other dimensions of discourse, such as social representations and mental perceptions. Analyzing syntactic structures, verbal processes, metaphors is not enough, for a good analysis of these discourse properties themselves requires a good knowledge of the socially and culturally shared representations of the people adopting such or such discourse (van Dijk, 2001:114). For instance, a discourse which marginalizes women’s status in society cannot be understood only by conducting a linguistic analysis (as we have seen with Fairclough), but also by studying the mental cognition of the person behind that discourse, and also by investigating society’s representation of women. The linguistic side of discourse is only a part of the discursive strategies that the discourse uses to marginalize women in society. Hence, the importance of approaching discourses from representational and cognitive perspectives. Van Dijk argues that “it is through mental models of everyday discourse such as conversation, news reports, and textbook that we acquire our knowledge of the world, our socially-shared attitudes and finally our ideologies and fundamental norms or values (van Dijk, 2001:114).

Van Dijk has applied his cognitive approach to the study of issues such as racism and ethnic prejudice in everyday talk and elite discourse. Van Dijk (1984; 1987) has studied the way (White) speakers reproduce racism in ordinary conversation and how stories about immigrants in the Netherlands and the United States (Van Dijk, 1993b) are controlled by mental categories such as the group membership of the storyteller, and how storytelling about other ethnic groups is dominated by an Us versus Them dichotomy.

He has also introduced the concept of context models into CDA theory of discourse; context models are the mental representations of the structures of the communicative situations that are discursively relevant for a participant. These context models control the ‘pragmatic’ part of discourse, whereas event models do so with the ‘semantic’ part. According to van Dijk (2001: 114-6), there are three forms of social representations relevant to the understanding of discourse, namely knowledge (personal, group, cultural beliefs), attitudes (shared opinions about an issue like immigration, abortion, etc), and finally ideologies. Discourses take place within society, and can only be understood in the interaction of social context, action, actor and societal structures. In other words, van Dijk uncovers unequal power relations in discourse and social structure by investigating social representations.

Unlike Fairclough’s linguistic approach, van Dijk’s cognitive approach assumes that there are crucial theoretical reasons why social representations should be analyzed as the link or interface between discourse and society: firstly discourse is actually produced/interpreted by individuals who understand it on the basis of socially shared knowledge and beliefs; secondly discourse can only affect social structures through the social minds of discourse participants; and thirdly, social structures can only influence discourse structures through social cognition.

2.7 How does a CDA-analyst conduct Critical Analysis?

Fairclough (1989:26) suggests a concrete method for analyzing discourse critically. The method consists of three stages, namely description, interpretation and explanation. Description is the stage which analyses the linguistic features of the text; interpretation is an analysis of the relationship between the discourse processes (the processes of production and interpretation) and the text; explanation is an analysis of the social determination of the processes of production and interpretation, and their social effects. Below is a detailed description of the three stages or dimensions of critical analysis of discourse:

2.7.1 Description: Text Analysis

As has already been mentioned above (cf. section 2.7), in the Description stage a text is analyzed by drawing upon linguistic features. It is the stage which is concerned with language analysis that raises our awareness of power relations and discourse effects. Fairclough claims that the powerful participants in media discourse or any discourse control our minds by using some rhetoric and discursive strategies. For this reason, he suggests investigating many linguistic strategies in relation to power and ideology, such as the selection of particular grammar structures (e.g. transitivity and passive voice); modality; lexical choice; cohesion (e.g. lexical cohesion); informational structuring (e.g. foregrounding or backgrounding of information); making certain voices heard or marginalized; being polite (face and solidarity).( I will elaborate on many of these linguistic concepts with many more examples and details in the coming sections.)

In order to unravel a text and shed light on how power and ideology operates within it, Fairclough (1989:110-11) divides the descriptive stage into three sub sections, each section with some sub-questions that can be used in discourse analysis:


1- What experiential values do words have?
2- What relational values do words have?
3- Are there euphemistic expressions?
4- Are there markedly formal or informal words?
5- What expressive values do words have?
6- What metaphors are used?


1- What experiential value do grammatical features have?
2- What types of processes and participants predominate?
3- Are sentences active or passive?
4- Are sentences positive or negative?
5- What relational values do grammatical features have?
6- What modes are used?
6- Are the pronouns we and you used, and if so, how?
7- What expressive values do grammatical features have?
8- How are simple sentences linked together?
9- What logical connectors are used?
10- Are complex sentences characterized by coordination or subordination?

Textual structures

1- What interactional conventions are used?
2- What large-scale structure does the text have?

These are some of the question-tools that can be used at the description stage. However, as Fairclough says, these questions are not holy writ; they are just guidelines for a good critical analysis of discourse; one has to think about other questions and tools to conduct deeper analyses.

2.7.2 Interpretation

The interpretation stage makes a link between the kind of language used in the text (written or spoken) and its meanings in the social context; Fairclough asserts that the linguistic properties of text are cues which activate elements of members’ resources; that is, the background knowledge, beliefs, common-sense assumptions of the people receiving the text (Fairclough, 1989: 141). However, says Fairclough, many of these members’ resources (i.e.; assumptions, beliefs, knowledge…etc) are ideological and controlled by power relations and social institutions.

By working on this stage, the discourse analyst reveals the way the text producer and target receiver use specific background knowledge systems and ideological beliefs in order to make the text as credible or common sensical.

2.7.3 Explanation

The third and last stage of critical analysis is the explanation stage. According to Fairclough (1989) the purpose of this stage is to describe a discourse as it reflects a social process, a social practice and showing how that discourse is closely related to the social structures and the effects of this discourse on changing or sustaining those social practices or structures (Fairclough, 1989: 163).

For an illustration of the relevance of these three stages to the critical analysis of discourse and how they can be implemented, consider the following newspaper article:

Quarry load-shedding problem

Unsheeted lorries from Middlebarrow Quarry were still causing problems by shedding stones on their journey through Warton Village, members of the parish council heard at their September meeting. The council’s observations have been sent to the quarry management and members are hoping to see an improvement.

(Lancaster Guardian, Sept.12th, 1986, cited in Fairclough, 1989:50)

As reported in this newspaper article, in the mid-1980s, the locals in a Lancashire village were not very happy about driving along stony roads, and the source of this problem was the lorries from a nearby quarry. From a descriptive perspective, one can see that the title of the article, “Quarry load-shedding problem,” is ‘nominalised,’ the verb is expressed in the form of a noun, as if it were an ‘entity’. Fairclough remarks that this grammatical form; that is putting a verb in the form of a noun gives an effect of blurring the matter, hiding the agent in shedding loads to be shed. One cannot tell from this nominalised title who or what is making the shedding of stones, causality is unspecified (Fairclough, 1989: 51).

The article gives some information about the problem, but there are many things that need clarification. The agency is attributed to ‘unsheeted lorries from Middlebarrow Quarry.’ This formulation itself makes causality unspecified. The expression ‘unsheeted’ suggests the failure of a process to happen- someone did not put sheets over the loads, when they ought to have been done so. The lorries in this context serve as one form of metaphor, standing for someone (or an inanimate instrument of someone) who are behind the scene and are actually responsible for the incident. Fairclough argues that the ‘hidden agents’ are presumably ‘the quarry management,’ who are, as found in the second paragraph of the article, the recipients of the council’s ‘observation.’ In other words, the inanimate lorries are strategically and ideologically used “to ‘impersonalise’ the hidden but real agents” (Yamamoto, 2006: 25).

Fairclough's analysis, as shown in the lorries’ article above, moves back and forth between text analysis (description) and power relations among the people in the event (interpretation), showing that the interpretation as well as the linguistic features of the article are determined by the discourse practices of the particular social institution within which they take place. A description that failed to take into account the discourse practices of the social institution would reveal features such as nominalization, hiding agency but not provide an understanding of their meaning with regard to power relations among the participants. The article is produced not only by the individual journalist officer, but also by the social institution. Its consumption --what it does, its effects-- cannot be isolated to the individual journalist involved because it serves to maintain power relations between the company management (as a powerful social institution) and journalists and between journalists and their readers.


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Language and Power in the Discourse of an Islamist Thinker
A Case Study
University Hassan II. Casablanca  (the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences - Ain Chock)
Language and Society
with honours
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language, power, discourse, islamist, thinker, case, study
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Brahim Hiba (Author), 2012, Language and Power in the Discourse of an Islamist Thinker, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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