The Discourse of Globalization - Shifts in the discursive Representation of Economic Globalization in the United States - Two Examples

Thesis (M.A.), 2006

99 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Discourse: Theoretical and methodological perspectives
2.1 What is Discourse?
2.1.1 General Usage
2.1.2 Structural Linguistics
2.1.3 Habermas’ Normative Approach to Discourse
2.1.4 Michel Foucault’s Discourse Theory
2.1.4 Post-Marxist Perspectives on Discourse
2.2 Methodological Perspectives
2.2.1 Historical Semantics
2.2.2 Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)
2.3 Methodological Framework

3. The Discursive Framework
3.1 Discursive Framework I: Economic Data
3.1.1 Global Economic Trends
3.1.2 The United States and the Global Economy
3.2 Discursive Framework II: The Globalization Debate
3.2.1 The Globalist Perspective
3.2.2 The Sceptic Perspective
3.2.3 The Transformationalist Perspective
3.3 Summary

4. Analysis
4.1 Discursive Events
4.1.1 The Foundation of the WTO
4.1.2 The “Battle of Seattle”
4.1.3 The Terrorist Attacks on the World Trade Center
4.2 The Corpus
4.3 General Overview
4.3.1 Step I: General Word Count
4.3.2 Step II: Word Count Regarding Discursive Events
4.3.3 Step III: Connotations of the Term “Globalization”
4.4 Textual Analysis
4.4.1 Selection of Sample Texts
4.4.2 Text Analysis and Interpretation
4.5 Summary

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

Figures and tables:

Figure 2.1: Structural linguistic model of sign representation

Figure 2.2: Habermas’ Model of Communicative Action

Figure 2.3: Fairclough’s concept of discourse analysis

Figure 3.1: Worldwide value of exports and imports

Figure 3.2: Share of exports and imports

Figure 3.3: Worldwide Foreign Direct Investment Flows

Figure 3.4: FDI and portfolio investments in developing countries

Figure 3.5: US unemployment rate

Figure 3.6: Annual changes in total employment across sectors

Figure 3.7: US Trade Deficit

Figure 3.8: Publications including the term “globalization”

Figure 4.1: Word count “globalization”

Figure 4.2: Distribution of the word “globalization” across discursive events

Figure 4.3: Foundation of the WTO. Connotations of the term “globalization”

Figure 4.4: “The Battle of Seattle”. Connotations of the term “globalization”

Figure 4.5: September 11 - Connotations of the term “globalization”

Table 2.1: Discourse analysis according to Siegfried Jäger

Table 2.2: Methodological framework

Table 3.1: Discursive Framework

1. Introduction

The term globalization1 has gained a lot of prominence during the last two decades. First introduced into the public and academic debate in the 1960s, it has become a “buzz-word” indicating widespread changes in the realms of politics, culture and, most important, economies around the world since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the bi-polar system in the early 1990s. However, after having been discussed for more than two decades, the concept of globalization still is a contentious issue in public debate as well as in academic circles. In fact, looking at the vast amount of, often quite contradictory, literature on the topic, globalization can be regarded as one of the most controversially discussed issues in the public and academic sphere.2 Controversies not only exist regarding the question of who benefits from the, vaguely defined, globalization process, but also regarding the very basic question whether globalization really exists or is just an exaggerated view on a process which has taken place for a long time (Held et al. 1999, Hirst and Thompson 1996,Ohmae 1990).

Research Question

Given this huge continuum of different ideas and explanatory attempts from various disciplines like economics, political science, sociology, philosophy, history, etc., in this study I seek to develop a trans-disciplinary approach, combining the aforementioned perspectives with insights drawn from linguistics. From this perspective, the main questions addressed in this study are concerned with the relationship between language and the representation of the concept of globalization in a discursive context. In this respect, two main aspects are prevalent in the following chapters. First, there is the question of how the discursive representation of globalization has changed over time. In this context I limited the scope of my study to the discourse in the United States as the US economy is the largest in the world therefore the debate about globalization can be expected to be rather extensive. Given this selection it is important to note that the findings displayed in this study are not meant to represent an overall account of the discourse of globalization throughout the world. The perspective presented here is just one among many.

Coming back to my research interest, the second focal point of this study is to take a closer look at the conditions and mechanisms involved in the aforementioned change of representation. In this context, I will show that social reality plays a crucial role in the process of these changes. This is to say that discourses do not change by themselves, but that social constellations and events are involved. This then leads to the concept of power relations, which also will be discussed in relation to discursive changes.

Research Design

In order to analyse the aforementioned aspects, it is necessary to establish a theoretical and methodological framework and to find suitable data for a textual analysis. In chapter 2 I therefore give a brief overview of the prevalent theories concerned with the relationship between discourse and the social sciences with a special focus on the work of Michel Foucault. The theoretical perspectives displayed in this chapter form the basis for the methodological aspects discussed later in this chapter. Based on the different discourse analytical approaches I then construct the methodological framework used in this study.

Another important aspect in the analysis of discourses is the environment in which they are embedded which will be discussed in chapter 3. In this context I examine two aspects of this environment, namely the development of the global economy during the analysed time period and the academic debate regarding the globalization process. The framework established in this chapter together with the methodological aspects discussed in chapter 2 form the basis of the data analysis in chapter 4. Due to the fact that my main interest is in the development of the discourse of economic globalization, I selected two business magazines, i.e. The Economist and Business Week as sources for my study. The main parts of chapter 4 are a general overview of the development of the discourse of globalization in the two magazines followed by a deep analysis of selected texts. In this context, the analysis focuses on three discursive events, namely the foundation of the WTO in 1995, the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. In my concluding chapter the results of the study will be summarized and assessed according to their salience within the field of social sciences. In this context, it is important to note that the main focus of this study is to establish a theoretical and methodological framework that can be used for discourse analytical studies of social processes. Quoting Foucault, the aim of this study is to provide a “tool-kit” (Foucault 1972: 48) for further analysis In this sense, the actual data analysis in chapter 4 serves as an illustration of the process, rather than producing a conclusive result.

Before turning to the different theoretical approaches to discourse and their importance for this study, I will give a brief overview of the epistemological framework this paper is based on. This is necessary, since the discourse analytical approach is based on epistemological assumptions that have to be made clear in order to avoid confusion.

Epistemological framework

The discourse analytical approach to globalization is not just a new empirical method applied to make sense of observations gathered from the “real world”. Discourses are rather perceived as both constitutional and representational elements of reality. In other words, the ways reality is talked about influences the ways in which we perceive this reality and vice versa. In this conceptual framework, there is no objective truth “out there”, which can be used as a reference point to judge the validity of a certain theory, as proposed by scholars adhering to a positivist perspective.3 Language, in this context, plays an important role in the discursive construction of reality, which will be discussed more detailed in chapter 2.

Studying globalization from a discourse analytical perspective thus implies an epistemology based on post-positivist assumptions, namely the absence of truth and objectivity.4 Associated with theorists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault or Jean-François Lyotard, a post-positivist positivist epistemology implies that there is no “world out there”, i.e. that what we perceive as reality is a product of construction and that this construction is, directly or indirectly, rooted in language (Foucault 1972, Lyotard 1993, Royle 2003). This basic assumption regarding the role of language in the construction of social reality is fundamental to the study of discourses. In assuming that language is not merely a “transport vehicle” for meaning but rather a constitutive element of the social, this epistemological framework allows for the deconstruction of “reality”.

Apart from the importance of language in the process of the social construction of reality, the rejection of the concept of truth is a central element of the epistemological foundations of this study. The perspective towards the concept of truth can be seen in Michel Foucault’s following statement: “If I tell the truth about myself it is in part that I am constituted as a subject across a number of power relations which are exerted over me and which I exert over others” (Foucault 1988: 33). In this sense, the notion of objectivity advocated by positivism is rejected and replaced by the concept of the discursive construction of truth and reality.

2. Discourse: Theoretical and methodologi- cal perspectives

Discourse analysis, as discussed in the introductory chapter, cannot be reduced to its methodological application as a tool for analysing and interpreting observable facts in the “real world”. Using discourses as points of reference for research also implies a critical stance towards the question of how these observable facts came into being and why they are assumed to be true. The term discourse itself has become a buzz-word since the 1960s and is often used quite vaguely and ambiguously in a variety of contexts. Despite this ambiguity, I refer to discourses in this paper, because of their usefulness in describing the relationship between power and knowledge and to show that, to a certain extent, “reality” and “truth” are socially constructed rather than objectively measurable. In this chapter, I will therefore give an overview of the most significant theories in the field of discourse theory and analysis, before moving on to evaluate the different way, in which these theories have been applied in respect to methodology. I begin by giving a brief summary of the various usages of the term “discourse”, followed by a rough outline of the normative discourse theory developed by Jürgen Habermas. I then turn to the work the French Philosopher Michel Foucault, one of the “founding fathers”5 of discourse analysis, whose discourse theory is one of the central elements in my approach. After that, I give a brief overview of post-Marxist conceptualizations of discourse, which are the basis of the approach advocated by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. Together with insights drawn from other theorists of discourse analysis such as Siegfried Jäger and Norman Fairclough, who try to develop a methodology based on their respective discourse theories, I will then develop the theoretical and methodological framework used for my analysis of changes regarding the globalization discourse in the United States.

2.1 What is Discourse?

2.1.1 General Usage

There are no straightforward definitions of the terms „discourse“ or “discourse analysis”. This is mainly due to the fact that not only many different academic disciplines, such as linguistics or the social sciences, have discovered discourses as a field of enquiry and have correspondingly labelled it with their own respective connotations. The term discourse has also increasingly found its way into non-academic, journalistic and public usage (Keller et al. 2001; Phillips and Hardy 2002). There has, for example, been extensive media coverage on the “immigration discourse” in the early 1990s in Germany (Jäger 2004). However, the meaning of the term discourse in the setting of media coverage rather refers to (more or less) public, planned and organized discussion processes related to specific topics of general interest. In this case, the “immigration discourse” merely represents the way in which a certain topic is discussed at a certain point in time in a certain environment.

This usage of the term discourse is based on a perception of language rooted in structural linguistics. From this perspective, discourses are seen as “clusters” of texts dealing with the same topic and are independent from their subjects. Keeping to the example of “immigration” discourse, a structural linguistic approach is not so much interested in the different actors and the power relations involved in the production of texts constituting the discourse, but rather focuses on the inherent properties of these texts, such as argumentative strategies, grammar or stylistic devices, e.g. metaphors, alliterations etc.6 Given the fact that structural linguistics plays an important role in the usage of the term discourse in public debate, I will now draw a rough outline of the structural linguistic approach to discourse before moving on to examine different perspectives, such as the normative approach employed by Jürgen Habermas, the critical approach rooted in Michel Foucault’s work, and the post-Marxist perspective developed by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau.

2.1.2 Structural Linguistics

Structural linguistics, as mentioned before, perceives language as an independent system of interrelated signs. Based on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, language is regarded as an arbitrary connection of form (the signifier) and meaning (the signified). This differs radically from the perspective of post-structuralist perspectives on language, as proposed in the later work of Michel Foucault, for whom language is always motivated and the subject of particular conventions (Kress 2001). One important distinction applied by de Saussure is between language as practice (parole) and language as an independent system (langue). Thus, discourses are seen as manifestations of langue. Parole is thus reduced to the arbitrary assignment of speech acts to objects in the real world. However, there are also conventions involved in the production of meaning, as the following example shows:

The English word tree is, in French arbre, in German, baum [sic], showing, so Saussure asserted, that the same meaning can be expressed in different form; hence, he concluded, any form can be used to express any meaning, just so long as the relation of form and meaning is sustained by the force of convention. (Kress 2001: 31f; italics in the original) In structural linguistics, therefore, any systematic study of language must be a study of the system itself, dismissing the text in a speech situation as being arbitrarily constructed and therefore not useful as an object of analysis.7

Figure 2.1: Structural linguistic model of sign representation

illustration not visible in this excerpt

This approach to the study of language and the discourses they constitute has undergone criticism from various sides since the middle of the 20th century. Several problems inherent to structural linguistics were identified, with solutions varying from a total rejection of structuralism to attempting to enhance it by adding various elements. Two major issues featured prominently in the critical literature. Firstly, some critics argued that the static model of signification made it impossible to explain the creation of meaning as far as abstract terms like freedom or democracy are concerned (see figure 2.1)

Looking at the example displayed in figure 2.1, it becomes clear that for objects, which have a “touchable” equivalent in the “real world”, such as trees, houses, chairs, etc., the association between object and meaning can be explained by structural linguistics. The arbitrary sound pattern for tree, Baum, or arbre is bound to a mental image we have of the object. However, in the case of abstract objects, there is no such straightforward equivalent. Concepts such as freedom, democracy, or in my case, globalization evoke very different mental images. For some, freedom may be associated with mental images of people free from oppression, for others the same sound pattern may manifest itself as the mental image of unrestricted opportunities of enterprise, and another group of people may associate freedom with religious values.

This shortcoming of Saussure’s structuralist model was mainly addressed without questioning the basic assumptions of structural linguistics; namely, the independence and arbitrariness of language. In an attempt to modify Saussure’s theory to accommodate abstract sign relations, the work of Charles Sanders Peirce features prominently. Specifically, Peirce developed a more complex version of the signifier- signified-model, while remaining in the structuralist paradigm.8

The second major aspect, criticized mainly by critical socio-linguists in the 1960s and 1970s, is the structuralist view of language as an independent system, which is not affected by the text or its producer (Fowler 1979, Gumperz 1982, Halliday 1978, van Dijk 1977). In this school of thought, labelled critical linguistics, structure remains the principal object of analysis, but is not independent from texts or agents. In this context, the notion of power as analytical category is introduced into the structuralist paradigm and is seen as a central point for the study of language and therefore, discourses as well. The focus on actors within language structures marked a shift towards a more social view of language, according to which “[a]ll (linguistic) interaction is shaped by power differences of varying kinds, and no part of linguistic action escapes its effects” (Kress 2001: 34). In other words, linguistic interaction is a socially shaped resource which gives the individual opportunity to make choices, and thereby generate meaning. These choices, however, are subject to certain constraints shaped by the distribution of power within the system. Therefore power and power differences are regarded as the generative principle producing linguistic form and difference. Given these assumptions, the linguistic sign, in contrast to Saussure’s theory, carries the meaning of the environment in which it was produced, and represents the interest of the sign-producing individual. In short, critical linguistics can be subsumed as a “response to an implausible theory of language, and of meaning, where form is central, meaning is marginal, and the linguistic is autonomous from the social” (Kress 2001: 37).

This brief overview of the theoretical elaborations and changes structural linguistics has undergone shows that the concept of structuralism itself is rather heterogeneous. The approach to language, developed in critical sociolinguistics, can be regarded as a foundation for later works on discourses, which have taken on these theories to develop a post- structuralist theoretical framework. A good example of this process is Michel Foucault’s early work, which was firmly rooted in a structuralist perspective but then moved on to become on of the most prominent post-structuralist theories in the field (Mills 2003: 22f).

2.1.3 Habermas’ Normative Approach to Discourse

In an analytical approach to discourse analysis, Habermas’ theory of discourses and communicative action takes on a special position, as it is not so much concerned with the question of linguistic properties of texts or the power relations involved in the discursive process. Nevertheless, in an overview on theories of discourse, his perspective is an important point of reference. Even though he does not concern himself much with the questions arising in my discussion of the globalization discourse, his normative perspective can help to put these questions in a larger perspective.

In contrast to the systemic, and sometimes even formalistic, perspective developed in structural linguistics, Jürgen Habermas develops a discourse theory, which is based on normative assumptions of what discourses should look like. In his reasoning about the nature and role of discourses in society, Habermas does not concern himself with the actual linguistic properties of the texts, which constitute those discourses. His theory is firmly rooted in an epistemology, which is based on the principles of Enlightenment thought, i.e. the appeal to rationality as well as a normative assumption of equality. The concept of rationality, however, is not associated with the individual but finds its manifestation in the communicative process. Based on his notion of reason and rationality, Habermas constructs the objective of a “discourse- based morality”:

According to Habermas, valid norms can be freely accepted by all of the individuals who are affected by them. Thus, a society whose institutions and practices were governed by valid norms would instantiate the ideal of a moral community. (Moon 1995: 143)

Morality then, for Habermas, constitutes the framework for “discourse ethics”, which can be perceived as ordering principles of communication. In their normative, structuring function, they should allow for a maximum of equality in discussions of moral, cognitive or aesthetic questions. This maximum of equality is also referred to as “ideal speech situation” and regarded as a model that can be applied regarding conflict resolution, as the fundamental appeal to reason allows for consensus. Or, in other words:

“[T]o believe something is right is to believe that we have good reasons to hold this position. To believe that we have good reasons entails the idea that given enough time, given interlocutors of goodwill, and given a constraint-free environment, everyone would come to the same conclusion as we have. (Chambers 1995: 233)

In order to construct an ideal speech situation, in which the norms set by discourse ethics can be adhered to, Habermas makes four claims: what we say must be comprehensible, it must be true, it must be right, and it must be sincere (Outhwaite 1994: 40ff). To exemplify this in respect to the discourse of globalization, the application of these claims would mean that in an ideal speech situation we should be able to ask a speaker (1) “What do you mean by globalization?”, (2) “Is what you say about globalization true?”, (3) “Are you entitled to say that about globalization?”, and (4) “Do you really mean it?”. Being able to ask all these questions in the absence of coercion and in an environment, in which all speakers have equal access to communication, should then lead to a situation in which it is possible to reach a consensus about what globalization really is. Again, as can be seen from this example, the concept of truth is a focal point of Habermas’ discourse theory. Truth, as mentioned before, cannot be seen as objective entity “out there”, only waiting to be discovered, but “[t]he condition for the truth of statements is the potential agreement of everyone else” (Habermas 1984b: 107). In other words, truth, like an ideal speech situation embodies a forward reference to intersubjective consensus and rationality.

In one of his major works, the Theory of Communicative Action (1984), Habermas introduces a perspective, which tries to incorporate his conceptualization of communication with his concept of the distinction between the life-world (Lebenswelt) and the system. He bases this distinction on the differentiation of social action into communicative and strategic action, as well as on the corresponding differentiation of the social and the systemic integration of society. Habermas then coins the term colonisation, which signifies systemic mechanisms invading the life-world. In this scenario, money and administrative power replace mutual solidarity and linguistically-mediated understanding as the integrative mechanisms. Again, his normative approach is apparent, as he does not deal with the question of how this colonization could be fought off on an analytical level. He rather tries to establish communicative action as a goal for any society to achieve in order to preserve the life-world. As can be seen in figure 2.2, he defines communicative action as a social situation, which is oriented towards understanding, as opposed to instrumental and strategic action, which are oriented towards success.

Figure 2.2: Habermas’ Model of Communicative Action

illustration not visible in this excerpt

In this context it is important to note that for Habermas concepts like ideal speech situations, truth, or communicative action, which can be derived from equal communication based on rationality, are not goals in the sense of concrete utopias. However, facing problems of communicative inequality and “distorted discourses”, these normative concepts can be utilized as “transcendent illusions”9 extending categories of understanding beyond the limits of experience.

As mentioned before, Habermas’ conceptualization of discourse cannot be applied in an analytical framework in order to explain the structure and effects of discursive action. However, as the focus of my analysis is exactly to “unveil” the structures and power relations underneath the discursive surface, I will now continue by introducing Michel Foucault’s work, which can provide some insight to these matters.10

2.1.4 Michel Foucault’s Discourse Theory

In the 1960s, Michel Foucault began to develop a discourse theory which moved beyond the structuralist model of language and addressed the question of normativity from a different angle. From his perspective normativity always reflects a discursive practice, which needs to be deconstructed.11 In contrast to the structuralist assumption that the structure of language, and therefore discourse, is an independent system in which actors and texts merely represent ambiguous sign constructions, Foucault reagrded the framework of power relations, which regulates the production and perpetuation of discourses, as a focal point of his theory. In his Archaeology of Knowledge he states:

Whereas Descartes and Locke and Kant and the positivists and the phenomenologists have assumed that the job of the sign was to represent pre-existent reality (even if only phenomenal reality, constituted by consciousness), I will show you a new way to look at what people say. From this new perspective, you will not see words as linked by relations like ‘impression’ or ‘symbolization’ or ‘synthesis’ or ‘reference’ or ‘truth’. Instead you will see them as nodes in a network of texts, and this network as making up practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak. (Foucault 1972: 49)

In this way, Foucault develops a theory of knowledge which moves beyond the epistemological questions of accuracy and representation, and focuses on the ways in which meaning is created and on underlying power relations, which enable this meaning to be established as “truth” (Rorty 1986). In the following discussion, I develop Foucault’s ideas of truth, power, and knowledge and also take a closer look at his conceptualization of discourses, which constitutes a basic element of my own approach to the discourse of globalization.

Truth is a central element of Foucault’s theory of discourses. Combined with the concepts of power and knowledge, he argues that knowledge is not a pure, value-free search for truth, but rather that power operates in the processing of information, resulting in something being labelled as fact or fiction. The power involved in this process manifests itself in a “thorough process of ratification by those in positions of authority” (Mills 2003: 72).

Taking such a perspective, Foucault overcomes the view of discourse as transparent communication between subjects about things. In her overview on Foucault’s work, Sara Mills (ibid., 70f) gives a good example of how power relations shape the ways in which truth and knowledge are constructed. Looking at British colonial history, she identifies a period in the nineteenth century in which colonial authorities in India produced an enormous flow of scholarly and popular literature about the country. Within this process, vast amounts of information concerning geography, architecture, languages and customs of indigenous Indian people were collected and published, not only by officials, but by travel writers and scientists as well. This vast amount of knowledge did not only create new truth values it also replaced old ones by imposing a Western classificatory system, thereby erasing the traditional classifications used by the indigenous people. In this process, many attributes, such as the healing properties of certain plants, were lost as Western scientists rather concentrated their efforts on scientific classification and disregarded traditional knowledge. In short, this process of information production excluded other, equally valid forms of classification and knowledge, which probably were more relevant to the context. This example shows that the act of producing knowledge, even under the premise of furthering human knowledge, can play a role in the affirmation of existing power relations.

For Foucault, the notion that there is no objective truth waiting to be discovered, leads to the conclusion that it is inevitable to take into consideration the period, context or setting in which something is, or was, regarded to be true. Thus, he argues that the notion of true knowledge in the absolute sense must be replaced by an analysis of discursive formations sustaining truth regimes. In order to get a clearer idea of the role discursive formations have in the construction of reality and truth, it is necessary to take a closer look at the relationship of knowledge and power in Foucault’s work.

Knowledge, according to Foucault, is not the objectively measurable accumulation of facts which serves as a framework of reference to establish truth values. He rather sees knowledge as part of an ensemble of discursive practices, which he calls the “épistèmé”. An épistèmé is always attributed to a certain time period and a certain context. Thus, it is not the sum of everything which can be known within a specific period, but rather, it is the complex set of relationships between the knowledge which is produced within a particular period and the rules according to which new knowledge is being created. Foucault gives the example of the Classical period, in which diverse scientists shared common presumptions about the nature of the world and about the knowledge which underpinned their work. In this épistèmé, crop failures, storms, diseases and every other event which was regarded exceptional, were seen as manifestations of God’s anger (Foucault 1977: 17f). Taking this example as a point of reference, Didier Eribon, one of Foucault’s biographers, described the épistèmé in the following way: “Every period is characterized by an underground configuration that delineates its culture, a grid of knowledge making possible every scientific discourse, every production of statements” (Eribon 1991: 158). Thus, given Foucault’s notion of knowledge, his theory does not seek to analyse a unified body of ideas or a particular “zeitgeist”. He is rather interested in the different, conflicting, discursive frameworks and the pressures operating within a social context, and conditioning the way we think and know. Again, this way of perceiving knowledge can be applied to study changes in the discourse of globalization, as will be shown later.

In addition to his concept of knowledge, power plays an important role in Foucault’s discourse theory. Criticizing the wide-spread conceptualization of power as the capacity of agents to realise their will over the resistance of others, he develops a more dynamic notion of power:12

Power must be analysed as something which circulates, or as something which only functions in the form of a chain … Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organization … Individuals are the vehicles of power, not its point of application. (Foucault 1980: 98)

With this notion of power, Foucault moves beyond Marxist interpretations which rather focus on the concept of ideology as a means to “persuade” oppressed people to accept views of the world, which are against their interests, and is rooted in the logic of the capitalist mode of production.

Foucault’s approach is not so much focused on oppression, but on the possibilities of resistance rooted in a dynamic concept of power, which he perceives as something that can bring about new forms of behaviour and events. In this sense, he sees power as inherently enabling rather than inherently constraining. John Frow puts it this way:

If power is no longer thought simply as a negative and repressive force but as the condition of production of all speech, and if power is conceived as polar rather than monolithic, as an asymmetrical dispersion, then all utterances will be potentially splintered, formally open to contradictory uses. (Frow 1985: 206)

This enabling property of power is important to keep in mind regarding my analysis of the changes globalization discourse has undergone in the late 1990s (see chapter 4).

Having analysed Foucault’s concepts of truth, knowledge and power, I will now turn to his theory of discourse, which encompasses all three of these concepts, and is also a basic element of my analysis. First of all, it must be noted that Foucault’s use of the term discourse has an evolution. In his earlier works, he regarded discourses as utterances and statements which have meaning and some effect. This very general use of the term also included the grouping of statements, which belong to the same topic, e.g. the discourse on racism. In his later works, especially in The Order of Discourse (Foucault 1981), Foucault added another element to his conceptualization, which is what makes his theory so valuable for discourse analysis: the regulative nature of discourses.13

Moving beyond the mere structuring nature of discourses, Foucault regards them as “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault 1972: 42). In other words, a discourse is something which produces something else, rather than something which is just “out there” and can be analysed in isolation. In this sense, Foucault is not interested in questioning whether discourse is a true or accurate representation of the “real”, but is rather concerned with the mechanics and strategies by which a discourse becomes dominant. According to Foucault, this discursive dominance is not confined to the realm of speech, but also manifests itself in material things, such as the creation and perpetuation of institutions, and political actions. Given the continuing conflict between discourses, the dominant one benefits from these material manifestations, whereas the subordinated one will be “treated with suspicion and is housed both metaphorically and literally at the margins of society” (Mills 1997: 19). Again, it is important to note that in this framework of domination, power is not only regarded as a repressive force, but also has to be perceived as enabling for the dominated discourse.

Within his perspective of discourses, Foucault develops two important assumptions, which also form the basis of my own research: (1) Discourse as a whole consists of regulated discourses, and (2) the rules of this regulation do not originate from external factors like political or economic circumstances, but are features of the discourse itself and are shaped by its internal mechanisms. In this sense, the study of discourse is not meant to produce insights on the “true” nature of the world, but rather to discover the support mechanisms which keep it in place. According to Foucault, these support mechanisms are to be perceived as discursive constraints within which our perception of objects is shaped. In his words, discourse can be characterized by a “delimitation of a field of objects, the definition of a legitimate perspective for the agent knowledge, and the fixing of norms for the elaboration of concepts or theories” (Foucault and Bouchard 1977: 199). This quote sums up the three most important features of discourse, namely the narrowing of one’s field of vision, the questions of authority and legitimacy, and the construction of rules according to which discursive statements are possible.

Based on these features of discourse, Foucault argues that the world as we perceive it is not subject to any form of intrinsic order. In his view, the only existing ordering stems from our linguistic description of the world. This constituting property of discourse is not only visible in the realm of material objects, such as changes in the classification of plants, as discussed earlier in this chapter. It also extends to cultural and social narratives, which obtain their meaning only through discourse. Globalization, in this framework, must then be regarded not as an entity which is “out there”, generating certain effects and forcing people to act within certain constraints, but has to be perceived as a “self-constituting” discourse.14

However, this reference to the self-constituting property of discourse does not mean that Foucault denies the existence of a reality existing outside its linguistic description, nor does he deny the materiality of objects or events.15 He simply proposes that the only way reality can be apprehended is through discourse and discursive structures. Again, these structures are not simply the invention of powerful groups of people, as some Marxist critics suggested. Rather, Foucault sees these structures as constructs of institutional and cultural pressures, which, combined with the intrinsic structure of discourse, cannot be fully controlled by those in power and develop a “life of their own”.

2.1.4 Post-Marxist Perspectives on Discourse

Since the mid-1980s, the political scientists Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau have contributed considerably to a conceptualization of discourse rooted in post-Marxist and post-structuralist theory. Drawing on Foucault’s aforementioned notion of discourse, and inspired by both Althusser’s theory of ideology and Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, they have developed a social theory of the construction of individual and collective identities.16 Althusser’s ideology manifests itself in practical material reality, which can be observed in institutionalized patterns of behaviour. In contrast to traditional Marxist theories, Althusser thus does not see the primary reason for the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production as being based on a repressive state apparatus. According to his perspective, ideological state apparatuses play a key role in the constitution of subjects in capitalist societies. These apparatuses consist of institutions like religion, family, or the media, which have the function of creating the individuals’ disposition to carry out their functions voluntarily (Charim 2002: 67ff).

This perspective of ideology can also be found in Mouffe/Laclau’s assumption that society is not, per se, a given entity, but that social practices obtain their meaning only through discourse. Chantal Mouffe gives a vivid example:

If I kick a spherical object in the street or if I kick a ball in a football match, the physical fact is the same, but its meaning is different. The object is a football only to the extent that it establishes a system of relations with other objects, and these relations are not given by the mere referential materiality of the objects, but are, rather, socially constructed. (Mouffe 1987: 82, italics in the original) From this example, it is possible to extrapolate two main ideas behind the discourse theory advocated by Laclau and Mouffe, namely the concept of contingency and the critique of essentialism.

The concept of contingency is applied in an attempt to overcome orthodox Marxism’s inherent determinism. This is accomplished perceiving discourses as fields of meaning, rooted in the social and manifested in practices. These fields of meaning, according to this theoretical perspective, are never wholly fixed or closed, but always subject to contestation from other discourses. Thus, a dynamic, open-ended notion of society emerges where dominance is always challenged and transformation is always possible.17 In order to make sense of this assumption, it is necessary to keep in mind that, as in the example of the football, the material existence of extra-discursive objects is not denied. However, the meaning ascribed to those objects can only be perceived as a result of their constitution in discourse. In other words, “outside of any discursive context, objects do not have being; they have only existence” (Mouffe 1987: 85, italics in the original).

The anti-essentialist stance taken in Mouffe’s and Laclau’s theory can be seen from their notion of the reading of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.18 Whilst not denying the existence of structures, the notion that these structures are given and unalterable is contested. In this sense, “hegemony is quite simply a political type of relation, a form, if one so wishes, of politics; but not a determinable location within a topography of the social” (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 139).

The discourse theory put forward here has been criticized especially by scholars from the orthodox Marxist tradition, who frequently accuse Mouffe and Laclau of adhering to relativist positions and of denying the existence of objects independent from discourse. However, as the examples given above show, this criticism must be assessed sceptically, as Mouffe and Laclau do not deny the existence of the material world, but try to analyse the construction of meaning.19

2.2 Methodological Perspectives

As can be seen from the multitude of different theoretical conceptualizations of discourse(s), it is impossible to find a broad consensus regarding the questions what discourses are, and what their implications are for the field of social sciences. This heterogeneity also translates into many different approaches to the question how the analysis of discourses could be applied as a research method. Given the wide variety of attempts to utilize discourses in a methodological framework, I concentrate on two major approaches which offer rather different perspectives. The first approach I want to introduce is located in historical semantics and is mainly associated with historically informed research on the changes of meaning of specific concepts. The second methodological approach introduced is Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), a school of thought associated with the authors Teun van Dijk, Ruth Wodak, Siegfried Jäger and Norman Fairclough. I will specifically turn to Jäger and Fairclough, whose combination of insights from linguistics and the social sciences have proven to be the most fruitful for my analysis of the discourse of globalization in the United States.

2.2.1 Historical Semantics

The study of meaning is the central category of analysis for scholars like Dietrich Busse, Matthias Jung, Achim Landwehr, and Reinhart Koselleck, who can be associated with the discourse analysis tradition of historical semantics.20 Meaning, in this context, is sought to be explored in relation to historical developments with the aim of identifying conceptual changes. Advocates of historical semantics attempt to incorporate the linguistic study of semantics into the study of the history of ideas. They argue that in traditional methods of engaging the history of ideas language has not been given enough consideration. On the other hand, the linguistic study of semantics has failed to take into consideration historical and social contexts. Therefore, from the perspective of historical semantics, a trans-disciplinary approach is needed to explain the ways in which meaning has changed. This trans-disciplinary approach manifests itself in the combination of linguistic units of analysis (lexemes, metaphors or argumentative structures,etc.) with units of analysis deriving from the social sciences, (political systems, historical developments, etc.).

From the perspective of historical semantics, discourses are defined as texts which (1) refer to a common topic or concept; (2) must be semantically related to each other; (3) are located within the parameters specified in the research design; and (4) contain cross-references among each other, thereby producing an intertextual context. (Busse and Teubert 1994: 14f). This definition of discourse draws on Foucault’s notions that discourses are prevalent in the production of knowledge and that something like a “plurality of discourses“ exist. Other aspects of Foucault’s theory, however, are regarded with a certain suspicion, especially his notion of the determining influences discourses have on the subject.


1 As will be seen, the term “globalization” is referred to in a number of contexts. In this study I will use the term as equivalent to “economic globalization”.

2 Many scholars see the term globalization as a “new paradigm” replacing other key concepts such as “risk society”, or “postmodernity” in academic and public debate (Osterhammel and Petersson 2003, Waters 1995, Held et al. 1999).

3 Positivism, a term associated with theorists like Comte or Mill, presumes the naturalistic notion that any science is the study of an objectively existing reality that lies outside the discourse of science. In this paper, I cannot give a comprehensive account of positivist epistemology and its critics. For an overview of positivist epistemology, see Dahms 1994.

4 I use “post-positivist” as a comprehensive term for many different labels like postmodern, post-structuralist, constructivist etc., which differ in their respective theoretical approach but have in common the rejection of objectivity.

5 Foucault himself probably would have rejected this term, due to his sceptical view on the role subjects play in constituting meaning. Nevertheless, the prominent role of Foucault’s work for the development of discourse analysis is indisputable (Fairclough 1995, Jäger 2004, Keller 2004).

6 This tradition of discourse analysis is often referred to as “rhetorical analysis”. From the times of ancient Greece to the modern era, the study of rhetoric has been applied to analyse how “authors have structured their texts, employed style, used semantic and extra semantic meanings, and in general, presented their evidence and stories” (Cronick 2002: 2).

7 The term „text“ is not limited to the written manifestation of spoken language. According to Norman Fairclough (Fairclough 1992: 4f) texts also comprise spoken language, visual images or a combination of the former.

8 Peirce’s theory cannot be displayed in detail here. For a comprehensive overview, see Vigener 1979.

9 The term „transcendent illusions“ is a direct reference to the neo-Kantian perspective adopted by Habermas. The term makes clear that, like for Kant, the concept of truth and reason are used in a very normative way in Habermas’ work. See also Strong and Sposito 1995.

10 Foucault’s work has frequently been criticized by Habermas for being “neoconservative”, because of his unwillingness to accept the inherently normative stance of his work. This debate cannot be reproduced here, but can offer some insight on the differences between the two approaches. For a detailed examination, see Lavagno 2003.

11 For a detailed account of Foucault’s criticism of normativity, see Schaff 2004.

12 In his conceptualization of power, Foucault moves away from the Weberian paradigm that subjects hold a capacity to produce effects, regardless of whether this capacity is actually exercised or institutionalized. For Foucault power is not possessible, but is something that works “through” people.

13 As mentioned before, this shift of perspective shows Foucault’s development from a structuralist to post-structuralist approach. For a detailed examination of the development of Foucault’s work, see the very good overview given by Sara Mills (Mills 2003).

14 The term „self-constituting“ is frequently used in describing Foucault’s theory of discourse. The term is useful, as it shows the property of discourse to create meaning, instead of merely displaying it. For a detailed theoretical analysis of self- constituting discourse, see Maingueneau 1999.

15 One of the main points of criticism concerning Foucault’s discourse theory is the argument that, according to Foucault, objects only come into existence through discourse. For a detailed examination and rebuttal of this criticism, see Lemke 1995: 11-22.

16 Mouffe and Laclau base their theory on Foucault’s notion of power as being not only restricting, but also enabling. However, they extend Foucault’s concept of discourse, which is rooted in language, by including non-verbal, social practices as well (Mouffe 1987: 85).

17 The perspective of openness contradicts Althusser’s notion of ideology, which presumes that objects are constructed by discursive processes, but are also constrained within in the framework of the capitalist logic of reproduction.

18 Gramsci’s approach to hegemony will be portrayed more detailed in the analysis of Norman Fairclough’s discourse theory in chapter 2.2.2. See also Holub 1992.

19 For a detailed critique of the discourse theory developed by Mouffe and Laclau, see Geras 1987. For an assessment of this critique, see Scherrer 1995.

20 As in most schools of thought in the social sciences, the terminology here is a bit fuzzy. Approaches in historical semantics are sometimes labelled as “discourse history”, “corpus linguistics”, or “historical-linguistic discourse analysis”. Naturally, there are certain differences between the different approaches. However, they can be regarded as representatives of one school of thought, because all of them work in the field of the historical research of concepts. For a more detailed overview on the commonalities and differences between the different approaches, see Keller 2004, Landwehr 2001, 2002, Bödeker 2002.

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The Discourse of Globalization - Shifts in the discursive Representation of Economic Globalization in the United States - Two Examples
University of Kassel  (Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaften)
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Discourse, Globalization, Shifts, Representation, Economic, Globalization, United, States, Examples
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Christof Dieterle (Author), 2006, The Discourse of Globalization - Shifts in the discursive Representation of Economic Globalization in the United States - Two Examples, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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