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Critical Evaluation of Discursive Methods and the Social Aspects of Language

Psychology research presented in books is often dull, emphasising the technical procedures and not the people and ideas they aim to facilitate. The study is good at boring as they only encourage a repetition of techniques that have already been done and tested. These techniques do not provide an opportunity for encouraging critical and creative thinking to provide credible development of methods that can be applied to research challenges in psychology. The understanding technique is essential to build on the ideas presented for research. When it comes to social sciences, text-based qualitative research methodologies are used. Many science disciplines, from physics, chemistry and biology, can deal with their subject matter detached and in an objective way. However, social scientists have to recognise the complexity of human beings whose lives are guided by culture and express themselves through language and other signs and symbols with meaning to them. Text-based qualitative methods like discursive methods are insightful in providing meaning and interpretation.

Human beings are self-interpreting and how they act relates to how they view themselves and their world. How humans interpret themselves is based on what society has taught them; this opinion changes with time. It is, therefore, imperative to treat an individual as part and person of their social and cultural environment. Through social science, psychologists have recognised that meaning and subjectivity are the foundation of being human and what it means to exist in human society. Who a person is tied to who they perceive themselves to be and what others view them as (Stenner & Thirkettle). Every object in an individual’s environment, from a ball to a building, represents meaningful objects that others engage with us. Through this understanding, social scientists have developed qualitative interpretive methods to understand how human beings interpret and express themselves.

Social and cultural scientists conduct research through text-based methods to acquire knowledge from the participant’s perspective or a disclosure standpoint. These approaches require the researcher to step back and evaluate how the participant understands and contributes to constructing their reality on a particular subject (Stenner & Thirkettle). The aim is to assess understanding or construction on its own. Psychology sees human beings as creative in developing meaning, and the goal is to study how they come up with a purpose in the world through their everyday activities. In the 1960s, qualitative approaches were confided and reflected upon, enabling new techniques to grow.

Discourse means the language used or the language that is in and is the social action. It refers to the language used in everyday interaction between social actors in real-life communication, conversations and encounters. Discourse means language taking action in actual social practices. Discourse has two main functions (Stenner & Thirkettle). One is the outward language which involves communication with others. Second is the inwards language communication with self. Communication with the self allows humans to understand the different experiences they encounter, refine their thought, develop imaginative dreams regarding their future and comprehend their memories. Discourse is a powerful tool that merges the outward (social) life with the inward (psychological) life. Looking at the social aspect, it is clear that the functions and structures created in society cannot operate without language, a unique kind of social practice referred to as disclosure.

Human beings operate in social systems that they have organised. These systems are organised through institutions and practices like education, the economy, law and sciences that operate on discursive communication and, in a fundamental sense, are discursive communication (Davies & Horton-Salway). For instance, education is a form of discourse between teachers and students through talking, reading and writing. Without these streams to communicate, there would be no education. Therefore, a significant part of society is an ongoing system of discursive practices. Discursive is not just about writing or talking about society; discourse in society. Understanding language in discourse provides an inner understanding of psychological processes. Discourse offers the easiest way for people to express their private inner experiences. Discourse provides a unique language that allows inner feelings and thoughts to be expressed so that others understand. From an inward perspective, discourse serves to build, unbuild and rebuild how humans think about their identity and what they should do. Discourse is thus an invaluable tool in psychology that is core to understanding human beings.

Discourse and language are practical and social activities. Language is not a mere means of communication to pass a message from one person to another or to use to describe something. Discourse creates different versions of reality, serving other purposes and functions. According to discursive psychology, reality versions like identity are constructed through discourse (Davies & Horton-Salway). Identity represents how a person views, feels and thinks about themselves, plus how others view and talk about them. These links and understandings are formed in social contexts where interactions take place. The social contexts provide historical and cultural resources to understand and define identity unique to each society. People do not invent their theories of identity to understand and describe themselves. Instead, they rely on the discursive resources available to them in their culture and society. Discursive methods, therefore, provide an understanding of the social aspects of language, like forming identity.

Discourse provides an exciting understanding of the social aspects of language in terms of construction, variation and function. Different versions of reality, like identity, are constructed through discourse. It also constructs different versions of reality, providing variability and allowing construction to be fluid and not fixed; thus, aspects like identity can change (Davies & Horton-Salway). It also serves a specific function as language is understood differently in different societies and often touches on the aspect of power and social inequality. On a micro level, research on disclosure focus on ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. They study how identity is constructed and negotiated through conversation in local interactions. A micro approach, on the other hand, goes further to privilege the participant in further according to the exchange. Categories like a mother, a single mother, and a single mother with a child with ADHD are hierarchical in how they relate to each other. Discourse provides for how language is understood in different societies. Mental illness, for instance, in religious discourse, can be viewed as evil spirits, in psychological discourse as a poor maternal attachment, in moral discourse as a failure of morality and in biomedical disclosure as a biochemical imbalance.

Discourse has proved beneficial in understanding the social aspects of language but is still limited. Instead of reasoning and understanding based on natural social systems, social scientists have questioned the role of reasons in social conduct (Stenner & Thirkettle). Social actions and thought processes can be institutionalised and habitual, but they are not instinctual, and human beings can have different reasoning and value preference from what society dictates. In addition, discourse theories are focused on providing general explanatory ideas that are limited, as human conduct is not always the same. Generality can only be experienced in particular cases, and even then, patterns do not apply to all individuals in every case and in the same way. Additionally, empiricism is inadequate as it cannot be measured limited to a theocratical evaluation of facts. Discursive methods are therefore limited in providing an adequate understanding of human beings, society and language.

In conclusion, discursive methods provide an illuminating understanding of the social aspects of language. When language is defined in school, it is often taught to be a means of communicating to pass information or a message. Discourse, however, elaborates that language is not only a medium used by society but also represents society itself. Language is at the core of social institutions regarding what there are, what purpose they serve and who they do. Discourse is unique to each society and forms the basis for their unique institutions, from religious and political to economic ones. It goes further from the external aspect to influence the internal aspect, where an individual learns and understands who they are based on the language and meaning in their society. Discursive methods are by social scientists used to understand how societies construct realities, the variations the functions the built facts serve. However, despite the strengths and beneficial insight that discursive theories provide, they are still challenged with a few weaknesses. Discursive methods are also limited as they do not factor in reasoning and independent thinking. They do not factor in unique experiences, try to generalise individuals to draw patterns, and do not have an empirically testable evaluation standard. Regardless, discursive psychology remains an exciting approach to understanding the social aspects of language.


Stenner, P. & Thirkettle, M. Introduction: Critical, Creative and Credible.

Davies, A. & Horton-Salway, M. Why Focus on Discourse? Discursive Psychology and Identity.


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