The concepts of discourse analysis

Discourse analysis must uncover the discourse of a text – the way a text mentions, articulates and understands a concept, a phenomenon, an event. It may well be that a text in itself does not necessarily itself have the concept of its actual subject or purpose. A text rarely writes: “Here is the understanding of democracy that underlies this text”. But it can lie implicitly, and by doing the discourse analysis we get around what implicit understanding of democracy the text has as its foundation, what discourse the text has about democracy.

At the heart of the discourse analysis is that from the outset we clarify what concept, phenomenon, event we want to analyze the discourse around. The nodal point is the concept, phenomenon or event we want to make the discourse analysis about.

In the following, the two theorists Norman Fairclough and Ernesto Laclaus mix up the discourse. There are drawbacks and advantages to both theorists’ approaches to the discourse analysis, but by combining them you get a linguistically strong and in-depth discourse analysis with an eye for the details.

Vocabulary in the text and the meaning of words

Here we look at what words are used in the text based on an understanding that other words could be chosen. As a sender, you have the opportunity to choose your words based on their vocabulary, and therefore the choice of words is never random. A word’s value is rarely completely neutral, since connotations are typically associated with words. So, by choosing one word over another, the sender can color their text. In this part of the analysis we look at the word choice and see which words the sender has chosen over other words and what meaning / connotation is associated with these words.

Obviously, you should not look at every word in a text, but look at word choices that are particularly eye-catching, or that are essential to the text in general or essential to the way the nodal point is spoken (more on the nodal point later).

Grammar and sentence structures

Here we look at how the sender has chosen to build his sentences, because here there is a meaning and can be an attempt to give people, events, institutions or other an active role. For example, there is a difference between writing: “Tour de France is hit by yet another doping scandal, with Frank Høj admitting to the use of doping in 1998” and then writing “Frank Høj used doping in 1998 during Tour De France”. In the first sentence, the Tour de France is at the forefront and becomes a special player here, whereas Frank Høj has the central role in the second version of the sentence, and here the Tour de France plays a minor role. So an analysis of the sentence structure makes it possible to uncover who the actors are or what events are central.

Furthermore, we also look at grammatical choices of, for example, verbs: What form are they in? There is a difference between “The public spends too much money” and “In the public spends too much money”. In the first sentence, the ‘public’ is the clear player with the active verb in the present, while the second sentence is in the passive, and here it is not clear who is spending the money. The first sentence could imply a cut in the public sector in general, while the second sentence could imply that municipal directors spend too much money.


Agents are the one who acts, the one who takes action. In this context, we also talk about transitivity. In the phrase “2,000 nurses dismissed” is “dismissed” in passive. There is not one who acts, one who stands for the firing. There is thus no agent. On the other hand, it is in “Kurt Thorsen scams for 2 million”. Here’s a clear agent: Kurt Thorsen. Thus, one looks at the relationship between objects that act and then the objects or events that are traded in relation to.


Modality means ‘way’. When analyzing modality, one analyzes the sender’s degree of connectivity or the distance lag to a given topic: “It’s a bit cold”, “I think it’s a little cold”, “Isn’t it a little cold in here?” All express the same relationship: The sender freezes and would like some more warmth, but that is said in different ways: The sender approaches the subject differently. For example, you might consider something to be the truth: “If we pay less in taxes, then people will work something more” stands as a stronger truth than “If we pay less in taxes, then it may be that people work more”. Here we thus look at whether there are modal verbs like ‘must’, ‘can’, ‘should’, ‘must’, or whether adverbs such as ‘maybe’, ‘of course’, ‘of course’ are used. We analyze the sender’s connection or distance from a subject, the strength and the will behind the actions the sender puts up. Again, it is important not to work with all sentences, but only those that are central to the text’s pointers and descriptions.

Newspaper articles often articulate a stronger truth than perhaps intended by the interviewee: “Bendtner acknowledges target crisis” stands as a truth, while he himself has stated “It’s only a short time since I’ve scored a goal”.


We also need to work with the linguistic metaphors that are in a text. Denmark is brought to life in the following phrase: “Denmark does not need more sex scandals”, where Denmark is a metonymy for Danes – and perhaps also Danish values. We must work with both imagery (tropes) but also cognitive metaphors. In the imagery language, the text is largely colored by the fact that a real plane is assigned some meanings positive as negative values ​​and connotations based on the image plane.


The nodal point is precisely the central concepts, persons, events or other that we wish to analyze the discourse on. How is the discourse about 2nd generation Danes in this text? Here the nodal point is then 2nd generation Danes, and it is the discourse of the one we are analyzing. “Outside Denmark” is another example of a key concept about which a text establishes a discourse. Discourses can also be found on the nodal points “Health” or “democracy”.

It is typical of the nodal point that it is not uniquely definable, such as a horse, for example. For where ‘Udkantsdanmark’ lies geographically. Is it Aarhus, Aalborg, Esbjerg, Varde, Næstved, Nakskov? A horse now means a horse, but what does an immigrant mean? Who is an immigrant? Dutchmen? Swedes? Turks? The content of the nodal point immigrant is somewhat unclear and not defined in the same way as the horse it is – this is precisely why a text draws on and in itself helps to build a discourse, ie an understanding or understanding of the nodal point.

Most often, a text will more or less explicitly define the content of the nodal point, and this is done by the nodal point being associated with some words, which, so to speak, define the content of the nodal point: The sender links some words that are linked to the nodal point. You could also say that the nodal point is the denomination and the individual words in the equivalence chain are denominators.

For example, health could be the nodal point in a text, and this nodal point is determined by words such as ’30 minutes of exercise per day’, ‘low BMI’, ‘low calorie intake’, ‘protein rich diet’. Thus, these words form an equivalence chain that denotes the nodal point ‘health’. For example, outskirts of Denmark could be linked to words such as ‘at least 50 km from a city with 30,000 inhabitants’, ‘high percentage of unemployed’, ‘low level of education’. The analysis of the equivalence chain reveals the understanding of the nodal point and thus the discourse about the nodal point, since it is here that the nodal point is defined. This is where values ​​are added to the nodal point.

Some of the words in an equivalence chain can be considered liquid signifiers: words or concepts used in the text that are not clearly defined. Most often, the liquid signifiers are words with a positive connotation, thereby adding to the nodal point positive connotations. For example, it could be ‘freedom’, which is a fluid term that is not clearly defined, but has positive connotations, and this positive connotation attaches to the nodal point, which is thereby added to positive connotations.

Therefore, with the study of the equilibrium point of the nodal point, it is also important to be aware of the word choice and the connotations of the words, which has been discussed before.

In the work of film, the individual frame and the cinematic instruments can be an expression of equivalence chains, as frames and the cinematic instruments help to support the value set and the worldview that the film expresses.

Some texts put two nodal points against each other, which have linked each other’s equivalence chains, so that these two equivalence chains are aligned against each other, thus forming a difference chain. It may be that a text sets up a chain of difference between two antagonisms, and thus even speaks for one. In the Ukraine crisis, the EU was equated with democracy, freedom of speech, free market, popular, while Russia and Putin, as the other party in the case, were equated with words like corrupt, powerless, gambler with Ukraine’s future, military aggression. In this way, a text can establish a contradiction between two nodal points, one of which has associated words with a positive charge in an equivalence chain, while the other has words of negative charge associated with it, and in such cases it is a differenskæde.

Antagonism / antagonizes

There are always several discourses present simultaneously in the public space, which are struggling to win. Antagonism is an expression that discourses cannot be reconciled, but will be in opposition to one another. Here is an example: You can be a high school student, boyfriend, daughter and friend at the same time. Here, different identities are at stake and they can coexist nicely. But you can’t be both FCK fan and Brøndby fan. The two identities are mutually exclusive and therefore an antagonism. One antagonist could be that Denmark cannot both be environmentally responsible and at the same time have an agriculture that conducts nitrogen into watercourses.

Antagonism in the discourse analysis is about identifying the opposite discourses. Therefore, within a single text it is possible to identify the text’s own discourse, but more or less implicitly the text also identifies the discourse with which the text is in conflict. Antagonism is an expression of the fact that the two discourses cannot be reconciled, but will be in opposition to each other.

In the immigration debate, for example, it can be translated into a politician’s statement that one cannot both be a Democrat AND at the same time wear a scarf. Here, the politician then tries to set up a contradiction, a battle between two mutually exclusive identities. There are thus two identities that clash, but also two discourses: the discourse that one cannot be a democrat when wearing a scarf, and the discourse that one can easily be a democrat and wear a scarf.

Hegemonism / hegemony

Hegemonism denotes a dissolution of antogonism. Here one discourse wins over the other; one identity in the oppositional relationship overcomes the other, and one discourse remains as the dominant, the winning. Antagonism has dissolved. In the example of FCK / Brøndby, this means that one identity overcomes the other, for example, that you stick with the Danish football national team. In this way, the contradiction, the antagonism, is overcome. Or, of course, giving up one identity and being a FCK fan alone.

In the discourse analysis work with the individual text, it can be difficult to find hegemony, as the hegemony usually establishes itself outside the text by one discourse winning over the other. However, in some texts a hegemony is established by incorporating linguistic expressions from antagonistic discourses, thereby attempting to establish a hegemony between the antagonisms.

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