Analysing collective identity in discourse: combining discourse-historical and socio-cognitive approaches

Koller, Veronika

Lancaster University, United Kingdom


Analysing collective identity in discourse: combining discourse-historical and socio-cognitive approaches

This paper presents an approach to the study of collective identity that combines the discourse-historical (Reisigl & Wodak 2001, Wodak 2001) with the socio-cognitive (van Dijk 2003, 2006) strand in Critical Discourse Analysis. Collective identities are understood as cognitive models of the group self, including its attributes, relational behaviour, goals and values, which are both constituted and negotiated by the interactions within a discourse community. Both discourse, as instantiated in textual interaction at the micro-level, as well as the models of collective identity that are engendered and negotiated in discourse, are shaped by meso-level contexts of text production, distribution and reception, which are in turn linked to the changing socio-political context at the macro-level. Combining discourse-historical with socio-cognitive analysis of discourse thus enables the researcher to investigate what models of collective identities are salient in a discourse community at a given historical moment, how changes in those models can be traced in concrete texts and to discuss why these changes have taken place.

Following from these theoretical considerations, the linguistic analysis at the micro-level addresses parameters such as actor roles and evaluation, process types and modality, intertextuality and interdiscursivity as well as metaphor. Textual analysis along these lines shows what attributes and behaviours are allocated to the collective self, what values and beliefs are ascribed to it and what concepts it is aligned with and demarcated from.

The theoretical and methodological approach is illustrated with textual data from British and American lesbian communities after 1970 (Koller 2008). The analysis of the data samples shows that in many cases, out-group construction is much more differentiated than cognitive models of the in-group across parameters. However, shifts towards a more affirmative model of collective identity can be observed over time, which is explained as an effect of the changing socio-political context and the increasing number of options for text production, distribution and reception that have become available to lesbians in the UK and the US.

Beyond the case study, the theoretical and methodological aspects of the study could act as a model for the discourse-historical and socio-cognitive analysis of collective identity in discourse more generally.


Koller, V. (2008) Lesbian Discourses: images of a community. New York: Routledge.

Reisgl, M. and Wodak, R. (2001) Discourse and Discrimination, London: Routledge.

van Dijk, T. (2003) The discourse-knowledge interface’, in G. Weiss and R. Wodak (eds), Critical Discourse Analysis: theory and interdisciplinarity, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

―― (2006) ‘Discourse, context and cognition’, Discourse Studies, 8(1): 159-77.

Wodak, R. (2001) ‘The discourse-historical approach’, in R. Wodak and M. Meyer (eds) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, London: Sage.

Session: Paper session
Gender 1 (Discourse)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 16