3. Questions Of Part-Whole Relations

Antaki et al.'s fourth point concerns under-analysis though over-quotation or isolated quotation, both of which are familiar within weak examples of discourse analysis. Yet there is a danger that we may be closing off the potential range of interesting and relevant discursive analyses if we offer without qualification technical norms about the 'ratio of analyst's comments to data extracts' (p.10). What about approaches to discourse analysis that include a performative or poetic character, in which the analysis is explicitly selectively crafted towards a specific audience for a specific intervention? An example of this would include the research recently completed by Burns (2001) of performing back to a collective audience of her activist participants the edited (and thereby analysed) versions of their own accounts. This functioned not only as a form of poetic presentation but also of organisational analysis, that also fulfilled commitments of making the academic research accountable to the researched. Much feminist and action research draws on equivalent (if possibly less dramatic) forms, and discourse work surely has a key contribution here in making interpretations explicit and accountable and thereby making use of its intervention.
Further, the 'profiling' process that Antaki et al. identify as underlying several of the under-analyses they discuss, including where quotations are 'pieced together' (p.11) from different respondents, is said to potentially 'impede analysis by removing utterances from their discursive context' (ibid.). Here we need to pause to consider what conceptual framework defines the 'discursive context'. Opinions between discourse analysts on this matter vary significantly. But perhaps we could agree that such a context should be explicitly identified.
Antaki et al.'s following discussion of '[t]he circular discovery of a) discourses and b) mental constructs' (p.11) helpfully illuminates some familiar limitations of under-analysed discourse work, and my concurrence with their points is already indicated in my comments above. However, it might be useful to include a further 'analytic extra' (p.11) element to provide a way out of the 'circularity' of warranting an interpretation via simply re-describing what is said in the text. This would be to elaborate the analysis or categories to relate to structures outside the detail of the text, for example via analysis of institutional practices and systemic patternings. So, far from merely being designated a theme (p.8), 'gender inequality in marriage' might be drawn upon as one of various institutional analyses under interrogation throughout the interview transcript. Clearly discursive analysts vary in their claims as to what lies inside and outside the text (see e.g. Parker, 1998, for a review). Notwithstanding this, I would suggest that proper analysis should not only 'consult the relevant previous research on all these conversational moves and apply the accumulated insights to the present data' (Antaki et al., p.14), but that this also includes consulting theoretical analyses of a historical and cultural kind that inform how such conversational moves come to be possible, and how they function. How are we able to recognise the theme of 'gender equality in marriage', for example, except by drawing on common sense and other contested cultural resources in circulation around us as embodied and historically and culturally located analysts.
As regards the charges of 'mentalism', perhaps it is helpful to remind ourselves that some such varieties of mentalism will always inevitably creep back into our accounts. Antaki et al. themselves impute mentalism when they write of discourses being 'drawn upon to deal with specific features of the conversational interaction' (p12) and that the 'respondent knows that they are expected to … in order to avoid appearing dogmatic and to gain recognition' (p.14). Indeed perhaps the issue is not only to struggle to avoid mentalistic categories of analysis (since they return us to the traditional individualist psychology we have tried to escape) but rather to attend to the kinds of mentalism being imputed. The framework implicitly put forward by Antaki et al. imputes a mentalism of a dramaturgical, but nevertheless voluntarist, kind that retains the dichotomy between individual agency and determinism. Unless supplemented by other (less voluntarist) accounts of the construction of subjectivity, this offers little alternative to more traditional psychological approaches.
The sixth under-analysis discussed by Antaki et al. arises through 'false survey'. There clearly are dangers of generalisation from the specificity of one discursive context to others (reminiscent of many discussions about the relevance and reformulation of the criterion of 'representativeness' as a criterion for evaluating qualitative research). Here it would be useful to add that there are equal dangers in failing to situate the text within the cultural-historical conditions that gave rise to it. For this, one needs an analytic framework that permits the conceptualisation of how the talk (if such is the text) has arisen in terms of broader institutional practices. Here two further points might be made about Antaki et al.'s account. Firstly, that it seems somewhat paradoxical to have been offered access to an MP3 recording of the interaction, yet to have been provided with no information of the circumstances in which the interview was conducted, nor the research question (or other purpose) that gave rise to it. Here I do not mean to be unfair - for I think it is perfectly acceptable that the material is offered as a medium from which to illustrate under- or non-analysis, without actually providing an analysis. Rather my point is that the generosity of contextual framing we are offered is nevertheless still partial. To this end I would suggest that contextual information regarding the historical moment, cultural setting, institutional position of the interview, and gender (as well as other structural positions) of participants would be more informative with respect to generating and evaluating an analysis than hearing the recording (cf. Burman et al., 1996). Perhaps we are drawn into the metaphysics of presence of in seeming able to 'replay' the interview? But surely without this other information aspects of the contextual specificity of the 'original' moment are obscured, while what is added to it by the process of iteration is equally left out of the analysis.
Secondly, and perhaps this is an aside, but I was surprised by the attribution (on pages 14 and 16) of 'unconscious' motivations to account for the implicit or artefactual character of these analytic difficulties. Surely, just as with its psychoanalytic application, such attribution implies an individual origin and motivation, rather than an institutional analysis accounting for how such difficulties so readily arise (of the role of methodological technologies in psychology, for example).
Antaki et al.'s final example of 'under-analysis' is characterised as 'spotting'. As they note: 'research does not and should not, consist principally of feature-spotting, just as analysing the history and functions of the railway system cannot be accomplished through train-spotting' (p.15). The point that 'feature-spotting' may well indicate some acquaintance with particular literatures and techniques of analysis, but does not in itself constitute the analysis, is particularly valuable. Yet even here the critique itself takes the technology of vision (and its metaphorical resources) for granted. This threatens to naturalise - or take for granted - which 'features' there are to 'spot', and thereby leaving out of the investigation the very conceptual frameworks (optics? Surveillance? Etc…).that specify such items and render them 'visible'.
They conclude this point by arguing that 'good analysis always moves convincingly back and forth between the general and the specific'. There can be no disagreement with this, yet a key word here that invites a further discussion and disputes over analysis is 'convincing'. What is 'convincing' to whom, and why? 'Conviction' here would seem to stand for a whole set of discussions around criteria used to justify analysis that would be a key task for the analyst to address. Further, what is meant by 'the general' here? This leads me to put forward some further issues.

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