Historicity, concepts and procedures of discourse analysis


Deivson Wendell da Costa Lima I; Alcivan Nunes VieiraII; Antonio Marcos Tosoli Gomes III; Lia Carneiro SilveiraIV

I Nurse. Master in Clinical Care in Nursing and Health. Professor, State University of Rio Grande do Norte. Brazil. E-mail: deivsonwendell@hotmail.com
II Nurse. Master in Clinical Care in Nursing and Health. Professor, State University of Rio Grande do Norte. Brazil. E-mail: alcivannunes@uern.br
III Nurse. PhD in Nursing. Professor, State University of Rio de Janeiro. Brazil. E-mail: mtosoli@gmail.com
IV Nurse. PhD in Nursing. Professor, State University of Ceará. Brazil. E-mail: silveiralia@gmail.com

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12957/reuerj.2017.12913




Objective: to present discourse analysis as a frame of reference for research and a method of data analysis. Method: theoretical essay on discourse analysis from the perspective of the French current of thought comprising the work of Michel Pechêux. Results: this study summarizes the historicity of discourse analysis and its genesis from the interplay of historical and dialectical materialism with linguistics, discourse theory and psychoanalysis. This is presented in steps so as to offer opportunities for production of meaning by studies using subjects' speech as their corpus. The essay then presents the devices of discourse analysis, discursive formations and ideological formation. Conclusion: we believe this method has potential to re-signify nursing research that uses subjects' speech, where a methodology is necessary to grasp relations between discourse and the conditions in which it is produced.

Keywords: Search; speech/discourse; nursing; nursing education.




The 55th Brazilian Congress of Nursing proposed the elaboration of a national agenda of nursing research priorities based on social demands 1. The knowledge of these demands, in general, comes from research based on the subjects' speeches. These speeches are actually discourses produced in a context where rules set limits of what can and cannot be spoken.

In this sense, it is necessary to develop a methodology of analysis to seize the relations between the discourse and its conditions of production 2.

This essay presents the discourse analysis (DA) of the French line of thought worked by Michel Pechêux as a reference and a method of analysis organized with this purpose3.

The text was structured based on its historicity, of a theoretical-methodological rescue of its concepts, followed by method systematization in three stages. Then, the concepts of analytical tools of the discourse, of discursive formations and of ideological formation will be presented.

Historicity and Foundations of DA

Unlike other methods of data analysis, the development of DA requires the researcher to get closer to its historicity. Without this moment, one runs the risk of trying to develop it in dissonance with its foundations 3.

Michel Pêcheux (1938-1983, based on his Marxist political action) proposed a field of research aimed at integrating the analysis of conditions of production of the discourse and the discursive processes. He made critics to the structuralist thought and proposed the adoption of a new object, the discourse that operates on the articulation between the linguistic and the historical4.

For Pechêux, the discourse implies the language exteriority around the ideology and the social. Epistemologically, the DA is inscribed in historical and dialectical materialism, in linguistics and in discourse theory5.

Another field of knowledge that founded DA was the psychoanalysis. This contributed to the conception of language, situating the subject as human being that speaks and represents the world symbolically. In the perspective of psychoanalysis, not everything can be included in the signifying chain, a remnant of language that cannot be symbolized and sticks to the symbolic chain always remains, giving rise to the unsaid.

The unspoken as an integral element of the discourse and producer of signification is outside the organized structure of language where the subject tries to appear as the only author, when in fact occupies a place in discursiveness7.

For psychoanalysis, the unspoken corresponds to a speech that, when it is absent, situates the place of the subject; therefore, it is valued during the analysis and sought mainly when the discourse intends to be complete and full of meanings. It is in the incompleteness of discourse that other senses are founded beyond what is said7,8.

Psychoanalysis appears in the discourse analysis, making it possible to situate what escapes the structure of the discourse as the lapse, the unspoken, and the place of the subject founded by ignorance. "Such ignorance is not ignorance, it is not passive. On the contrary, this ignorance corresponds to the subject's own activity" 8:63.

The relation between psychoanalysis and DA can be seen also through the imaginary mechanisms as identifying processes of the subject in its alterity6.

Among the fundamental concepts of DA, the concept of discourse stands out; it results from the interpellation between language and ideology, man and history. It is a social construction linked to the materiality of the objects of knowledge and the modalities of language intervention in the process of production/reproduction of knowledge. In this sense, discourse is considered a typical object of the language that works to produce the senses3.

Pêcheux also adopted the concept of discursive formation of Foucault, considering it not only as a closed structural space; because it is constitutively invaded by elements that come from other discursive formations that are repeated in it by providing its discursive evidences 9.

The historical rescue of DA is an indispensable suport for any research that proposes to work with this reference, since it contributes to sediment the necessary coherence in the apprehension of the utterances beyond their apparent superficialities and linearities.

Subject, Language and Speech

It is understood that the concepts of subject, language and discourse are constitutive of the theoretical and philosophical reference of DA, substantially differing from the way they are worked on in other data analysis proposals3.

In DA, the discursive subject is constituted and produced in language, in its signifying materiality. It is the speaking subject that places himself and situates himself in language and for the language, it is the subject divided by his unconscious.

The unconscious is not understood as an inaccessible place, but as a determinant and always active instance that imprints the mode of operation of each subject through its singular trait as the effect of discourse 6.

Starting from this understanding, the DA proposes a rupture with the supposed language transparency where the subject is not seen as a unit, but as a divided being and effect of language. As a producer of the context where he is inserted, at the same time that he is crossed by this context 9,10.

DA consists in a proposal of analysis that seeks to overcome the linear apprehension of externalized language, in its character of superficiality; it aims to understand language in an way articulated with its conditions of production4,5.

It seeks the meanings of the text and the language expressed in the relations established between the subjects, as well as the meanings attributed to them from the conditions in which the discourse is produced. It aims to understand and explain the processes of signification to reach the mechanisms of sense production9,10.

DA also proposes to seek the meanings attributed by the subject to the social, historical and cultural frames. Because the discourses materialize meanings in a society that is in constant motion, that "[...] transits through time and space; they enmesh us, surround us and build us, and as constructed by a memory, an already-said that makes them be interpreted" 11:75.

For this reason, DA requires a methodological articulation between description and interpretation, since, analytical tools whose identification is a challenge to the discourse analyst emerge in the field of these relations. This is not about the identification of figures of language, but of the incompleteness of language that provokes a continuous sliding of senses12.

Considering this justification, we identify the rupture that DA establishes with other procedures of data analysis, as DA does not seek speech for itself, but the DA seeks the discourses produced by subjects from discursive and ideological formations12.

The DA Process

The DA process is based on the concepts of subject, language and discourse that are present since the research problem formulation. And it is from them that the corpus, the speech materialized in interviews, for example, will be analyzed3.

The stages of the discourse analysis process are: passage from the linguistic surface to the discursive object; passage from the discursive object to the discursive process; constitution of the discursive processes 2.

In the first step, the corpus transcription must occur in a literal way, keeping all the discursive particles. This procedure seeks to preserve the meanings produced in the enunciation, different from what happens in Bardin's content analysis that ignores these elements of linguistic materiality2,3.

The reading of the corpus with these particles confers linguistic materiality to the discourse, since the linguistic material of the DA is essentially made up by lexical elements and microsystems that organize the expression of linguistic subjectivity5.

This reading seeks to familiarize the researcher with the corpus and with the various discursive forms employed by the subjects, combining a floating attention and familiarization with the spoken. This approach subsidizes the identification of the senses and ruptures, penetrating into its materiality without yielding to its literalness9,12.

To identify the linguistic resources present in the speech, the following text indicators can be used:

• Reticence within parentheses (...): representing a pause in thought.

• Question mark (?): Representing a question.

• Exclamation (!): Representing surprise, astonishment, or emphasis.

• Comma (,): representing a brief pause in speech subsequently continued.

• Period (.): Representing the end of a discursive enunciation.

• Indent ( - ): representing the beginning of a discursive enunciation.

• Bold text: representing the increase or decrease in the tone of the voice, laughter, pauses, cries, expressions of agreement (right, on, hum hum) and other linguistic particles.

• Italic text within brackets: representing a comment from the researcher clarifying the enunciation or motivating the subjects to speak 3,12.

The use of sense production markers contributed to the deepening of the corpus, moving from the linguistic surface to the discursive object3.

In the second stage, in the search for the passage from the discursive object to the discursive process, we identify the analytical tools: metaphor, polysemy, paraphrase, interdiscourse, and negation12.

Their identification makes it possible to understand the meanings of words and statements, essential to the process of unveiling discursiveness. The metaphor is the semantic phenomenon produced by a contextual substitution of one or more terms of the language for the slips of senses; it is the taking of a word by the other through a mechanism of transference of meaning5-9.

Polysemy externalizes the multiple senses produced by the subject, representing something different from the "already said". It expresses a rupture in discursive continuity, where scarcity of discourse and production of new senses take place. This tool evidences different meaning to the same word when this is placed in different discursive formations 5-9.

Paraphrastic processes are those through which, in every term spoken, there is something that remains. It consists in different formulations of the same sedimented and stabilized saying.

Another tool found is the interdiscourse. This corresponds to the moment in which the subject elaborates his saying by referring it to other discourses, due to their approximation with these discourses and their ideological positions3-12.

This condition also results from the position that the subject occupies in the discursive context, "[...] it is what we call discursive memory: the discursive knowledge that makes every saying become possible, and that returns in the form of the pre-constructed, which is at the base of what can be said, sustaining every take of the word" 12: 623.

In interdiscourse, the saying is also resumed in a relationship of forgetfulness that insists on saying something that has already been said, but that has status of something new and original for the subject 3.

Every discourse entails nonsense, an attempt to deny what it is meant to emphasize and omit; this tool is denial. It represents something that the subject tries to emphasize, but the other of the language appears in the form of non-being in opposition to the already constructed discourse. This tool is based on the condition in which the subject believes that his speech is not allowed to appear in that context 13.

The negation, therefore, arises within the discursive memory evidencing the subject constituted by the forgetfulness of what determines him. By denying the unconscious, he appears in the discourse through faulty acts, lapses, and slides of meanings6,13.

From the identification of the analytical tools the procedures converge to the articulation of the discursive object with the social process where it is produced. The next step is the identification of the discursive formations, of the rules that govern the production of discourses. The discursive formation in an ideological formation determines what can and must be said within an ideological apparatus inscribed in a relation of classes9,10.

This process happens as a consequence of the articulation of the statement with the enunciation where the subject is marked by the illusory process of being the source of meaning of the discourse and of being the author of its own enunciation process. These processes are called, respectively, forgetfulness number one and forgetfulness number two3.

"The forgetfulness number one is what accounts for the fact that the speaking subject cannot, by definition, find himself outside the discursive formation that dominates him. That is, the subject is constituted by the forgetfulness of what determines him. He is constituted by inscription in the discursive formation. [...]. Forgetfulness number two is about the formulation order. The subject forgets that there are other possible senses. Throughout his saying, paraphrasic families form all that he could, but did not say" 3:21.

In this step, conceptual distinction between the statement and the enunciation is necessary; the utterance arises from the interpellation of the subject as author of the discourse, entailing several enunciations dispersed in time and space6-10.

The enunciation occurs in the place that the subject occupies in the society where the discourse is produced and crossed by the discursive memory, that one that is governed by external discourses to the subject. This represents a singular, dated and situated event, which causes the subject to be characterized as the same and the different, as repetition and difference10.

The Ideological Formations in the DA

Ideological formations consist of one or more interrelated discursive formations, characterized by a complex set of attitudes and representations, neither individual nor universal. They give the rules that delineate the production of discourse in a context9.

In the constitution of the discursive processes, it is still possible to identify elements that break up with the ideological formation, as the silencing and the silence. These elements also break the logic of consciousness and point to the decentering of the subject9.

Silencing is related to ideology and imaginary formation, representing a part of what is said and not due or to the sanctions imposed by the context of discourse production3.

As it happens with verbalized speech, the silence is part of the discursive event and integrates a sequence of statements within a discursive context. Its appearance is also a discursive function in relation to the exteriority where it is produced7,9.

Silence does not mean something is implicit or that is already contained in speech, it is a way of being in the sense with the status of founder of new senses. And "if language implies silence, this, in turn, is the unsaid seen from within the language. It is not the 'nothing'; it is not the emptiness without history. It is a significant silence" 7:23.

These processes also correspond to a rupture where the subject appears in the discourse as someone who occupies a place in the discursiveness. Through them, the subject finds space to say something beyond what he is authorized to speak in a given discursive formation2,3.



The DA bets on a movement of change in the way of producing knowledge and in a different apprehension of the subject's relations with his discourse. Because speech is not transparent and literal, its application makes it possible to identify the rules that delimit what can be said in a given context.

In this sense, this reference and method of analysis become capable of contributing to the qualification of nursing research. When the joint apprehension of the subjects is required, their discourses and the context in which they are produced enable the unveiling of the process of sense production and the multiple senses present in these discourses.



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