Research Seminars

Research seminars

Wednesday 12th October 2016

‘This is insidious bollocks’: Critical (Cognitive) Stylistics and the active audience.

Sam Browse (Sheffield Hallam University, UK) 

Jeffries (2010:11) suggests that the focus in Critical Discourse Analysis has more often than not been directed towards the production end of discourse. Text and talk are viewed as the product of socially and institutionally situated discursive practices that instantiate or enact ideologies (or Discourses, depending on the Foucaultian or Marxian critical-theoretical preferences of the analyst – see for example, Van Leeuwen, 2008: 6; Fairclough, 2001: 31). The role of the critical analyst is thus to make explicit the “underlying” ideological perspective encoded in the text and to explain the social, political and institutional ‘interconnections and chains of cause and effect’ (Fairclough, 1985: 747) leading to the text’s creation. In some versions of CDA, this involves a normative critique of the ways in which the text perpetuates the inequalities and injustices permeating that broader social context (for example, Van Dijk, 1993).

In this paper, I address this production-side imbalance in CDA research by approaching discourse from the opposite perspective: the reception-side. Using a variety of audience response data collected after participants read and watched a speech by Theresa May, I argue that ideas and concepts frequently used in Cognitive Stylistics – particularly Text World Theory (Gavins, 2007; Werth, 1999), Cognitive Grammar (Langacker 1987, 1991, 2008) and the notion of ‘mind modelling’ (Stockwell, 2009) – offer an excellent starting point for a CDA more sensitive to audience reception. Such a cognitively oriented perspective not only provides a basis for analysing how texts might ‘mystify… the reader’s understanding of the events and participants being described’ (O’Halloran, 2003: 1), but also – and importantly – a means by which analysts explain how readers resist these ideological mystifications.       

I conclude the paper by reflecting on how a focus on discourse in reception and audience resistance might affect the way in which Critical Discourse Analysts approach the ‘critical’ impetus of their research.



Fairclough, N. (1985) ‘Critical and descriptive goals in discourse analysis’. Journal of Pragmatics. 9: 747

Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power, 2nd ed. London: Longman

Gavins, J. (2007) Text World Theory: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Jeffries, L. (2010) Critical Stylistics. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave

Langacker, R. (1987) Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Vol. I: Theoretical Pre-requisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Langacker, R. (1991) Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Vol. II: Descriptive Application. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Langacker, R. (2008) Cognitive Grammar: A Basic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

O’Halloran, K. (2003) Critical Discourse Analysis and Language Cognition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Stockwell, P. (2009) Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Werth, P. (1999) Text Worlds: Representing Conceptual Space in Discourse. London: Longman

Van Dijk, T. (1993) ‘Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis’. Discourse and Society 4(2): 252

Van Leeuwen, T. (2008) Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press