so, what's the point of all this, then?

Tomorrow, I've set my class an assignment. I've told them to read the day's reading (a task that has to be repeatedly emphasised since they have a tendency not to and I have a tendency, which will surprise those who know me, to talk a bit too much) which is Roxanne's Doty's 1993 article on United States counterinsurgency policy in the Philippines. For an article that was written when most of these kids were kids, it remains one of the best examples of why we do discourse analysis and what discourse analysis "brings to the table" that most other, more traditional, ways of doing research in IR don't.

Why am I talking about this now? Well, one of my students asked me, during my session on genealogy on Tuesday, what the point of doing discourse analysis was. Coming at the end of a long series of questions, this one threw me. The only thing I could think of doing at that time was to ask the class why no one had asked me what the point of doing scientific research (or even interpretive research) was during those sessions. There was silence.

Then, I went on about how we find some ways of doing things (and knowing) commonsensical and how they just make sense to us. Well, discourse analysis emphasises these "normal" things and asks why that is the case and how we think some ways of doing research are "normal" and others are odd (or senseless). I'm pretty convinced that it all sounded like I'd thought this up on the spot which I had since, really, I didn't expect the whole "why do discourse analysis anyway?" question at all. I presumed that, since I as the instructor had told them this was a research style they had to learn, they'd better get on with it. I want to get back to this in tomorrow's class, especially since there were also other questions about how discourse analysis was a "cop out" as it remained agnostic (or atheist?) about the nature of reality.

The assignment, though, is not just to do the reading. It's to do discourse analysis. I picked the recent incident in which a few British sailors were held captive by Iran for a couple of weeks and asked my students to describe different ways in which this incident was represented. I made it easier for them by dividing them into different groups--Britain, Iran, the Sailors, the Media and the People--and told them to identify discourses, trace out identities and list a few common themes/frames of representation.*

I'll let yous know how it goes. I'll also have a bit of a ramble on various German and anti-German films I've been watching lately (The Lives of Others and Valiant) and another couple I plan to see soon (The Wind that Shakes the Barley--and call it research--and After the Wedding). I'm sure yous can't wait to hear of my views on films that none of yous will most likely ever be interested in (though I'd recommend both TLoO and Valiant, if only because, for the latter, how often do you get to watch a film with pigeons as heroes?)

* Yes, we've had the "each research style has its own (bloody awful) jargon" talk already.

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