23rd DiscourseNet Conference : Discourse, power and mind: between reason and emotion
Discourse can be addressed as a vehicle for power, a positioning practice which enlightens the role and the relationship among the speakers. Power is a way of defying and measure relationships and interactions between individuals. These relations and interactions lead one part to affirm its will against another part, no matter on what bases this will is grounded (Weber, 1974).
Human beings tend to adopt specific behaviours and to interact differently according to the social context they are entering. These dynamics of power may be evident in interpersonal interaction and group formation and even more in specific contexts which are characterized by an imbalanced power-holding positioning among the actors (Foucault, 1975)Since it is possible to regard these dynamics as social practices, we can postulate that power dynamics rely also on discourse practices (Fairclough, 1989; Althusser, 1970; Pêcheux, 1971). Language and communication can be seen as tools to define and convey power dynamics, as well as to establish a status quo. Hence, discourse practice analysis is a tool to approach and understand the hierarchical relations and positions in different discourse fields.
From a functional-pragmatic point of view, discourse can be seen as a verbal interaction between two actors, speaker and hearer, who are co-present in the same spatial and temporal constellation (Ehlich, 1983/2007). The propositional content of their communication is based on the mental reality of the two actors, and thus on what they already know or need to know. Most of their communication goals depend on the regulation of knowledge asymmetry they have. Power relationships can be observed in the linguistic analysis of such knowledge exchanges.
Some examples of these relations between discourse and power may be political discourse, where politicians have the means to influence people’s way of thinking and impact the life of a community, as well as pedagogical and corporate discourse where differences can be found, inter alia, in the degree of knowledge on a specific subject and in the decision-making process. Teachers, employers, team leaders or heads of services are supposed to have a broader knowledge on specific subjects than students and employees, which implies they should be more competent in evaluating ideas and other people’s work. Therefore, they occupy a prominent position in decision making and knowledge dissemination processes.
The relationship between discourse and power implies an interaction between the subjects and their selves. Power positions are often held by influencing the judgment of other people, which requires dealing with their minds.
One of the factors to be taken into account when targeting one’s self is the complexity of this entity. The self is not only the set of mental schemes and operations that enable an individual to make sense of the world. It is also structured by the living experience of the outer world. This experience of the world is made possible by the physical propioception of our own body which becomes, in turn, a tool for understanding the outer world through sensations. However, reasoning and sensations aren’t the only two ways of knowing and learning. Emotions also play their part in making sense of the world. They connect or distance our body and mind from a given reality according to the positiveness or negativeness a given experience arises in our conscience. Reasoning, emotions and experiences are all actors of a power relationship: they are part of our judgmental abilities, which means they can play a significant role in power handling and in positioning practice in a power relationship.