McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams

Critical Discourse Analysis of Prime Minister’s Conference Speech

This piece is an analysis of the speech of Prime Minster Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference 2007 using Critical Discourse Analysis. Firstly, a short introduction into Critical Discourse Analysis and its relevance to this text will be conducted. This will be followed by an in depth examination of the text itself, looking at it at the level of discursive and social practice, and using the theory to examine it further.

Norman Fairclough, Sociologist and proponent of Critical Discourse Analysis argues that its function is to give an account of social change looking at the way in which, 'social changes are changes in discourse.' Fairclough focuses on two aspects in particular. Firstly semiosis, which seeks to examine social practices for representations and identity. Secondly, the 'order of discourse' allows a Habermasian analysis of hegemony and dominance. Christina Schaffre shows the extent to which this school of analysis fits perfectly into the examination of a political speech, 'This process of manifesting a political will and transforming it into a concrete social action is sealed first of all between political parties. In this process, language plays an important role.' It is Fairclough again, who warns us not to oversimplify an analysis of social change, for whilst discourse plays a vital role, it can not be reduced down to being the sole reason. For Teun van Dijk, the most important part of conducting an analysis is to accept the influence of Jurgen Habermas and Antonio Gramsci and be overtly political, 'Unlike other discourse analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis, should take an explicit sociopolitical stance.' Further than being most suited to analysing a political speech, a speech by the leader of the Labour Party is most suited to discourse analysis. An analysis of the birth of New Labour by Norman Fairclough in The Observer highlighted the importance of language, 'With New Labour came a whole new vocabulary; a way of speaking that suggests the 'spinmeisters' want to control not merely our perception of politics, but the very words we use to describe it.'

It is also clear that this speech is aimed towards an audience which holds more conservative views. Van Dijk highlights that, 'The conservative press is primarily interested in topics that also concern the authorities.' However, in the case of New Labour, the authorities sought to align themselves with conservative causes to attract the support of the press and non-Labour supporting member of the public. Local Meanings play a part in this. When the Prime Minister says that, 'I stand for a Britain where it is a mark of citizenship that you learn our language and traditions.', he is doing so because he knows that a conservative section of the population will see this as common sense, and not xenophobic. Van Dijk used this theory in the 1980s when western leaders would attack communism, in confidence that the majority of people watching would describe these views as 'common sense.' Ultimately, Critical Discourse Analysis highlights how discourse perpetuates inequality in all its guises. This theory would see in New Labour's changed discourse an attempt in the 1990s an attempt to attract the establishment and Conservative supporters and thus maintain the hegemonic status quo. In his speech Brown keeps the new language developed by Tony Blair for this purpose, 'New Labour, now the party of aspiration.' Interestingly, the speech does focus on equality though and seeks to again use local meanings, that it is hoped Labour supporters will pick up on to suggest this leader will be more traditional than his predecessor, 'Not just occupying, but shaping and expanding the centre ground.' However, the fact that he has to use these local meanings, almost attempting to sneak it past the conservative press, shows what a tight grip these hegemonic forces have over political discourse.

The Critical Discourse Analysis theory is highly useful in analysing texts. It allows for an insight into political and ideological discourses. In addition, its overtly political nature allows it to look into why these discourses result in us thinking or responding in the way we do, or what power we have over this. Using this to analyse the Prime Minister's speech it highlighted the way in which the speech used different styles of discourse to attract different people, and to enforce or underplay his dominance depending on the group. In the final analysis, critical discourse analysis shows us the extent to which hegemony constrains political discourse.

Related Links
To Top