The notion of discourse is a crucial concept in social science, communication studies and in various other fields. Originally made famous by Foucault, the notion of discourse is both a concept and a method, a paradigm of reasoning in order to study in depth social facts, artifacts, situation, codes or conventions…
Rose gives a definition of discourse:
“It refers to groups of statements which structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking. In other words, discourse is a particular knowledge about the world which shapes how the world is understood and how things are done in it.”
In fact, what we call a discourse is a system of symbols, meaning, thoughts, conventions and codes structured in a very particular way in order to get a meaning a form of coherent grid of comprehension out of the world, be it social or material. I that sense, it is necessary to take into account the various element that make this system coherent (or appearing to be coherent). It is the inter-relation between those constituating elements, the signs and symbols that are part of the discourse, that build the “egime of truth” of this discourse, that is to say the impression that such a discourse is true by essence, whereas it is in fact nothing more than a social construct based on conventions.
According to Rose, there is 2 discourse analysis in a Foucaultdian paradigm:
- Discourse analysis 1 which focuses itself on the specific articulation of images and texts as a major object of study, rather than actual social practices of discourses
- Discourse analysis 2 which focuses on the contrary on the practices carried out by a discourse, without much concern to the images and the texts of the discourse
In chapter 6, Rose focuses himself on the first type of discourse analysis
Then, to provide with a “discourse analysis” is not an easy task, since as we have seen, all discourse tends to appear as natural. In order to analyse it, there is somehow a need for a critical approach, which imply getting rid of any form of preconceptions, and always reflecting on the own analysis provided and its credibility.
One has to keep in mind as well that any form of discourse is located in many ways: it is historically located, institutionally located, spacially located as well. Therefore, to study a discourse, one has to take into account every detail of a particular context to perceive the particular connection that ties those elements together. That constituted the fact that in a certain moment, in a certain place and in a certain context, people gave meaning to the world in a certain manner, and according to certain codes and conventions. Indeed one thing that is finally crucial to get about to discourse is that it is productive: productive of norms, codes of truth, conventions of behaviour and of understanding of the world surrounding the individuals that experience it.
In that sense the Eliott’s study of Starbuck’s discoursal strategy is very relevant. Starbucks refer to terms and symbols that are carrying out the idea of exotism, the idea that coffee come from mysterious lands such as Latin America, Arabia…
Eliott shows us here that those notions are only relevant for the brand in their discoursal value, that is to say expressing the idea that Starbucks bring exotic sensations at home: a form of foreign product but still American, still at home. This Orientalist use of foreign signs is of course part of the symbolic strategy of Starbucks, crafting its identity on those very concepts. However, as Rose explained us, a discourse is ambiguous since it conveys an illusion of truth. Consumers do not necessarily realize this work of construction when consuming Starbucks products. They are just consuming a cultural artifact artificially built on demand, internalizing the concept of exotism at home, the idea of the world as a big city, without realizing its superficial essence, the fact that those lands are “conceptually deterritorialized” and westernized for a commercial purpose.
Where Elliott’s analysis take a step away from Rose’s recommandations and statements on discourse is dealing with coffee and Starbucks in general, without taking the time to situating it historically and institutionnally enough. Indeed the social and historical context of the uprising of Starbucks could have been interesting in order to understand its discursive strategy. On the same perspective, we sometimes have the impression that Starbucks’s discourse is analyzed from only one angle: that of the Orientalist approach of the Starbucks product. Following Rose’s logic, one could have expected a more diverse and in depth attention toward other details of the brand’s discourse, its imagery, its style in general, which finally goes hand to hand with the remark we’ve just made: the Starbucks analysis proposed by Eliott is much more restrictive than the systematic approach proposed by Rose.