5. Under-Analysis Through Taking Sides

If data analysis requires that the analyst offers something additional beyond presenting or summarising the data, then this does not mean that every additional offering is analysis. It certainly does not mean that every added element of analysis is discourse analysis. In some writing one sees the additional offering of the analyst's own moral, political or personal stance towards what the quoted speaker or text is saying. This on its own is not discourse analysis.

There is a debate amongst discourse analysts whether analysts should take positions with respect to the material that they study. It is not our intention to enter into that debate. Nor, indeed, do we agree amongst ourselves on this issue. What we do insist upon, however, is that position-taking - whether analysts align themselves with, or critically distance themselves from, the speakers whom they are studying - is not analysis in itself. Sympathy and scolding (either explicit or implicit) are not a substitute for analysis. When the analyst is primarily engaging in positioning themselves vis-à-vis their data, then they run the risk of the second form of under-analysis: Under-Analysis through Taking Sides.

Some analysts attach much importance to showing sympathy for, or solidarity with, respondents who have participated in their studies. This is particularly understandable if the analyst is studying the accounts given by people who have suffered discrimination in some way. Analysts might understandably consider it a theoretical and moral duty to demonstrate sympathy for victims of sexual, violent or racist abuse. They might consider their own quoting such victims as empowering those victims by giving them voice. The quotations might be rhetorically designed to elicit sympathy in the reader for the quoted victim and to align the reader against the perpetrators of the abuse. But giving voice or empowering the powerless through extensive quotation, however desirable it might be in its own right, is not the same as analysing what is said.

The data presented above do not show an example of a powerless, victimised speaker. Nevertheless, an analyst might wish to take a stance vis-à-vis the issues being discussed. For instance, the analyst might wish to align with the sort of position that the speaker is outlining. The analyst's summarising might contain pointed references. It might be said that the speaker 'realises' or 'appreciates' how relationships need hard work. Or the analyst might add that the respondent 'takes seriously' the idea of marital commitment and 'sees the problems' of divorce. Such language might subtly, or not so subtly, indicate that the analyst is aligning himself or herself with the position taken by the respondent. The crucial point is that such alignment of support on its own does not constitute analysis of the discourse used by the speaker.

By the same token, a critical dis-alignment by the analyst does not constitute analysis. For instance, an analyst from a radical feminist perspective might be critical of the institution of marriage, claiming it to be a patriarchal institution. The analyst might quote or summarise the respondent in order to distance themselves from the position he seems to be taking. The analyst might summarise the respondent's comments and add that the respondent 'fails to understand the patriarchal nature of marriage'. Such an addition does not constitute a discourse analysis in itself. The steps towards such an analysis might be taken if the analyst examines in detail the rhetorical and discursive strategies that a speaker might take in order to counter or avoid themes, such as gender inequality within marriage. The rhetorical manoeuvres would have to be examined in relation to the interviewer's questions and this would entail situating the locus of analysis within the details of the text. Much detailed analysis would have to be undertaken to substantiate an argument that the speaker was avoiding some themes. Such analysis is different merely from criticising the speaker for a lack of understanding or for failing to mention particular themes.

Thus, one can say that under-analysis can occur when the analyst substitutes sympathy or scolding for detailed examination of what the speakers are saying. A particular danger is that the desire to sympathise or censure, when not allied to careful analysis, can lead to the sort of simplification that is the antithesis of analysis. Speakers often show a complexity in their utterances. Certainly, the Respondent in the extract above is not uttering a simple statement about marriage. Moreover, it would be distortion to fail to see how far what the respondent produces in his answers is a joint, co-constructed interactional product. Under-Analysis by Taking Sides can produce a flattening of the discursive complexity, as the analyst selects quotations for the rhetorical effect of appealing to the readers as co-sympathisers or co-scolders. The result is enlistment, not analysis.

Previous Section Top Next Section