chapter  3
29 Pages

DISCURSIVE STRUCTURES

Structuralist thought focused largely on mapping out the rules governing the production of texts and systems of signification; theorists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault were both interested not only in the structures which could be found in cultural artefacts, but also in the larger-scale structures which could be traced in discourse itself. One of the important assertions that Michel Foucault made in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) was that discourses are not simply groupings of utterances, grouped around a theme or an issue, nor are they simply sets of utterances which emanate from a particular institutional setting, but that discourses are highly regulated groupings of utterances or statements with internal rules which are specific to discourse itself. In this chapter, I discuss the constituents of discourse itself – the more abstract element within which particular discourses are produced. Discourse as a whole consists of regulated discourses. Discursive rules and structures do not originate from socioeconomic or cultural factors as such, although they may be shaped

to an extent by these factors; rather, they are a feature of discourse itself and are shaped by the internal mechanisms of discourse alone. Both Barthes’ and Foucault’s later work moves away from this original premise, but it is still important to retain this notion of discourse being rule-governed and internally structured. Thus, the study of discourse is not simply the analysis of utterances and statements; it is also a concern with the structures and rules of discourse. These structures and rules are the focus of this chapter. Foucault termed this type of analysis of discursive structures ‘archaeology’. For him archaeology:

does not imply the search for a beginning; it does not relate to geological excavation. It designates the general theme of a description that questions the already-said at the level of its existence, of the enunciative function that operates within it, of the discursive formation, and the general archive system to which it belongs. Archaeology describes discourses as practices specified in the element of the archive.