Changing strategies of persuasion in political rhetoric: a corpus-based critical analysis of UK government discourse 1972 to 2005.

Mulderrig, Jane (2007) Changing strategies of persuasion in political rhetoric: a corpus-based critical analysis of UK government discourse 1972 to 2005. In: British Association of Applied Linguistics, 2007-09-062007-09-08. (Unpublished)

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This paper presents findings from an interdisciplinary doctoral thesis on the changing discourse of governance in UK education policy. Drawing on sociological accounts of the political economic context of the data, this longitudinal critical discourse study examined a corpus of education policy documents. The analysis investigated the textual representation and legitimation of the identities, roles and power relations involved in late capitalist modes of governing. The methodology combined corpus linguistic software tools with systemic functional analyses of transitivity, and Van Leeuwen�s models of social action (1995; 1996b) and legitimation (Van Leeuwen, 1996a; Van Leeuwen and Wodak, 1999). I illustrate the value of this combined method by discussing two key findings in relation to patterns of historical change in political language. Firstly, the study revealed substantial textual evidence for the increasing role of a personalised, inclusive style of political rhetoric. In particular, I discuss the use of the pronoun �we�. In his analysis of Thatcherite discourse, Fairclough (1989) distinguishes �exclusive� and �inclusive� senses of this pronoun, and points to its importance in political rhetoric. This study goes a step further by using Wordsmith tools to investigate its functional distribution throughout a historical corpus. The study found a dramatic surge in its textual prominence under New Labour, where its referential ambivalence is also systematically exploited to legitimate contentious policy claims. The second finding relates to the management of social action. The increasing significance of �managerialism� in contemporary forms of governance has been widely observed (Clarke and Newman, 1997; Newman, 2001). This can be understood in sociological terms in relation to the move towards more multi-layered forms of governance in the late capitalist state, which is partly a matter of devising new techniques for governing �at a distance� (Jessop, 1996). This paper presents original insights into how this operates at the level of language. Specifically, the analysis postulates a new sociosemantic category of �managed action� (encoding varying degrees of coerciveness) to capture this progressive trend in policy discourse. The paper concludes by discussing its rhetorically systematic use under New Labour, where it helps negotiate a distinctive arrangement of power relations between the government, the private sector, teachers and students.

Item Type:
Contribution to Conference (Paper)
Journal or Publication Title:
British Association of Applied Linguistics
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Slides accompanying a forthcoming paper. Presented at the 2007 BAAL conference.
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Deposited On:
29 Nov 2007
Last Modified:
11 Sep 2023 11:49