In the past fifteen years, discourse analysis has had a major impact on social psychology, especially in Britain. It has introduced new methods of research, new ways of conceptualising research questions and new ways understanding the nature of psychology itself. In this time it has gone from a marginal perspective developed by a handful of scholars to an approach that is represented in wide range of different empirical and theoretical journals, seen in different conference presentations, and developed in a growing body of PhDs. For an increasing number of academics discourse analysis is the prime way of doing social psychological research. We are part of this discursive turn within social psychology, in that we have all approached social psychological issues through studying the use of language. However, we do not see ourselves as representing a common position within this discursive turn.
As the discursive turn has grown, there has been a proliferation of forms of discourse analysis. The geography of the discourse terrain is complex, with widely disparate assumptions being made about fundamental topics such as method, theory, the nature of discourse, the nature of cognition, and the nature of social structure. We will not be mapping this terrain here (but see, for example: Jaworski & Coupland, 1999; van Dijk, 1996; Wetherell et al., 2001). We recognise, of course, that there are very different approaches to discourse analysis in areas of the social sciences and the humanities traditionally at some distance from social psychology. For example, there is a long tradition extending back to the work of Walter Kintsch (e.g. Kintsch, 1988) in cognitive psychology, which explores the cognitive substrate of discourse; equally, there is a tradition in stylistics, dating back at least to the work of Vladimir Propp (1968), on the narrative structure of accounts. Our own concern is with discourse analysis as it is practised in the social sciences, in and around the landmarks of social psychology. Even here there is a variety. To give a sense of that variety, we note that in social psychology some discourse work is close to conversation analysis (for accounts of which, see Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998; Sacks, 1992), while some has been influenced by critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1995) and post-structural and Foucauldian thinking (Hodge & Kress, 1993) among other schools of thought. In social psychology, analysts have focussed on the actual conduct of conversational interaction in institutional or mundane settings (for reviews and examples, see, for instance, Antaki, 1994; Edwards & Potter, 1992; Edwards, 1997, Widdicombe & Wooffitt, 1995), and on talk and written text in the study of ideology and social critique (again, for reviews and examples, see Billig, 1992; Burman & Parker, 1993; Hollway, 1989; Parker, 1992; Wetherell & Potter, 1992).
There are sometimes tensions between these different aims, and the styles of work associated with them (see, for example, Nightingale & Cromby, 1999, Parker & Burman (1993) and the extended debate in the pages of Discourse and Society [Billig, 1999a; Schegloff, 1997; Schegloff, 1998; Schegloff, 1999; Wetherell, 1998; Stokoe & Smithson, 2001]). Our aim here is not further to rehearse these debates and issues, but to highlight some methodological troubles that are visible from whatever discourse perspective, within the social sciences, one adopts. Some of these debates concern the extent to which analysts are justified in using information from outside a particular text in order to analyse that text. This is particularly so in the debate between those who advocate a classical conversation analytic position and those who believe that discourse analysis needs to be combined with critical social theory. We do not have a collective position in these debates. In fact, individually we have taken different, even opposing, positions within such controversies. By the same token, our own work encompasses a variety of ways of doing discourse analysis. Some of our work is directly based upon conversation analysis, some is addressed towards ideological issues and some combines both these aspects. Whatever the differences in our styles of research and in the theoretical positions that we have adopted, we are united by a common concern. Those using discourse analysis must take analysis seriously for there are basic requirements for analysis, regardless of the particular type of analysis one undertakes. In this paper we aim to explore these basic requirements. In so doing, we do not seek to promote a particular type of discourse analysis.
We are aware that some of what we will be arguing is already familiar in the broader social science literature on qualitative methods in general (e.g. Coffey & Atkinson, 1996; Gilbert, 1993; Silverman, 1997; Silverman, 2001). We are concerned with the variable quality of discourse work specifically in our own discipline, and hope to contribute to the literature that has already grown up within it. General overviews can be found in Coyle (1995), Gill (1996), Potter & Wetherell (1987), Potter (1996), Potter (1997), Potter (in press), Wood & Kroger (2000) and Wooffitt (1993). Billig (1997a) and Potter & Wetherell (1994) work through the process of analysis with a specific example. Potter & Wetherell (1995) discuss the analysis of broad themes and interpretative repertoires drawn on in interview talk. Potter (1998) compares grounded theory, ethnography and discourse analysis in the analysis of clinical materials. Edwards & Potter (2001) discuss discursive psychological analysis of the role of psychological talk in institutions. Yates, et al., (2001) introduce and compare a range of different approaches to analysing discourse. All of these have positive things to say about doing analysis. But they leave implicit what is not analysis. That is what we want to make explicit in this paper.