Free Floating Discourse
March 3, 2008
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Off the wall question: I keep encountering a particular formulation in the work of quite good students who are trying to outline their methodology for research projects. It’s not unusual for someone to say something like: “My method is discourse analysis”.
Now, I react to this statement, sort of the way I would react to someone saying: “My method is statistics”. It gives me a rough ballpark sense of what sort of thing the student wants to do, but is nowhere near specific enough (to me) to indicate what the student actually plans to do (and the formulation itself also strikes me as awkward, as if it doesn’t quite express the habitus for how the term would be used in academic writing).
My question is: I see this so often, that students must somewhere be being taught that this is okay – that “discourse analysis” is a specific enough term that further clarification or specification of their method is not required. I’m curious whether I’m running into a strange displinary issue – whether this term actually does have a quite narrow and specific meaning, such that it would be intuitively clear to anyone who doesn’t scuttle around across disciplinary boundaries as often as I do? I always end up writing things like: “But what kind of discourse analysis? What do you plan to do?” – and the sheer repetition is starting to feel crotchety and pedantic, as if I’m asking students to explain the obvious. Am I?