Categories of Experience, Logics of Inquiry and the Work of Analytic Concepts in the Discourses of Critical Communication Studies

Malcolm Cecil
Communication, Concordia University
October, 2001
 

Abstract


As critical communication and cultural studies have taken a more sociological turn, it is increasingly recognized that the theoretical assumptions of critical perspectives create tensions within projects of empirically informed social analysis. This dissertation explores the epistemological commitments and liabilities of a set of analytic concepts that address the domain of “lived experience” and interprets how and why they displace the very phenomena that they claim to study.


Drawing on Foucauldean discourse analysis, I develop a critical perspective that is grounded in the analysis of “discursive operators,” the analytic concepts that work to legitimate claims to knowledge within different traditions of research. My research maps out the work of these operators across a range of positions and projects, and diagnoses the relations of power that structure these particular discursive régimes.
I focus on four key discursive formations in critical communication and cultural studies and their objects of study: emotion and symbolic interactionism; the structure of feeling and literary humanism; subcultural and media ethnography; agency, identity and discursive conceptions of power. In the course of my analysis, I find a consistent regularity, a logic of deferral and displacement, in which the complexity and limit-less character of actual contexts of research are displaced in favor of powerful discursive operators such as intersubjectivity, the popular, resistance, and various conceptualizations of domination. Their influence contributes to the reproduction of theoretical orthodoxies and the marginalization of theoretical and practical innovation in these disciplinary fields.


After isolating the problem, I describe a number of strategies that attempt to contend with the determinations of powerful discursive operators, especially a form of conjuncturalist analysis developed in cultural studies.
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