Burr, Vivien (2005) Society and communities in social constructionism and discourse analysis. In: Texts, Interaction and Communities: Qualitative Approaches to Society and Social Action, May, 2005, Tampere, Finland. (Unpublished)

As a psychologist, I am fortunate to work in a University Psychology Dept that acknowledges the place and value of qualitative research in the discipline, as is the case here in Tampere. It is easy to forget that, within the discipline as a whole, the vision of ‘science’ that is held up for us to emulate is still one that exhorts us to strive for objectivity and the quantification of psychological phenomena. So presenting at this conference is an opportunity for me to reflect upon what it is that psychologists are aiming for when they make a case for the use of qualitative methods. It is also an opportunity to consider the extent to which specific qualitative methods help us to achieve those aims. In this paper, I want to consider discourse analysis as a qualitative methodology and ask to what extent it s capable of fulfilling at least some of the aims of qualitative research. I will be using ‘social constructionism’ as an umbrella term to cover the theoretical ,positions I want to critique. In the USA, SC is equated with the work of Kenneth Gergen, but I will be using the term to also include the worlk of poststructuralist writers, particularly those adopting a Foucauldian approach. And mirroring this, I will broadly divide DA into two forms, Discursive Psychology and Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, and take each in turn, discussing their relative merits and the problems I think they raise. In particular, I will argue that, because of their theoretical assumptions, both forms of discourse analysis are, for different reasons, problematic in terms of their ability to give ‘voice’ to individuals and communities whose experiences are often marginalised within society.

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