Discourse & Discourse Analysis
We often do not think about why the social practices we have function the way they do, often just assuming they have always worked in that manner. The idea of ‘discourse’ focusses on just that notion; “it is a particular knowledge about the world which shapes how the world is understood” (Rose, p.137., 2001). Instead of the notion that our actions create certain occurrences and activities, it is the idea that these specific activities and structures force us to act, think and react in a certain way according to how these activities are organized. Discourse is all about how certain thing is thought about and what influence this thought has on other things.
A concrete example of this notion is medical discourse. This centers around the idea that the way we do medicine influences the way we think about it and is the reason we have doctors, nurses and patients. Perhaps if medicine was structured in a different manner from the beginning, the whole notion of medicine would have been very different (Rose, p.137, 2001).
The way discourses are communicated and conceptualized in many different methods. They could be expressed through “visual and verbal images and texts” but also through “practices that languages permit” (Rose, p.137, 2001). This closely relates to the idea of ‘intertextuality’ which refers to the idea that certain images and texts depend on other images and texts and how they influence new images and texts (Rose, p.137, 2001).
Discourse analysis is the examination of this discourse, which can be represented in two different ways: discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II. In this section, discourse analysis I will be outlined.
Discourse analysis I focusses specifically on visual depictions and verbal texts. Discourse analysis is therefore “articulated” through these images and texts, therefore focusses less on the practices required by specific discourses (Rose, p.141, 2001). This notion of discourse also helps explore how these images and visual representations construct these specific perspectives of our social world and society. Tonkiss states that “this type of discourse analysis pays careful attention to images and to their social production and effect” (Rose, p.141, 2001).
An example of a discourse analysis is the analysis of Charlene Elliott about Starbucks’ marketing strategies. Starbucks is an excellent example of discourse as they not only represent drinking coffee but represent the change in how coffee is perceived.
The company has single-handedly changed how we see coffee and what we associate coffee with. Social relations like work vs. leisure, productivity and relaxation are all influenced by Starbucks, showing a definite discourse in how the company has influenced society.
Elliott alludes to the fact that Starbucks has played a significant role in certain social relations and had influenced the “work and leisure” dynamic in many countries (Elliott, P.371, 2001). With this, she perhaps means how Starbucks has changed the way work and leisure are perceived and how Starbucks perhaps pulled the two closer together. Businesses meetings can for example be held in a Starbucks, which is something that did not happen before.
This also ties in with the take-away coffee that Starbucks is so famous for. Instead of having to sit down, order coffee, wait for it to be ready, and then drink it at the table, Starbucks makes it a fast and easy process. The coffee is quickly and personally prepared and can then be taken away on the go. This also proves that Starbucks is definitely a discourse as other coffee companies now mimic this service option, it almost being the normal way to have coffee now. It is therefore almost a “fixture of western consumers” and part of the “western identity” (Elliott, p.371, 2001).
Elliott goes on to analyze the transborder aspect of Starbucks coffee; how they create a global yet local representation. The coffee itself is completely customized for the western consumer, “the message being steeped in the beverage itself, the names of the coffee blends and the labeling of the beans” (Elliott, p.372, 2001). Despite this, the beans and the coffee itself usually comes from other places around the world like South America. Starbucks has thereby created a perfect combination of familiarity/local while also marketing an exotic experience – there is a global message attached to their brand.
There are still other countless of methods that Starbucks employs to make their company the leading coffee house in the world. Their marketing strategies focus on this, they aim to create change in the coffee world so that their method is the standard, something that they have already been very successful in doing. It thereby is not only an interesting marketing case study but also a “site for representation and discourse” (Elliott, p.371, 2001).
Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage. (Chapter 6: Discourse Analysis I)
Elliott, C. (2001). “Consuming caffeine: The discourse of Starbucks and coffee” In: Consumption, Markets and Culture, 4(4), pp. 369-382.