Public discourse

Srikant Sarangi
Table of contents

The title of this paper – public discourse – is inherently ambivalent, given the multiple use of both terms in scholarly work across disciplines. Of the two, the term ‘public’ is perhaps more problematic because of its everyday use (e.g., public notice, public lecture, public interest, going public). In light of this, my discussion here will mainly centre around the notion of ‘publicness’. To begin with, I define ‘public discourse’ as social processes of talk and text in the public domain which have institutionally ratified consequences. For instance, an interrogation of an airline passenger by a customs officer in a secluded space is institutionally grounded and would thus count as public discourse. Viewed from this angle, ‘public discourse’ is different from various versions of the private realm (e.g., family, inter-personal, inner-self etc.). Broadly speaking, the term ‘discourse’ can be taken to mean a stretch of talk or text (including semiotic icons) as well as a form of knowledge and the social processes of production and consumption of such knowledge in the Foucauldian sense. ‘Public discourse’, thus defined, includes what goes under the generic rubric of ‘media discourse’ and ‘political communication’ as well as discourse in organisational and professional settings (for a detailed discussion of the scope of ‘public discourse’ in communicative terms, see Scollon 1997). However, given the limited scope of this paper, I will link my arguments to media communication where necessary, and only, in passing, touch upon the communicative practices in the organisational and professional domain (see e.g., Alatis & Tucker 1979; Atkinson 1995; Atkinson & Drew 1979; Boden 1994; Clegg 1990; Labov & Fanshel 1977; Fisher & Todd 1983, 1986; Mishler 1984; O’Barr 1982, di Pietro 1982; Silverman 1987).

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