Monday, 11 March 2013

Research and Political Goals

This week's readings are especially relevant to me, as my research project uses textual analysis rather than more social sciences-based research techniques. Before this class, I had had no knowledge of critical discourse analysis – what the phrase means, what it involves, how it's different or similar to my experiences with studying literature – so I read Van Dijk's “Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis” with interest.

What surprised me most about this article was its emphasis on the ethical purpose of critical discourse analysis much more than on specific techniques. As Van Dijk says, “the focus on dominance and inequality implies that, unlike other domains or approaches in discourse analysis, CDA does not primarily aim to contribute to a specific discipline, paradigm, school or discourse theory” (p. 252). Although CDA must have certain methodological aims in order to fall under the heading of discourse analysis, it distinguishes itself from other methodologies by its political bent.

The ethical basis of research is something that hasn't come up very often in the readings so far (although it has come up in lecture). It's refreshing to see this aspect of research brought to the fore in the Van Dijk article. While so much of this course has involved defining and explaining different approaches to research, I think it's important to discuss the ways one's political aims affect the research being done. Of course, this is one aspect of the question of how much to accept or minimize one's own biases – with CDA being far to the side of accepting them – but this discussion goes further. Do academics conduct research with the goal of furthering certain political aims? Should this be made explicit? Should grant proposals or articles include sections explaining these aims? It's something worth thinking about when we discuss research.

Van Dijk, T.A. (1993). Principles of critical discourse analysis. Discourse and Society, 4(2), 249-283.


  1. Political aims can be an end goal in and of themselves in research. In saying this, I am thinking of book I read recently-“Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union” by Francine Hirsch. Here is description from the book’s back cover:

    “Francine Hirsch examines the ways in which former imperial ethnographers and local elites provided the Bolsheviks with ethnographic knowledge that influenced the very formation of the Soviet Union. The ethnographers-who drew inspiration from the Western European colonial context-produced all-union censuses, [and] assisted government commissions charged with delimiting the USSR’s internal borders…In the 1930s, they would lead the Soviet campaign against Nazi race theories.”

    Today, there is scientific and sociological research conducted with government funding, sometimes with explicit political aims (i.e. scientific research that would aid in creating a more lethal version of certain type of weapon). While it may impossible for a researcher to disclose the exact use to which her/his research might be put, I think it is important that they disclose the name of agency that is funding their research.

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  3. Reference
    Hirsch, F. (2005). Empire of nations: Ethnographic knowledge and the making of the Soviet Union. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.