Institutional ethnography and the uses of critical discourse analysis

Year: 2013

Author: Peacock, David

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Institutional Ethnography (IE) is a methodology increasingly employed by researchers in fields such as education and health.  The goal of analysis in these diverse work settings has been to explicate the effects of power flowing through textually mediated discourses that work to reconfigure local practices to official mandates.  For Dorothy Smith, IE is both a social ontology and social scientific procedure that seeks to empirically investigate discourse as social relations that are organized by the activities of people.  Such an approach creatively connects ethnomethodology commitments to the local accomplishment of the social with a Marxist insight into people's active participation in extended social relations that can ‘overpower' and implicate them in wider ‘ruling' relations and injustices.  Critical discourse analysis has often be used by Institutional Ethnographers as a means to examine certain texts, not so much for their form as their function, because they are understood to be embedded within a field established through sequences of institutional action.  Yet the discourse analysis performed in much Institutional Ethnography to date has not paid close linguistic attention to the way the specific local actors utilise texts and discourses in an active appropriation of the ruling relations established by official discourses.  Using data from an Institutional Ethnography of student-equity practices in Australian higher education, this paper illustrates how a Fairclough-inspired Critical Discourse Analysis of the hybridity of a sample of institutional texts and interview transcriptions is able to provide greater analytical purchase on how texts are actively appropriated within an institutional field of action. Retaining Smith's focus upon texts and discourses within ongoing and daily interactions, I seek to incorporate within this analysis how genres, discourses and styles (Fairclough) are assembled within a text within a given social practice.  This linguistic focus, when joined with an analysis of the functions that texts play in organising and sequencing a field of institutional action, offers possibilities for more nuanced accounts of individual and collective social agency in the process of semiotic and social change.  This paper demonstrates how the accomplishment and reconfiguration of social life in one field, in particular social interactions and practices, involves the hybridizing of established semiotic forms (discourses) and social practices in specific ways that relate to both the positioned agency of the actors and the field of institutional action within which they work.