A critical discourse analysis of power and ideology

Scientific Essay, 2011

31 Pages, Grade: 4


Table Of Content

1. Introduction

2. Theories and Definitions of Power

3. Theories of power

4. Definitions of Power

5. Power and CDA
5.1 Ideological Power
5.2 Commonsensical Power
5.3 Symbolic Power

6 Power and other approaches
6.1 Power and Conversational Analysis
6.2 Power and pragmatics

7 The Exercise of Power

8. Domination

9 Conclusion


This paper has shown the relations of CDA to Power and Ideology, trying to present the most common theories of power, by which the term power can be defined. Though it is difficult to find an agreed definition of power because its concept is essentially contested, all approaches are true and there are general understandings among them: first the operation of power is the ability to get an individual to behave or not to behave in a particular manner and the ability to achieve one's goals while denying others access to the same. Second, modern power is persuasive and manipulative rather than coercive (i.e., using of force), or incentive, such as the explicit issuing of commands, orders, threats or economic sanctions. Third, Power can be ideological, commonsensical, or symbolic, and within these confines, it can operate at a range of different levels: the social, individual, military, state-based, legal, and so on. Fourth, although the process of power may be realized in different ways and in different social environments, the resources of power utilized may not be of the same type. Fifth, some individuals or groups may access or use strategic resources to maintain a position and a status of power over others.

Key Words: CDA, Power, Ideology, domination, dominance, commonsense, naturalization.

CDA, Power, and Ideology

The strongest is never strong enough always to be master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty. (Jean-Jacques Roussea, The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, 1762)

1. Introduction

This paper explores the relations between CDA , power, and ideology. In so doing, an overview on the relation of CDA to different theories and views of power will be presented in such a way that helps deliver a definition of power that CDA tries to show: a struggle of learning, of controlling others and being controlled by them. CDA takes a particular interest in the relationship between language and power (Fairclough, 1989; Wodak, 2001) because 'it is usually in language that discriminatory practices are enacted, in language that unequal relations of power are constituted and reproduced, and in language that social asymmetries may be challenged and transformed (Blacledge, 2005, p. 5). In CDA, language both reflects and recreates power providing a useful starting point of knowledge for how power is exercised and practiced. It also involves knowledge, representation, ideas, cultural leadership and authority. Language, in this respect, is not simply a tool of communication, but a means by which people demonstrate their commitment, in one way or another, to certain ideologies. Birch (1991) affirmed such a view, arguing that language through saying, telling, showing, referring, controlling, doing and so on, is always about action and interaction, always about power and control. Power seems to be understood in broader symbolic terms, including the power to represent someone or something in a certain way, and the exercise of symbolic power through representational practices (Hall, 1981).

The intended power here is not the physical power (e.g., naked power) that is based on force and fear, coercing people into submission, but the one that goes beyond such very limited relations to be the means by which people communicate to make effect and change.

2. Theories and Definitions of Power

This section has two tasks. First, it explores different views of power that began in social science with Karl Marx (1818-1883), then moves to psychology by Alfred Adler (1870- 1937), and to philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844- 1900). Then, it introduces definitions of power that arise in different contexts of these theories. However, the focus will be on contemporary theorists for whom power is the central concept in their thinking and their theories contain elements suitable for the development of CDA as theory.

3. Theories of power

Following Stewart Clegg (1989), Elisheva Sadan (1997) pointed out that historically there are two different traditions dealing with power, one beginning with the theories of power that early started before First World War by Nicollò Machiavelli (1469- 1527) in early 16th century and the other with Thomas Hobbes (1588- 1679) in mid-17th century. Whereas Machiavelli represented the strategic and decentralized thinking about power and organization, Hobbes developed his approach of the sovereignty of the state and the fundamentals of European liberal thought. Hobbes also introduced the right of the individual and the natural equality of all men in the state, distinguishing between it and civil society, the view that called for all legitimate political power must be representative and based on the consent of the people and for a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid (Sadan, 1997). For him, society is a population beneath a sovereign authority, to whom all individuals in that society leave some rights for the sake of protection. Any abuses of power by this authority are to be interpreted by the powerful and be accepted by the powerless as the price of peace. In this precept, the sovereign state controls civil, military, judicial and religious powers.

After the Second World War, the study of power was directed to understand the ruling élites in researches such as Charles Wright Mills (1956). Elitist theory may go back to Karl Marx (1859), in which he sees power concentrated in the ruling class and is rooted in economics. Mills (1956) argues that power and control are limited to people who have disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, and access to decision-making at the pinnacles of political, military, and economic institutions, noting that these people share a common world view. He called such a group of people 'the power elite'. For him, the power elite may include various members of the corporate community, academia, politicians, media editors, military service personnel, and high-profile journalists. He argues that the US power elite consists of members of society characterized by consensus building and the homogenization of viewpoints. This power elite has historically dominated the three major sectors of US society: economy, government, and military. Elites circulate from one sector to another, consolidating their power as they go. According to Mills, the governing elite in the US primarily draws its members from three areas: first, the highest political leaders (including the president) and a handful of key cabinet members and close advisers; second, major corporate owners and directors; and third, high ranking military officers. The elite occupies what Mills terms the top command posts of society (Powell, 2007).

As a pluralist, Weber (1947) developed more organizational thinking than that of Machiavelli and Hobbes. His approach to power arises from his interest in bureaucracy and authority. He introduces the positive side of power in his concept of legitimacy (Erkki Berndtson, 1995). He also pointed out that power can be turned to be an authority, where the exercise of power is regarded by people as legitimate and where the state is regarded as an institution which has the monopoly of force.

Robert Dahl (1961) adopted Weber’s approach, locating the discussion of power within the boundaries of an actual community. According to his 'theory of community power', power is exercised in a community by a particular concrete individual, while other individuals are prevented from doing what they prefer to do. It is also exercised in order to cause those who are subject to it to follow the private preferences of those who possess it. Such view is called a pluralistic view of power, in which all the community interests are represented by means of open processes. Dahl has been taken as a main representative of this approach to the study of power (Ricci, 1971), which is mainly about political decision-making in democracy and is the production of obedience to the preferences of others, including an expansion of the preferences of those subject to it so as to include those preferences (Berndtson, 1995).

As a critique of Dahl's power community, Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz (1962) developed their model of 'the two faces of power'. They dealt mainly with the connection between the overt face of power when decisions are made and covert face of power, which shows the ability to prevent such decisions. They have a doubt as to whether the decision-making process is really democratic and open as Dahl assumed (Sudan, 2004).

In the seventies, Steven Lukes (1974) developed the thought about power in terms of decision-making, and shifted the discussion from community power to a focus on power as such, by introducing three-dimension model: the overt, the convert, and the latent dimensions of power. He attempted to answer questions, such as how do the powerful secure the compliance of those they dominate and how do they secure their willing compliance? He attempted to address power theoretically and study it empirically, which continues to be a fundamental question for scholars of sociology, political science, and CDA who investigate power relations in any sociological or political arena. For him, power is seen as the imposition of internal constraints, and those subject to it acquire beliefs that result in their consent or their adaptation to domination, by either coercive or non-coercive forms (Sudan, 2004). He also developed mechanisms of power with each dimension that will be later discussed in detail under 2.2.1 section of this paper.

Lukes (2005) broadly clarified his view of power, expanding it to be a capacity rather than the exercise of such a capacity. For him, power can be held even where it is not used or needed. He sketched power in three conceptual maps in which he introduced the pluralist view of power, which he called 'the one - dimensional of power, as well as the view of critics of pluralism, which he called the 'two - dimensional of power'; and added a third view, which he called the three - dimensional view of power. According to Lukes, the one and two-dimensional views of power are limited in that they focus only on observable conflicts, whether overt or covert respectively. Lukes claimed that A can also exercise power over B by influencing, shaping, or determining his wants and preferences. He argued that power can be also exercised by preventing grievances: by shaping perceptions, cognitions, and preferences in such a way as to secure the acceptance of the status quo since no alternative appears to exist, or because it is seen as natural and unchangeable, or even beneficial.

Michel Foucault (1979) extended the discussion of the concept of power in terms of two principles: the first is the decentralization of power position and the other is disciplinary power and knowledge. His approach rejected the belief in the existence of an ordered and regulating rational agency. According to Foucault, the discussion of power should include more widespread intellectual preoccupation in all fields. Therefore, he investigated the concept of power in new fields, such medicine, psychiatry, penology, and human sexuality. His works are now widely extended and applied to the criticism of literature, art and film, semiotics, feminist analysis, social history, and theories of planning.

In contrast to Marxism and Marxist sociology, which sees power concentrated in the ruling class and rooted in economics and involves class struggle, Foucault sees that power is not located in the state apparatus but in individuals. He is also antagonistic to the Marxist concept of ideology, because he thinks that it always stands in virtual opposition to something else which is supposed to count as truth. For him, analyses which prioritize ideology trouble him because they always presuppose a human subject on the lines of the model provided by classical philosophy. In addition, ideology stands in a secondary position relative to something which functions as its base, as its material economic determinant (Sudan, 2004).

Foucault, therefore, stresses the importance of local study of discourse to analyze its power as nothing is meaningful outside discourse, following somehow a structuralist point of view. He also argues that knowledge is power over others and knowledge that defines others. In this view, knowledge ceases to be a liberation and becomes a mode of surveillance, regulation, and discipline. Modern power operates through the construction of 'new' capacities and modes of activity rather than through the limitation of pre-existing ones and the exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new objects of knowledge.

Following Foucault, Anthony Giddens (1982) developed his approach as an inclusive social theory which he called 'structuration or duality of structure' (Sadan, 2004). In this view, power is exercised by human agents and is also created by them, influences them, and limits them. In other words, power is not a quality or a resource of people, or a position in the social structure, but a social factor which influences both these components of human society and is also created by them.

All these theories, which burst from social discourse and penetrated into all the domains of human activities, participate in forming the following definitions of power as a term.

4. Definitions of Power

Theoretically, the roots of the concept of power have been grounded in political theory and political philosophy and is always defined in terms of two general theories: pluralist and elitist. The two approaches focused on different problems. Pluralists have seen power as an influence that can be studied empirically through political process. Elitists have not given much thought on political process as such, but have tried to analyze resources and effects of power (Erkki, 1995). Pluralist theory started with Machiavelli (1469- 1527) and Hobbes (1588- 1679), whereas elitist theory came after Second World War with writers, such as Charles Wright Mills (1956).

Machiavelli represented the strategic and decentralized thinking about power and organization. He saw power as a means, not a resource, and sought strategic advantages, such as military ones. Power, for Machiavelli, was a desirable final end, but for Hobbes, it was centralized and focused on sovereignty of the state (Sudan, 2004). However, Hobbes moved the focus of power from the community or the group to the individual to be presented as a position of will, as a supreme factor to which the wills of others are subject (Clegg, 1989). Hobbes (1968) put his definition of power universally: 'the power of a man is his present means, to obtain some future apparent good' ( p. 150).

After the Second World War, power was a central concept only in the political sciences (Clegg, 1989). Weber (1978, p. 180) stated that power is "the chance of the man or number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action". For Weber, power is seen as the authority that a participant would have in a legitimate position to carry out his will despite resistance to it and the exercise of power is dependent on a person’s will, even in opposition to someone else’s (Clegg, 1989). He claimed that power is a factor of domination that depends on economic or authoritarian interests and introduced three sources to make such power legitimate and acceptable: the charismatic, the traditional, and the rational-legal. He saw the organizational power of the bureaucracy as the source of the mechanization and routinization of human life, and as a threat to the freedom of the human spirit. He also predicted that this organizational form, as a power instrument, would prevent the appearance of more democratic forms of organization.

Following Weber's view of the organization and its structures, Dahl (1961) located the discussion of power within the boundaries of an actual community. He developed the interest in understanding ruling élites, which appeared after the Second World War (Mills, 1956). According to his "theory of community power", Dahl defined power as the ability to make somebody do something that otherwise he or she would not have done and assigned its aim in the production of the powerless participants' obedience (i.e., to change their preferences and options). In other words, power is exercised in a community by a particular group, while other individuals are prevented from doing what they prefer to do and the purpose of this exercise is to cause those who are subject to it to follow the private preferences of those who possess the power. Following Hobbes, Dahl (1961) put the following definitions of power, showing the conditions in which one (A) has power over another one (B) if that "A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do." (p. 80).

Bachrach and Baratz (1962) provided their model of 'the two faces of power' as a response to Dahl's pluralist theory. They dealt mainly with the connection between the overt face of power, which is the way decisions are made, and the covert face of power, which is the ability to prevent decision making. They defined power as the ability to make decisions and to determine what is important and unimportant in the process. Lukes (1974, 2005) developed and added to Bachrach and Baratz's view a third dimension. For Lukes, power is defined as the latent capability which reveals the true interests of the powerful politicians and the ability to implant in people’s minds interests that are contrary to their own good. Here, Lukes Followed Dahl's overt face and Bachrach and Baratz’s covert face to provide a practical analysis of power. For him, the analyst must relate to the entire political agenda in addition to open decisions and non-decisions, in order to examine its adequacy to the true interests of various groups. Power is seen as the production of intended results, of which the powerful participant is the one who is able to achieve and exercise power intentionally in such a way that the intended action is against the will of the second person.

Peter Morriss (2002) pointed out that powerful people are those who know their capacities and the capacities of others in order to achieve desired outcomes. Following Lukes (1974), he researched the phenomenon of social power that based on Luke's theory, adding a third dimension of power that is hidden or implicit, but it enables the powerful to affect others' interests. For him, The purpose of power is to prevent other individuals from participating in the decision-making processes and to obtain their silent and passive agreement as evidence of a mute compliance. Morris pointed out that power may circulate through resistance when such mute compliance is violated implicitly if powerless participants desire to participate, or explicitly if they refuse the outcome decisions.

5. Power and CDA

These theories of power have provided various strategies and mechanisms of power that can be extracted and highlighted in relation to CDA. Power in CDA is everywhere and no language in use can ever be 'neutral' or 'objective' (Fairclough, 1989) and no discourse can ever be free of power and the exercise of power (Watts, 1992). Power is not derived from language, but language can be used to challenge power, to provide a finely articulated means for differences in power in social hierarchical structures. language is not powerful on its own, but gains power by the use powerful people make of it as Deborah Cameron (2001) (in Muralikrishnan 2011, p.23) says, "words can be powerful: the institutional authority to categorize people is frequently inseparable from the authority to do things to them”. Following Cameron (2001), Muralikrishnan (2011) pointed out that a great deal of power and social control in the modern age is exercised not by brute physical force or even by economic coercion, but by the activities of "experts" who are licensed to define, describe and classify things and people.

In this perspective, individuals are the vehicles of power, not its point of application (Foucault, 1980). Power not only constraints and prevents: it is also productive. It produces new discourses, new kinds of knowledge, it shapes new practices and institutions. It is to be found everywhere and it cannot be thought of in terms of one group having a monopoly of power, simply radiating power downwards on a subordinate group by an exercise of simple domination from above. It includes the dominant and the dominated within its circuits. Foucault (1972) believes that power circulates: everyone, the powerful and the powerless, is caught up in power’s circulation. Everyone is involved in its field of operation. In other words, we are all, to some degree, caught up in power and its circulation—oppressors and oppressed.

Fairclough (1995) argued that power can be conceptualized both in terms of asymmetries between participants in discourse events, and in terms of unequal capacity to control how texts are produced, distributed and consumed in particular social contexts. This type of power mainly stems from ideology, the knowledge that enables persons or groups to carry out their will, or to influence others in spite of their resistance (Andersen, 1988; Fairclough, 1989). Now the question is shifted from what is power to what are the features of power that may provide insight to its inner nature? What are the different relations of power and how do participants exercise it? The scope of CDA involves the study of power (Fairclough, 1989, 1992, 2005; van Dijk, 1992, 1995) and may be affected by various types of power and may use them in its critical analysis.

Muralikrishnan (2011) showed different types of power as he pointed out that the acquisition of power, and the enforcement of one's belief can be achieved in a number of ways; one obvious method is through physical coercion or by indirect means of coercion through the legal system. However it is often much more effective to persuade people to act voluntarily in the way one wants, i.e., to exercise power through the manufacture of consent or at least the readiness to accept it. To do so, an ideology needs to be established. One which makes the beliefs which one wants people to hold appear to be “common sense”, thus making it difficult for them to question that dominant ideology. As such, the following types of power need to be presented in detail: ideological power, commonsensical power, and symbolic power.

5.1 Ideological Power

Power is no longer the product of conscious individuals acting together and against each other by force and coercion, but it is the product of many unconscious social pressures and disguising features of ideology (Andersen, 1988). Thompson (1990) pointed out that the concept of ideology, when first appeared in late eighteenth-century France and continued for two centuries, gave a range of different functions and meanings at different times, but it always refers to social forms and processes within which, and by means of which, symbolic forms circulate in the social world. Fairclough, (1989) shows that this type of ideology is always defined in terms of two schools: one belongs to the USA and Britain after the second world war as "any social policy which is in part or in whole derived from social theory in a conscious way'. The other comes from Marxist tradition: 'ideologies are ideas which arise from a given set of material interests' in the course of the struggle for power' (Fairclough, 1989, p. 94). Whorf (1956) claimed that language and thinking are interdependent and language has a strong effect on one's thinking and worldview. The Whorfian hypothesis suggested that language "is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas…" (p. 212). Language, in its discourse form, shapes the way people think (the worldview) and it is reflected by their thought. In this respect, ideology creates reality and forms its culture (i.e., ideas, customs, and skills that distinguish a given group of people) (Whorf, 1956).


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A critical discourse analysis of power and ideology
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CDA, power, ideoloy, critical discourse
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Anwar Elsharkawy (Author), 2011, A critical discourse analysis of power and ideology, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/350636


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