chapter  10
Sample of Discourse Analysis 1
Pages 16

This chapter and the two following will deal with data in an attempt to exemplify some of the tools of inquiry discussed in this book. As I pointed out in Chapter 8, actual discourse analyses will rarely, if ever, fully realize the ideal model sketched there. Real analyses, differently in different cases, concentrate more on some of the building tasks we have discussed than on others; they use some tools of inquiry more thoroughly than they do others. Since discourse analysis, like all science, is a social enterprise, we hope and trust the gaps in our own work will be filled in by others. In this chapter, I do not attempt any full discourse analysis. Furthermore, I do not want to suggest that there is any “lock step” method to be followed in doing a discourse analysis. Thus, I use data here simply to give some examples relevant to a number of points raised in earlier chapters. The data I use here comes from extended interviews with middle-school teenagers conducted by my research team. Our interviews take a specific form. In the first part, we ask teenagers questions about their lives, homes, communities, interests, and schools. We call this the “life part” of the interview. In the second part, the teens are asked to offer more “academic-like” explanations and opinions about societal issues such as racism and sexism. We call this the “society part” of the interview. In addition, we “shadow” the teenagers in their lives in school, at home, in their communities, and with their peer groups, as well as collect data about those schools, homes, and communities. Each teenager is interviewed by a different research assistant on our project who is familiar with the teenager and his or her environment. The teens all view the interviewer as a “school-based” (indeed, college-based) person. And, in fact, we are interested in whether and how each teenager will accommodate to this identity. We have also interviewed, in a similar way, some of the teenagers’ teachers and some university academics to see how they talk about similar issues. I will concentrate here on two sets of our interviews. One set is interviews with teenagers from what I will call “working-class families.” They all live in a post-industrial urban area in Massachusetts (U.S.) where, in fact, traditional working-class jobs are fast disappearing. The other set is interviews with teenagers from what I will call “upper-middle-class” families. These teens attend elite public schools in Massachusetts’ suburban communities and all have parents one or both of whom are doctors, lawyers, or university professors. I do not focus on two contrasting groups because I think any simple binary distinction exists here. There are clearly multiple and complex continua at play. Nonetheless, this particular contrast is an important starting place in today’s “new capitalist,” high-tech, global world. Across much of the developed world, young people from traditional working-class communities face a future with a severe shortage of good working-class jobs, thanks to the

decline of unions and the outsourcing of jobs to low-cost centers across the world. They often attend troubled schools with limited resources, schools that engage in what from the point of view of current school-reform efforts are less efficacious ways of teaching. On the other hand, many students in wealthy suburbs and ex-urban “edge cities” live in communities and attend schools that, unlike those available to less well-off urban students, often give them “cultural capital” for an information-driven global world. It has been argued that our new global capitalism is fast turning these two groups into separate “cultures” composed of people who share little or no “co-citizenship.” The wealthier group is coming progressively to feel more affiliation with similar elites across the world and less responsibility for the less well off in their own country. And, of course, such affiliations are both the product and cause of shared figured worlds, social languages, and Discourses. The same phenomenon is happening across much of the globe. Our “social-class” labels (“working class” and “upper middle class”) have no more import than what the last paragraph has tried to convey. In fact, discourse analysts often look at two contrasting groups not to set up a binary contrast, but in order to get ideas about what the poles of a continuum may look like. We can get ideas that can then inform the collection of new data out of which emerges a much more nuanced and complex picture.