An article by Maria Stube et al. (2003) explores the contributions that five different approaches to discourse analysis can make to interpreting and understanding the same piece of data. Conversation analysis, interactional sociolinguistics, politeness theory, critical discourse analysis, and discursive psychology are the approaches chosen for comparison. The data is a nine-minute audio recording of a spontaneous workplace interaction. The analyses are compared, and the theoretical and methodological implications of the different approaches are discussed.
The authors conclude as follows.
Although there are substantial areas of overlap, as we have seen, there are also a
number of significant differences in emphasis or perspective and some tensions
between the five different approaches to discourse analysis presented here. First,
each framework takes a slightly different approach to the place of extra-textual
context in the analysis, ranging from the strong version of CA which claims not
to make use of any information outside the local interactional context, through
to weaker versions of CA, IS and politeness theory, which did admit contextual
and socio-cultural information to a greater or lesser extent, and then to CDA and
discursive psychology which also included a focus on the broader socio-political
context and existing social discourses, particularly those relating to power.
Second, there are differences in the level of detail with which linguistic, paralinguistic
and discourse features are analysed. CA works primarily within a
micro-analytic framework. IS and politeness theory operate at this level too, but
are also concerned with identifying more generalizable patterns (indexicality and
socio-cultural norms in the case of IS, superstrategies in the case of politeness
theory). CDA and discursive psychology both attend to the 'big picture' in order to
identify the constructs which provide the underlying logic for the specific discourse
strategies that are used in an interaction, but CDA in particular can also, and often
does, accommodate a much more fine-grained analysis of relevant excerpts.
A third difference concerns the degree to which an interaction is seen and/or
analysed as a joint construction, as opposed to the more traditional view of communication
as a simple 'transmission' of information or intent. Politeness theory
fits most obviously into the latter category, while CA and IS take a strong and
weak social constructionist approach respectively. The other approaches fall
somewhere in the middle. The contrast along this dimension is also reflected in
different sets of assumptions about intentionality and inferencing.
Each approach therefore provides a slightly different lens with which to
examine the same interaction, highlighting different aspects or dimensions of its
key features. These are not necessarily in conflict with one another (though in
some cases the analyses and/or the theoretical assumptions underlying them are
difficult to reconcile); rather, they are complementary in many ways, with each
approach capable of generating its own useful insights into what is going on in
the interaction, with the proviso that the framework adopted needs to be a good
match for the research questions being asked. Hence, while the exercise we have
engaged in clearly presents many challenges, we hope this article has demonstrated
the value of analysing one text from a range of perspectives, and the
insights to be gained by applying a range of different theoretical and methodological
approaches to the same piece of discourse.