Playing Discourse Games

The Political TV Interview in Great Britain and Poland

by Joanna Szczepańska-Włoch (Author)
©2022 Monographs 432 Pages


The primary objective of this study is to propose a comparative analysis of the political TV interview with reference to two distinct approaches: the theory of discourse (dialogue) games (Carlson 1983), an extension of game-theoretical semantics (GTS) as proposed by Jaakko Hintikka, specifically his strategic paradigm (1973, 1979, 2000), and the strategic perspective adopted by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff (1991, 2010 for business games with roots in the mathematical theory of games). Text-forming strategies utilised by the selected British and Polish political figures have been presented and the strategic repertoire of politicians have been systematised following the five master strategies of: cooperation, co-opetition, conflict/competition, manipulation and persuasion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Discourse and discourse analysis – introduction
  • 1.2 Michel Foucault ‒ critical philosophical ponderings on discourse
  • 1.2.1 Michel Foucault’s archaeology and genealogy of texts/discourses
  • 1.2.2 Discourse vs. language? Discourse and its rules
  • 1.2.3 The “archaeological” period
  • 1.2.4 The dis/continuities of discourse. The unities of discourse
  • 1.2.5 The unities of discourse and discursive formations
  • 1.2.6 The statement
  • 1.2.7 The positivity of discourse
  • 1.2.8 Foucault and power
  • 1.2.9 Foucault and the political
  • 1.3 Various approaches to discourse analysis ‒ an overview
  • 1.3.1 Discourse analysis and its forerunners27
  • 1.3.2 The model of strategic processing
  • 1.3.3 The meaning of discourse in text studies
  • 1.3.4 Discourse and the social sciences
  • 1.3.5 Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)
  • Forerunners of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)
  • A three-dimensional conception of discourse by Fairclough
  • A framework for textual analysis
  • Discourse vs. ideology
  • Discourse vs. hegemony
  • Interdiscursivity
  • CDA recapitulated
  • Fairclough and political discourse
  • 1.4 Political discourse
  • 1.5 The political interview as a genre
  • 1.5.1 The interview
  • 1.5.2 The interview as a journalistic genre
  • 1.5.3 The hierarchical organisation of the interview
  • 1.5.4 The political interview
  • 1.5.5 The news interview
  • 1.5.6 News interviews vs. political interviews: conventional, adversarial or hybrid
  • 1.5.7 The tabloidisation or conversationalisation of the news interviews
  • 1.6 The approach to discourse applied in this study
  • 2.1 The “game” perspective ‒ overview
  • 2.2 A philosophical treatment of language and game
  • 2.2.1 De Saussure and Wittgenstein in dispute
  • 2.2.2 Wittgenstein’s reflection on language-games
  • 2.2.3 Lyotard’s language-games
  • 2.2.4 A modicum of the mathematical theory of games
  • 2.2.5 The ins and outs of Hintikka’s game-theoretical semantics
  • The concept of subgame
  • 2.2.6 Dialogue games – a refinement of GTS?
  • 2.2.7 Games of perfect and imperfect information
  • 2.2.8 Language-games revisited – the Middle Path
  • 2.3 Typology and rules
  • 2.3.1 Typology of games
  • 2.3.2 Rules of the game
  • Dialogue game rules
  • 3.1 Game theoretical-semantics as a strategic perspective
  • 3.2 Dialogic strategy and/or move
  • 3.3 Questions as strategies in dialogue games
  • 3.4 Strategic manoeuvring in discourse dialectic
  • 3.5 A game of strategy
  • 3.5.1 An overview
  • 3.5.2 Sequential vs. simultaneous strategic approaches
  • 3.5.3 Master strategies in the game of strategy
  • 3.5.4 The mixed strategy as the tool to outdo the opponent
  • 3.5.5 Moves in the Game of Strategy
  • 3.5.6 The strategy of conflict
  • 3.5.7 Information asymmetry in strategic thinking
  • 3.6 A game of strategy and politics
  • 4.1 Research Objectives
  • 4.2 Research Questions
  • 4.3 Data presentation
  • 4.4 Methodological Considerations
  • 5.1 The master strategy of cooperation
  • 5.1.1 A contingent strategy: tit for tat
  • 5.1.2 Look forward and reason backward
  • 5.1.3 Follow the leader
  • 5.1.4 The infotainment of political talk as the choice of style
  • 5.2 The master strategy of co-opetition
  • 5.2.1 Signalling: The Controlled Release of Information
  • 5.2.2 Look forward and reason backward
  • 5.2.3 The metadiscoursal inclination
  • 5.2.4 Staying implicit
  • 5.2.5 The on record strategy with redressive action as a defence mechanism
  • 5.2.6 Overt disagreement with mitigation devices
  • 5.2.7 Calling by name
  • 5.2.8 Humour as a defence mechanism
  • 5.2.9 Figurative‒rhetorical means: irony
  • 5.3 The master strategy of conflict/competition
  • 5.3.1 Conflict-based questioning
  • 5.3.2 Accusation against the neutrality of the IR
  • 5.3.3 The avoidance strategy
  • 5.3.4 Negation as the strategy of conflict
  • 5.3.5 Reformulation as a defence mechanism
  • 5.3.6 The attack as a strategy of defence
  • 5.3.7 Overt disagreement without mitigation devices
  • 5.3.8 On record strategy without redressive action
  • 5.3.9 In-group distinctiveness
  • 5.3.10 Calling by name
  • 5.3.11 Countering a quasi-humorous remark
  • 5.3.12 Figurative‒rhetorical means: the metaphor of WAR
  • 5.4 The master strategy of persuasion
  • 5.4.1 Implicit threat
  • 5.4.2 The argument from authority
  • 5.4.3 The inductive argument as a tool of rational persuasion
  • 5.4.4 Concept-aimed argumentation
  • 5.4.5 A game of novelty
  • 5.4.6 Ostensible objectivity as a means of persuasion
  • 5.4.7 Polarisation US and THEM / US vs. THEM
  • 5.4.8 Election pledges as persuasive tools
  • 5.4.9 The audience as final arbiter
  • 5.4.10 The leitmotif as a persuasive mechanism
  • 5.4.11 A sound bite as a persuasive tool
  • 5.4.12 Ideological commitment
  • 5.4.13 Figurative‒rhetorical means
  • The game of metaphor
  • The game of metonymy
  • The game of synecdoche
  • The game of epanaphora
  • The game of style
  • 5.4.14 Cohesive devices
  • 5.4.15 Emphatic assertions
  • 5.4.16 Deictic pronouns
  • 5.5 The master strategy of manipulation
  • 5.5.1 The gamification of political parlance
  • 5.5.2 The controlled release of information as a means of achieving one’s aim
  • 5.5.3 The “straw man” fallacy
  • 5.5.4 The number game – rough approximation
  • 5.5.5 An ad rem argument
  • 5.5.6 Populist argumentation
  • 5.5.7 Towards the role of a super-sender
  • 5.5.8 Optimistic vs. pessimistic projection
  • 5.5.9 A vision of success
  • 5.5.10 On behalf of the audience
  • 5.5.11 The opposition ‒ a whipping boy
  • 5.5.12 Conversion from negative into positive
  • 5.5.13 Machiavellian manipulation
  • 5.5.14 Non-sequitur as a strategy of defence
  • 5.5.15 Internationalism as a means of legitimisation
  • 5.5.16 The metadiscoursal strategy
  • 5.5.17 The strategy of heterogeneity
  • 5.5.18 Rhetorical means: playing on high values
  • 5.5.19 Figurative‒rhetorical means: hyperboles
  • 5.5.20 Modality as a marker of coherence
  • 6.1 The master strategy of cooperation
  • 6.1.1 The strategy of independence as expressed by the strategies of cooperation, co-opetition and conflict
  • 6.1.2 Humour as a strategy of positive self-presentation
  • 6.2 The master strategy of co-opetition
  • 6.2.1 Towards the role of a super-sender
  • 6.2.2 A play on independence
  • 6.2.3 Diplomacy as a strategic ploy
  • 6.2.4 The strategy of dissociation
  • 6.2.5 Call a spade a spade ‒ the exposure of the intention of the IR
  • 6.2.6 Figurative‒rhetorical means: irony
  • 6.3 The master strategy of conflict/competition
  • 6.3.1 Verbal duelling
  • 6.3.2 Provocative parlance by the IR
  • 6.3.3 The gamification of political parlance
  • 6.3.4 A bidding war as a strategy of conflict
  • 6.3.5 Look forward and reason backward
  • 6.3.6 Reprimanding the interlocutor
  • 6.3.7 Repetition as an emphatic device
  • 6.3.8 A semantic battle between the IR and the IE
  • 6.3.9 A defence mechanism ‒ open irritation
  • 6.3.10 The application of implied pragmatic meanings (implicatures)
  • 6.4 The master strategy of persuasion
  • 6.4.1 Persuasion expressed by fallacious or not fully justified argument
  • 6.4.2 The strategic bias of the IE
  • 6.4.3 Backward induction and forward looking
  • 6.4.4 The argument from authority
  • 6.4.5 Polarisation US and THEM
  • 6.4.6 Promises/pledges
  • 6.4.7 The sound bite as a marker of cohesion and coherence
  • 6.4.8 From specific to general
  • 6.4.9 From general to specific
  • 6.4.10 Actions speak louder than words
  • 6.4.11 The strategy of positive self-presentation enacted in the role of a reviewer/commentator
  • 6.4.12 A play on independence as a strategy of positive self-presentation
  • 6.4.13 Constitutionality as a legitimisation strategy
  • 6.4.14 Reference to age and experience – to wisdom by implication
  • 6.4.15 Pragmatic persuasive argument – a dubious strategy on the part of the IE?
  • 6.4.16 The didactic strategy
  • 6.4.17 The discourse-pragmatic strategy of rationality
  • 6.4.18 Overconfidence as a strategy of persuasion
  • 6.4.19 Exemplification as a manifestation of persuasion
  • 6.4.20 The conversationalisation of political discourse
  • 6.4.21 The heterogeneity of discourse
  • 6.4.22 The strategy of intertextuality
  • 6.4.23 Elaboration as a strategy of cohesion
  • 6.4.24 Enhancement as a strategy of cohesion
  • 6.4.25 Coherent narrative as a persuasive tool
  • 6.4.26 “Heart and reason” as markers of coherence
  • 6.4.27 The audience as final arbiter
  • 6.5 The master strategy of manipulation
  • 6.5.1 The gamification of political discourse
  • 6.5.2 Positive self-presentation
  • 6.5.3 Failure into success
  • 6.5.4 A defence mechanism ‒ downplaying party failures
  • 6.5.5 Topic change/shift as an instance of the avoidance strategy
  • 6.5.6 Role shifting as a determinant of opinion
  • 6.5.7 Repetition as a stalling tactic
  • 6.5.8 A strategy of fear as a means of manipulation
  • 6.5.9 An appeal to the audience
  • 6.5.10 The soliloquy as a macro-strategy of the IE
  • 6.5.11 Hybridisation of interviews as a strategy of manipulation
  • 7.1 General conclusions ‒ master strategies compared
  • 7.2 Supplementary conclusions ‒ argumentation in the political interviews and their reflection in language
  • References
  • Index of Names
  • Series index


1. British Politicians


Boris Johnson


Douglas Alexander


David Cameron


Ed Balls


Ed Miliband


George Osborne


John Major


Nick Clegg


Nigel Farage


Philip Hammond

2. Polish Politicians


Aleksander Kwaśniewski


Bronisław Komorowski


Donald Tusk


Jarosław Kaczyński


Janusz Piechociński


Jacek Rostowski


Leszek Balcerowicz


Leszek Miller


Radosław Sikorski


Władysław Bartoszewski

3. Interviewers


Andrew Marr


Tomasz Lis


[…] every conversation communicates either facts or opinions, that is to say, it is historical or deliberative […]

Schopenhauer 1902, IS

When writing The Art of Controversy, Arthur Schopenhauer (1902) attempted to admonish his readers not to surrender themselves to the art of chicanery, construed as the Sophists’ reading of rhetoric. Abundant in persuasive but specious arguments, his instruction manual containing thirty-eight tricks for outdoing one’s opponent might well be utilised in different professions. Assuredly, the political profession could be one of these. Oriented towards outmanoeuvring the opponent, and hence winning voters by persuading them into their line of argumentation and their beliefs and opinions, a political figure will equip their oratorical skills with effective instruments to accomplish their aim. The means that they might use are predominantly germane to the realm of conflict/competition, co-opetition, manipulation and persuasion within the strategic perspective. Cooperation is also present in the strategic repertoire of politicians, albeit to a lesser degree.

The players’ (vide politicians’) inability to pursue strategies that will secure the maximal payoff (and instead, their acceptance of a moderate gain of the mini-max kind, Chrzanowska-Kluczewska 2004: 77), the indeterminacy of games, the frequent irrationality in selecting moves in a game and/or insight into its intricacies (linguistic and non-linguistic) can easily be equated with the characteristics of political parlance, or more specifically, those of the political interview. Nonetheless, this somewhat pessimistic view of the strategic slant which politicians adopt does not determine any unusual position that these games attain. On the contrary, the very same characteristics can be applied to the strategies (including discourse-pragmatic strategies) which are observable in different types of oral communicative exchange.

Although the topic of this study has been undertaken by other academics, what differentiates it is the holistic treatment of the concept of strategy in the genre of the political interview. Discourse-pragmatic strategies as seen from a broad perspective, i.e., one that does not concentrate on one strategy represented in abstraction of the others, constitute the objective of this work. The designation of the possible strategies/moves deployed by participants in a communicative act, in this case a political interview, within the theory of discourse (dialogue) games (Carlson 1983) and with special regard to game-theoretical semantics, particularly the strategic paradigm, by Jaakko Hintikka (1973, 1985) and the strategic perspective adopted by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff (1991/1993, 2010), as well as a comparative analysis of Polish and British political interviews underlie the fundamental assumption of this work. In turn, the division—which has already ←23 | 24→been referred to—into master strategies of cooperation, conflict/competition, co-opetition, and manipulation has so far only been proposed with reference to the world of business, and hence the need for such treatment within political discourse. Owing to the prevalence of the function of persuasion in the language of politicians, the author of this study reached the decision to include it in the repertoire of these master strategies.

This work is composed of two parts. In Part I, attention has been drawn to a theoretical discussion on discourse analysis, the theory of language-games and their strategic foundation. Chapter One offers a general description of the concept of discourse, and a presentation of contemporary approaches to discourse analysis. Theoretical considerations begin with a delineation of the theory of discourse by Michel Foucault (1970, 1971/1972, 1978, 1980), which centres around the archaeology of discourse, i.e. the concept of discursive formations as characterised by particular disciplines, and the genealogy of discourse, which explicates the power-knowledge relation. Subsequently, the model of strategic processing of linguistic data formulated by Teun A. van Dijk and Walter Kintsch (1983) and the talk and text in context perspective in discourse analysis are reviewed. The next approach to discourse analysis (Critical Discourse Analysis) presented in the theoretical part addresses the topic of discourse construed as language in use and emphasises the primacy of social practice in research (cf. van Dijk 1972, 1977, 1985a, 1985b, 1985c, 1985d, 1985d; Norman Fairclough 1989/2001, 1992/2008, 1995, 1999, 2003; Ruth Wodak 1996, 2008, 2009/2011; Wodak and Michael Meyer 2015). Essentially, this approach gives rise to the social theory of discourse (Fairclough 1999, 2008), which posits that discourse can be translated into text, discursive practice and social practice. In turn, linguistically oriented discourse analysis is not exempt from social and political motivation. In addition, discourse defined as social practice obliges the author of this study to briefly include the theories of ideology and hegemony by Louis Althusser (1971) and Antonio Gramsci (1971), respectively. In turn, the political interview as a genre has been characterised with reference to such paraliterary genres as the interview and the news interview. The above leads the author of this study to propose the import of discourse analysis contained in this work.

Chapter Two reviews the “game” perspective as observable in language in general, and the issue of the definition of a game, types of games and rules of games in particular. This game perspective comprises the approach of Ferdinand de Saussure (1922/1983) to language, with language likened to a game of chess and governed by its own rules; Johan Huizinga’s (1938) culture game; the concept of the language-game by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1958), to whom the authorship of this concept is ascribed; Roger Caillois’s (1958/1997) classification of game/play into agon, alea, mimicry and ilinx; Eric Berne’s (1964) transactional analysis of games; Jean-François Lyotard’s (1979/1991) games resting on rivalry (agon) and creative in the sense that no identity is attributed to players; Jaakko Hintikka’s game-theoretical semantics; and the theory of dialogue games (Carlson 1983) acting as an extension of the above; the strategic perspective to the game (Brandenburger and ←24 | 25→Nalebuff 1996/1998; Dixit and Nalebuff 1991/1993, 2010); and, last but not least, the Middle Path by Elżbieta Chrzanowska-Kluczewska (2004) which marries the concept of the all-pervasive game by Wittgenstein and the formalised, sentence-oriented, analysis of game-theoretical semantics of Hintikka. This research would be incomplete without the presentation of the mathematical theory of games formulated by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern (1944/1953), adopted by Duncan R. Luce and Howard Raiffa (1957/1958), and later developed into the mathematical theory of non-cooperative games by Nobel Prize winner John Nash, which has exerted considerable impact on the world of economics.

Chapter Three discusses the strategic foundation of language-games, definitions of a strategy within game-theoretical semantics and the theory of dialogue games, the types of rules (vide moves) in a dialogue game, as well as the indices/parameters that stipulate their constitution. The extended pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation (also referred to as strategic manoeuvring; van Eemeren and Grootendorst 1984, 1992, 2004; van Eemeren and Houtlosser 2002, 2005), particularly the relationship between the reasonableness of an argumentative exchange and the rhetorical/persuasive means of treating argumentative discourse has been put forward. Strategic thinking, with a strategy construed as “a plan of action”, as proposed by Dixit and Nalebuff (1993, 2010) and the merging of science and art has been analysed, since, as scholars hold, the purely scientific approach to game theory does not suffice to address this topic adequately. Finally, sequential and simultaneous strategic approaches, master strategies (i.e. cooperation, competition/conflict, co-opetition, manipulation and persuasion1—which, above all, are critical for this work) and mixed strategies conclude the theoretical considerations included in this study.

Part II constitutes the practical application of the theories and approaches proposed in the theoretical part. Functioning as a sui generis guide to the empirical part of this study, Chapter Four centres around research objectives, research questions, data presentation and the methodological procedure applied in the practical part. Chapters Five and Six focus on text-forming strategies of the Polish and British political figures, including their presentation and description. To illustrate the above strategies, 20 political interviews (10 in English and 10 in Polish) are analysed. The British political interviews hosted by Andrew Marr in his programme The Andrew Marr Show broadcast by BBC1 on Sunday mornings were held between 22nd July 2012 and 15th February 2015. The political interviews in Polish were conducted by Tomasz Lis, the host of the programme Tomasz Lis na żywo, broadcast on Monday evenings on TVP1 and were held between 6th June 2011 and 29th December 2014.←25 | 26→

Finally, a more general comparative analysis has been provided in the Conclusions, some limitations to which this study is subject have been highlighted and possible applications of the research have been referred to.


1.1 Discourse and discourse analysis – introduction

Discourse as a concept was intended to break with structuralist closeness and open structural analysis to the analysis of language in society (Rasiński 2009: 23). The accompanying idea was to link discourse to the social sciences, to relate it to the issue of knowledge, power and modernity (Fairclough 2008: 3–5; Duszak and Fairclough 2008: 14–15; Salskov-Iversen and Krause-Hansen 2008: 405–406), or to combine linguistic and non-linguistic elements (Chilton 2008: 62). Yet, to define discourse, we need to return to the origins of the structural school, as set out by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) in his Course in General Linguistics (1916/1959). When the Saussurean duality of the linguistic sign, i.e. the signified (“a mental representation or concept corresponding to any spoken utterance or written mark”, McHoul and Grace 1993/2005: 13) and the signifier (“the psychological imprint of the sound”, ibid.) started to be viewed as a mere “theory of mind”, the consequence of which was the reading of language as ideas, concepts and psychological imprints,1 there came the time for resolving the impasse of mentalism which some structuralists faced, i.e. the “linguistic turn”. Language and discourse began to be perceived not as “a representation of non-discursive ‘reality’”, but rather, discourse as a “relatively autonomous, yet quite material, sphere in its own right” (ibid.: 13). Specifically, language was deemed a social and political entity, in the sense of being not only a representation of this entity but also an applicable creation of it. The inappropriateness or rather inadequacy of the term language, denoting “a system of representation”, precipitated the implementation of the term discourse, which was intended to encompass the required meaning.

In the literature on the subject, the term discourse offers a broad array of definitions. In linguistics, it is often described as “samples of spoken dialogue, in contrast with written ‘texts’” (Fairclough 2008: 3). Therefore, discourse analysis and text analysis differ in terms of the higher-level organisational properties of dialogue vs. written texts (e.g. turn-taking, the structure of conversational openings and closings, ibid.: 3). In an extended sense, discourse denotes both ←29 | 30→spoken and written language (Widdowson 1979; Fairclough 1999, 2008), where the emphasis falls on higher-level organisational properties. Specifically, the interaction between the participants of a communicative act (either spoken or written), the processes of the production and interpretation of speech and writing, and the context of language use, i.e. the “text-as-interaction” view, form the main tenets of this approach (Fairclough 1999, 2001, 2008). Text2 (by which is meant the written or spoken result of the process of text production) forms one dimension of discourse. By contrast, discourse as “the whole process of social interaction” (Fairclough 2001: 20), manifests itself through texts of various types (Michel Foucault’s discursive formations, cf. Section 1.2), e.g. newspaper discourse, advertising discourse, classroom discourse, the discourse of medical consultations, political discourse, etc. (Fairclough 2008: 3). As such, discourse comprises processes of interpretation and production with a text as its basic resource. Accordingly, text analysis lies at the centre of Discourse Analysis (henceforth DA).

The formal approach which presents discourse as text was initiated by Zellig S. Harris (1952) and Terence F. Mitchell (1957), who worked on “naturally occurring” samples of text (McHoul and Grace 2005: 27) within formal linguistic methods of analysis (Harris 1952) and social functions of language. This perspective brings us closer to sociolinguistic (Giglioli 1982) and ethnographic dimensions of analysis (Gumperz and Hymes 1972). The formal approach, which owes its origins to the Russian Formalist School, and consequently, the French structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi-Strauss, or Roland Barthes, is termed “text linguistics” or “text grammar” (quoted in McHoul and Grace 2005: 27).

Michael A.K Halliday’s systemic functionalist school of linguistics (1974, 1978)—a version of linguistics often referred to as critical linguistics or social semiotics (Hodge and Kress 1988; McHoul and Grace 2005: 28; Fairclough and Wodak 1997: 264;

Fairclough 2008: 2)—may be placed at the critical end of the formal approach to discourse.3 This systemic functionalist school analyses “naturally occurring” texts rendered as socially classed, gendered and historically located, and combines the text analysis of “systemic linguistics” with theories of ideology.4

By contrast, the mechanistic formalist approach stands in opposition to the critical use of formal linguistics; it searches for rules of communicative or linguistic ←30 | 31→function not in naturally occurring texts but in invented ones (McHoul and Grace 2005: 28). The Speech Act Theory of John L. Austin (1962) and John R. Searle (1969) may serve as an example. Words fulfil particular functions under certain rules and conditions. Prominence is given to the discursive system that identifies those rules or conditions. This system that resembles langue—albeit only formally—builds a sui generis grammar (McHoul and Grace 2005).

Foucault’s (1966/1970; 1969/2009a) critical philosophical approach to discourse, in turn, resists the rendition of language as a linguistic system or grammar. Instead, it construes it as a concept of discipline;5 or more specifically, “historically specific relations between disciplines [...] and disciplinary practices (forms of social control and social possibility)” (McHoul and Grace 2005: 26). Social critique, a more diversified social and epistemological approach to discourse than the formal one (which is too narrow in the Foucauldian terms), the conditions of discourse in lieu of a formal logical linguistic or language-like system prioritising language in terms of propositions, and last but not least a discursive formation (so germane to the analysis performed in this work and discussed later in detail), all lie within the interest of Foucault.

The sociological forms of analysis and discourse construed as “human conversation” underlie the principles of the empirical approach to discourse (ibid.: 29). Commonsense knowledge (i.e. technical knowledge, different from Foucault’s “knowledge” in the social, historical and political sense in compliance with which truth-value of statements is determined, ibid.), which preconditions conversational rules, forms its focal point. Nonetheless, the formal approach to conversational “texts” cannot be disregarded (Harris 1952; Mitchell 1957).

Conversation Analysis (CA) developed by Harvey Sacks, based on Harold Garfinkel’s (1967) research into the ethnomethodological approach to sociology (McHoul and Grace 2005: 29), examined the practical means of performing social acts while stressing their constitutive nature, and not—as American structural-functional sociology emphasised—their pre-determined or “pre-formed” character (ibid.: 29). Similarly to Foucault, Garfinkel opposed the phenomenological (idealistic in his view) idea that a human “subject”, human thought or consciousness are capable of devising innumerable interpretations of reality. Hence, he devoted his attention to the technical aspect of social research, not the critical and historical ones which built the domain of Foucault’s research. Consequently, Garfinkel’s followers singled out conversation practice, particularly turn-taking (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson 1974) or correction (Schegloff, Jefferson and Sacks 1977) as the object of their research. Yet, the corpus of materials upon which they based their empirical approach displayed different characteristics from Foucault’s archive. This archive does not translate into a “mass of texts” (Foucault 1978: 14–15), but a “set of rules” ←31 | 32→underpinning the limits and forms of a discursive formation.6 The “mass of texts” does not form the archive, but facilitates its disclosure. In summary, CA advocates “techniques of ‘saying’, rather than “techniques of ‘what can be said’” (McHoul and Grace 2005: 31).

When presenting the concept of discourse, and particularly its denotation vital for this research, we need to present Critical Discourse Analysis (henceforth CDA), a field of study which reveals its interdisciplinary character. CDA encompasses various critical approaches to the study of language (or discourse) and social processes. Those social processes entail the combination of polar opposites (meaning/the cause-and-effect relation, interpretation/explanation, culture/materiality, subjectivity/objectivity) that seemingly require separate reflection, but that centre around a dialectical axis. The dialectical character which CDA postulates between language/discourse and elements of social processes may be secured, granted that a dialectical relation is preserved between meaning (presupposing culture, interpretation, subjectivity and action) and materiality. Ergo, since discourse in its broader sense denotes semiosis, i.e. the production of meanings by virtue of verbal and non-verbal signs, we can point to the discursive and non-discursive elements of social processes as constituting the core of CDA. Language observed from the perspective of social practice, that is to say a part of society, social process as well as a process socially conditioned by non-linguistic parts of society (Fairclough 1999: 4–5, 2001: 18–19; Chilton 2008: 66–67; Fairclough and Wodak 1997: 258–259),7 posits that language and society interweave and establish a dialectical relationship with each other. Linguistic actions are determined by social practices, while language is present within social practices not as a conveyor of those social practices, but as part of them. Yet, even if language is a critically evaluated element in the analysis of discourse, it is the social practice that dominates in this approach.

In the sections to follow, I will briefly discuss the development and main tenets of the selected approaches to discourse analysis. Let us start with the theory of discourse by Foucault (1970, 1972, 1978, 1980).←32 | 33→

1.2 Michel Foucault ‒ critical philosophical ponderings on discourse

1.2.1 Michel Foucault’s archaeology and genealogy of texts/discourses

Foucault’s conception of discourse may be divided into two parts. The first, archaeological, attends briefly to discursive formations serving as the rules for creating areas of knowledge; the second, genealogical, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, stresses the direct relationship between knowledge and power (Fairclough 2008: 39; Howarth 2008: 109). In early Foucault, i.e. in The Archaeology of Knowledge (2009a), the rules of discourse are autonomous, and consequently, the relationship of non-discursive to discursive practice is regulated by those rules (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982/2002: 62; Howarth 2008: 22). The shift to genealogy brings about the “decentring of discourse” (Fairclough 2008: 49; Howarth 2008: 83). Discourse itself stops being of paramount importance and starts to be treated as secondary to systems of power (Foucault 1979a).8 On the scale of the power struggle and discursive practices, it is power that assumes the leading role; discourse, in turn, serves to build power (Foucault 1984; Fairclough 2008: 50–51). Power does not dominate its subjects, it encompasses them, shapes them to constitute part of it. It is developed “from below” in certain micro-techniques (e.g. the examination in a medical or educational sense) and materialises in respective institutions, e.g. hospitals (Fairclough 2008: 50). These techniques entail the duality of power and knowledge: the techniques of power are the outcome of knowledge acquired for instance in the social sciences (Fairclough 2008: 50). Simultaneously, these techniques wield the above power in the process of acquiring knowledge. Additionally, power is to be spotted in everyday social practices in all domains of social life. Nonetheless, language and discourse stand at the heart of social practices and processes, in which, for instance, the interview and the counselling act as representations of them and discursive practices. Not only is discourse crucial in social analysis, but it is also the concept of power as analysed in discourse analysis (discussed in subsequent parts of this study) that is the salient characteristic of it. This new conception evokes the term dispositif (i.e. apparatus, “a heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions” and the relations which they establish between each other, Foucault 1980: 194) in place of the archaeological episteme (i.e., an apparatus that combines discursive and non-discursive elements, power and knowledge; being of ←33 | 34→heterogenic character consisting of all that is expressed in language and all that is not, be it institutions, politics, or material objects, Foucault 1980: 194; cf. Howarth 2008: 125).

The archaeology of discourse appoints as its object discursive formations characterised by particular disciplines (e.g. political economy, natural history, or psychopathology). Genealogy, in turn, refers to discourse categories of a more “generic” character (e.g. interview and counselling as discursive practices). Those categories pertain to sets of participants (e.g. an interviewer and an interviewee) and various forms of interaction relating to various discursive formations (such as medical, sociological, job or media interviews).

Finally, Foucault distinguishes two major technologies of power: confession and discipline, encompassing examination9 as its main technique (Foucault 1979a). Examination with the use of power relations gains and establishes knowledge (Fairclough 2008: 52), while confession is defined as a “discursive form” or “ritual of discourse” (a discourse genre in Fairclough’s terminology, 2008: 54), where a subject that confesses acts as the subject of the statement with the power relation preserved between the participants involved (Foucault 1981: 61; cf. Fairclough 2009: 53).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (April)
the art of strategy dialogue games cooperation co-opetition conflict/competition manipulation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 432 pp., 5 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Joanna Szczepańska-Włoch (Author)

Joanna Szczepańska-Włoch, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in the Institute of English Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. Her research interests centre on political discourse, media discourse and language games, with a particular regard for text-forming strategies employed by political actors.


Title: Playing Discourse Games