Analyzing equivalences in discourse: Are discourse theory and membership categorization analysis compatible?

Sigurd D’hondt

Abstract

Facing a crucial leap from political philosophy to empirical analysis, the approach to discourse analysis that arose in the aftermath of Laclau and Mouffe (1985), and that is currently known as the Essex school of discourse theory (DT), has in recent years repeatedly been accused of suffering from a methodological deficit. This paper examines to what extent membership categorization analysis (MCA), a branch of ethnomethodology that investigates lay actors’ situated descriptions-in-context as practical activity, can play a part in rendering poststructuralist DT notions such as articulation and equivalence analytically tangible in empirically observable discourse. Based on a review of Laclau and Mouffe’s foundational text as well as on Glynos and Howarth’s recent exposition of the framework (2007), it is argued that MCA empirically substantiates many poststructuralist claims about the indeterminacy of signification. However, MCA consistently falters - and willingly so - at the point where DT would articulate emerging equivalences between identity categories as part of a second-order explanatory concept, such as Glynos and Howarth’s notion of political logic. Nevertheless, MCA also contains the kernel of an “endogenous” notion of the political that comes fairly close to DT’s all-pervasive understanding of the concept. To support these arguments, a variety of empirical sources are mobilized, ranging from the transcript of a political talk show, a newspaper report regarding a discrimination case in a dance class, to data drawn from earlier research on the way that minority members are treated by the Belgian criminal justice system.

Keywords:
Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
D’hondt, Sigurd
(2009) Others on trial: The construction of cultural otherness in Belgian first instance criminal hearings. Journal of Pragmatics 41.4: 806-828. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dingwall, Robert
(2000) Language, law and power: Ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and the politics of law and society studies. Law and Social Inquiry 25: 885-911. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dupret, Baudouin, and Jean-Noël Ferrié
(2010) L’idée d’une science sociale et sa relation à la science politique. Revue française de science politique 60.6: 1159-1172. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Frank, Arthur W
(1988) Garfinkel’s deconstruction of Parson’s plenum. Discourse Analysis Research Group Newsletter 4.1: 5-8.Google Scholar
Garfinkel, Harold
(1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Garfinkel, Harold, and Lawrence J. Wieder
(1992) Two incommensurable, asymmetrically alternate technologies of social analysis. In Graham Watson, and Robert M. Seiler (eds.), Text in Context: Contributions to Ethnomethodology. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp. 175-206.Google Scholar
Glynos, Jason, and Dennis Howarth
(2007) Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory. London: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hester, Stephen, and Peter Eglin
(eds.) (1997) Culture in Action: Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis.Washington, D.C: University Press of America.  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1997a) Membership categorization analysis: An introduction. In S. Hester, and P. Eglin (eds.), Culture in Action: Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, pp. 1-24.  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1997b) The reflexive constitution of category, predicate and context in two settings. In S. Hester, and P. Eglin (eds.), Culture in Action: Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, pp. 25-48.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Howarth, David
(2005) Applying discourse theory: The method of articulation. In David Howarth, and Jakob Torfing (eds.), Discourse Theory in European Politics: Identity, Policy and Governance. Hampshire & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 316-49. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Jayyusi, Lena
(1984) Categorisation and the Moral Order. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
(1995) Language, moral order and political praxis. Argumentation 9.1: 75-93. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Laclau, Ernesto
(1989) Preface. In Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, pp. ix-xv.Google Scholar
(1996) Why do empty signifiers matter to politics? In Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s). London: Verso, pp. 36-46.Google Scholar
Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe
(1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.Google Scholar
Maynard, Douglas W
(2003) Bad News, Good News: Conversational Order in Everyday Talk and Clinical Settings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Sacks, Harvey
(1972a) On the analyzability of stories by children. In John Gumperz, and Dell Hymes (eds.), Directions in Sociolinguistics: The Ethnography of Communication. New York: Rinehart & Winston, pp. 325-345.Google Scholar
(1972b) An initial investigation of the usability of conversational data for doing sociology. In David Sudnow (ed.), Studies in Social Interaction. New York: Free Press, pp. 31-74.Google Scholar
(1979) Hotrodder: A revolutionary category. In George Psathas (ed.), Everyday Language: Studies in Ethnomethodology. New York: Irvington, pp. 7-14.Google Scholar
(1984) Notes on methodology. In J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John M. Heritage (eds.), Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 2-27.Google Scholar
Suchman, Lucy
(1994) Do categories have politics: The language-action perspective reconsidered. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) 2: 177-190. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Torfing, Jakob
(2005) Discourse theory: Achievements, arguments, and challenges. In David Howarth, and Jakob Torfing (eds.), Discourse Theory in European Politics: Identity, Policy and Governance. Hampshire & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-32. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Watson, Rodney
(1994) Catégories, séquentialité et ordre social: Un nouveau regard sur l’oeuvre de Sacks. Raisons Pratiques 5: 151-84.Google Scholar
(1997) Some general reflections on ‘Categorization’ and ‘Sequence’ in the analysis of conversation. In S. Hester, and P. Eglin (eds.), Culture in Action: Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, pp. 49-76.Google Scholar
Wilson, Thomas
(1991) Social structure and the sequential organization of interaction. In Deirdre Boden, and Don H. Zimmerman (eds.), Talk and Social Structure: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 22-43.Google Scholar
Winch, Peter
(1958) The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Zienkowski, Jan
(2012) Analysing political engagement. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Antwerp: University of Antwerp.Google Scholar
Zimmerman, Don H
(1998) Identity, context and interaction. In Charles Antaki, and Sue Widdicombe (eds.), Identities in Talk. London: Sage, pp. 87-106.Google Scholar
Žižek, Slavoj
(1989) The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.Google Scholar