Plenary abstracts

Ruth Wodak

'Voices from the past and present': Analysing narratives of persecution, flight and survival

Daily, we are all confronted with news about the many refugees trying to escape from war-zones in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and so forth, and therefore seeking support and safety in Europe (and beyond). Governments, media, politicians and the public are involved in manifold debates about solidarity and responsibility, on the one hand; and about various measures and policies to be imposed in order 'to keep them out', on the other hand. The concepts of 'refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants' seem to be merged into one generic category of 'strangers' (Baker et al. 2008; KhosraviNik 2010; Wodak and Boukala 2015). Rarely (if at all) are refugees' voices heard, their stories remain silent (Delanty et al. 2011).

In my presentation, I will present first results of an interdisciplinary (psychological, historical, discourse-analytical) research project on narratives of persecution, flight and survival, thus allowing space for narratives of past traumatic experiences (Rheindorf & Wodak 2015; De Fina 2003). These stories told by the children (and grandchildren) of Austrian victims of Nazi persecution, all of them left-wing political dissidents and some of them also Jewish relate to World War II and the Holocaust. They can, I claim, only be understood on the background of presupposed knowledge of the specific historical and socio-political contexts of the victims as well as of their children (Wodak 2006).

In this way, two worlds of knowledge (or two epistemic communities) interact which have to be deconstructed in much detail and on many context levels, in order to be able to analyse, understand and explain the stories told and retold by the interviewees (De Fina and Georgakopolou 2012). These narratives differ strikingly from those told by Holocaust survivors themselves, not so much in terms of the events re-told, but in terms of the telling and chronotopes, specifically their narrative framing (Schiffrin 2002, 2003; Tannen 2007; Wodak 1986). Thus, several levels of context have to be considered in the systematic in-depth analysis.

Firstly, I focus on the narratives as they relate to flight and the loss of citizenship and homes. Secondly, I investigate what it meant — from the children's perspective — to later return to and grow up in the country that had excluded their parents. And thirdly, it is important to reflect what such stories imply for the present — what we could learn from such narratives for the present and future. In their narratives, the interviewees try to come to terms with the experiences of their parents and bridge the obvious cognitive dissonance: of living in Austria and holding a citizenship which was denied to their parents at a traumatic point of their lives.

In the analysis, I integrate quantitative methods (narrative network analysis and corpus linguistics) with qualitative discourse analysis (discourse-historical analysis and Social Actors Approach). Although each story and the related context are of course unique, It is nevertheless worth discussing if specific characteristics of the narratives could be generalized to other contexts in order to illustrate the plights of fleeing and struggles for survival of refugees.

Bob Hodge

Deep discourse analysis: economic literacy and global crisis.

This presentation outlines principles of discourse analysis that enable this set of approaches to be applied insightfully to a wide range of problems from a wide range of fields, complementing analytic scope with deep understanding and effective intervention. It outlines a basic dynamic, complex multiscalar model with three dimensions: semiotic mode (multimodal texts and processes); orientation to reality; and social frame, constituted at every level by tensions, conflicts and alliances.

It adapts this model to a specific domain, finance and economics, using as focus the Black-Scholes pricing model. This model won a Nobel Prize for Robert Merton and Myron Scholes in 1997, but quickly led to a spectacular bankruptcy. I use DDA to look closely at academic and media discourses surrounding the promotion of this success story, and develop some ideas of economic literacy which could have been applied by everyday critical citizens then as now.

I use the particular analysis to suggest that mainstream discourse analysis will benefit from incorporating lessons from financial crises, just as mainstream economic and financial analysis would be stronger if I were reconstituted as a branch of deep discourse analysis.

Donald Matheson

Getting real in the computational turn: Discourse analysis and large corpora
Corpus analysis and other computational tools have broadened discourse analytic scholarship, allowing language use to be modelled in new ways and latent patterns to be identified. In addition, analysis grounded in large data sets of language use is less susceptible to criticism that too much is being made of isolated examples or analysis relies on the discursive competence of the analyst.

Discourse analysts must engage with this field, but in doing so they face challenges in staying true to people's discursive realities, and therefore to the ethos of their field. Beginning from the proposition that no technology is neutral, this paper explores two ethical — but also analytical — risks that arise as material is quantified and decontextualised. The first is that analysts may privilege that which can be measured and so focus too much on lexis, form and taxonomies of textual function and become less sensitive to how language users themselves make sense.

The second is that people's talk becomes reduced to data, so that discourse analysis risks contributing to the disempowerment of language users produced in the thorough-going surveillance and objectification of them by large organisations and states.

Using a data set of nearly a million tweets, and drawing on Widdowson's (2000) critique of corpus linguistics, the paper discusses the struggle to find ways of analysing corpora that remain true to communicative interaction and to people's experience. It argues that analysis must be as dialogic as the text itself, and so emphasises the value of team-based approaches, of cycling between concordance software and close readings of communicative events and of drawing in language users in the analysis.


  • Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C., KhosraviNik, M., Krzy┼╝anowski, M., McEnery, T., and Wodak, R. (2008) 'A useful methodological synergy? Combining critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics to examine discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press', Discourse & Society, 19/3: 273–305.
  • De Fina, A. (2003): Crossing Borders: Time, Space, and Disorientation in Narrative. Narrative Inquiry 13/2, 367-391.
  • De Fina, A. & Georgakopoulou, A. (2012): Analyzing Narrative. Discourse and Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Delanty, G., Wodak, R. & Jones, P. (eds) (2011) Migration, Identity, and Belonging. 2nd edn. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
  • KhosraviNik, M. (2010) 'The representation of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in British newspapers: A critical discourse analysis', Journal of Language and Politics, 9/1: 1–28.
  • Rheindorf, M. & Wodak, R. (2015) "Whose story?" – Narratives of persecution, flight and survival told by the children of Austrian Holocaust survivors', in De Fina (ed) Diversity and Super-diversity Georgetown: UG Press (in press).
  • Schiffrin, D. (2002): Mother and friends in a Holocaust life story. Language in Society 31, 309–353.
  • Schiffrin, D. (2003): We knew that's it: retelling the turning point of a narrative. Discourse Studies 5(4): 535–561.
  • Tannen, D. (2007): Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wodak, R. (1986): Language Behavior in Therapy Groups. Los Angeles: Univ.of Cal. Press.
  • Wodak, R. (2006): History in the making/The making of history. The 'German Wehrmacht' in collective and individual memories in Austria. In: Anthonissen, Ch. & Blommaert, J. (eds.), Critical Linguistic Perspectives on Coping with Traumatic Pasts: Case studies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 125-154.
  • Wodak, R. & Boukala, S. (2015) 'European identities and the revival of nationalism in the European Union - a discourse-historical approach', Journal of Language and Politics 14/1: 87–109.