Discursive psychology history key points development

Discursive psychology

Discursive psychology  – the direction of social constructionism , a type of discourse analysis . Discursive psychology describes and cognizes psychic phenomena in the process of social interaction through language.

Discourse analysis is a way of evaluating the use of language, and when this process is used to investigate psychological topics, it is known as discourse psychology (DP). From this perspective, aspects of psychology such as attitude and memory are consciously studied and understood through interactions with people. First created in the 1990s by professors Jonathan Potter and Derek Edwards, it has been a controversial subject, as some of its proposals are at odds with those accepted by many modern psychologists.

Discursive psychology assumes that underlying psychological phenomena are not revealed through interaction. These problems exist, instead, in terms of interaction. Interaction is inherently socially oriented, so conversations are treated as ways of maneuvering through a social world. Unlike conventional psychology, conversations are not necessarily indicative of an individual’s state of mind at the time.

The actual words spoken by an individual are not the only signals that are analyzed in PD. Speech intonations, gestures, and other nonverbal cues are all important aspects of speech that are analyzed and interpreted. Even the relationship between the speaker and the subject of the utterance, or between the speaker and the listener, can influence the discourse.

Sometimes discursive psychology focuses on real-world conversations and the use of language. Situations may include workplace disputes, interactions during family counseling sessions, or conversations around the dinner table. Family counseling sessions, for example, may focus on how a particular individual expresses problems or issues within the family. Through conversation analysis, sentence writing can reveal how these topics are constructed as problems. An analyst can then get an idea of ​​who the speaker believes is responsible for the existing problems.

Problems and situations can be constructed very differently by two people in a situation. Expressing a sentence in an active tense can show a desire or intention on the part of the speaker. Using the passive tense to describe the same situation can neutralize any implication of desire. Discursive psychology seeks to analyze these intentions to build questions that give meaning to these situations.

In discursive psychology, statements are much more than a simple cognitive representation of events. They reveal action and agency from the perspective of the speaker. Explanations of events are worded in such a way as to account for alternative interpretations as well as contingencies in interactions. The analysis of statements in terms of agency and attitude can be very important in fields such as criminal justice and law.


It is believed that the concept arose in the second half of the 1980s, when a Discourse and Rhetoric Group (DARG) formed at the University of Loughborough, UK. The founding work of Jonathan Potter and Margaret Weatherly was “Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behavior” in 1987. The book had a significant impact on contemporaries: for example, Charles Antaki notes in the journal Times Higher Education Supplement (1987) that “Potter and Weatherly developed a completely new vision of social psychology that will help her escape from sterile laboratories and traditional mentalism.

The name “discursive psychology” was proposed by Jonathan Potter and Derek Edwards in the late 1990s. Since then, this direction has developed through research in social psychology , philosophy, linguistics and sociology.

Discursive psychology appeared after the so-called “discursive turn” in the social sciences and humanities. In many ways, it contradicts classical science and inevitably causes disputes with related trends in the psychological sciences. In contrast to cognitive psychology , which studies information processes in an individual framework, discursive psychology places social interaction at the center of its paradigm , seeing the subject of study on a social plane. The importance of Discursive psychology

Key Points

In contrast to the approach of other currents of psychology to discourse as a reflection of people’s thoughts, intentions and motives , discursive psychology believes that discourse does not reflect reality, but indirectly creates it using linguistic means. Discursive psychology does not rely on the study of personality directly, but on indirect evidence of certain attitudes and beliefs found in written and oral speech. Rum Harre , one of the first theorists of discursive psychology, notes that everyday language is the most important source of knowledge of the human psyche, since the study of a person should take into account the inclusion of personality in a cultural and social context, not limited to the description of neural processes.

In the book “Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behavior”, the main principles of discursive psychology were formed:

  1. The principle of constructivity: discourse is constructed with words and constructs the social world itself.
  2. The principle of intentionality: the discourse is focused on actions and social practices.
  3. The principle of situationality: discursive actions are derived from communicative, rhetorical and institutional situations.

Thus, based on these principles, it is assumed that psychological phenomena are constructed, oriented and understood in the process of social contacts. Personality continuously creates its identity in society, which is why it cannot be thought of separately from it. It is argued that mental processes are of a communicative nature, and cognition is a set of symbolic language tools, which actually contrasts discursive psychology with a cognitive approach to understanding the language. The importance of Discursive psychology

One of the specific tasks of discursive psychology is the selection of interpretation repertoires. Under the repertoire of interpretation is understood a specific set of concepts that evaluates and describes social phenomena, events and actions. It is easily culturally recognizable, often includes cliches and stereotypes , is local and flexible, can be formed on the basis of specific metaphors or figures of speech.

The development  of discursive psychology

The development of the ideas of discursive psychology seems both logical and paradoxical at the same time. So, undoubtedly, it is characteristic that the ideas of discourse and the social construction of human behavior and human beliefs did not lead, for example, to the formation of discursive philosophy, sociology or linguistics. It seems that the turn of research attention to the social and linguistic conditionality of psychic phenomena played a decisive role in the development of the branch of psychology, which was called “discursive” in the 80s and 90s of the twentieth century. As Rom Harre notes: “One of its main principles, discursive psychology considers cognition as a collection of symbols and as a set of symbolic tools. In this sense, everyday languages ​​are the most important objects through which it is possible to explore the human psyche.

Discursive psychology places the idea of ​​interaction at the center of the research universe, critically redefining the principles of cognition, categorization, social institutions, etc. As a result, psychology itself is simultaneously considered as an intellectual direction that explores the psychological aspects of interaction, and as part of social interaction, correlated with the field of scientific, psychological discourse. The classical socio-cognitive paradigm is based on a scientific formalized description of actual mental states, positioned as independent phenomena of consciousness, for which language is only a description tool. In contrast, discursive psychology focuses on the consideration of mental phenomena by participants in the communicative process in general and interactions in particular. Discursive psychology emphasizes the linguistic and communicative nature of mental processes. She denies the artificial separation of language and mental processes, offering in return an integrative holistic approach. Theorists of discursive psychology deny the effectiveness of dividing the space of psychology into the psyche of individuals with available phenomena and the researcher with his scientific experience and a set of methodological tools. Such a separation is considered as the result of the Cartesian separation of consciousness and body in philosophy (Parker, I. 2005, P.4). In return, discursive psychology offers the principles of communicative, dynamic language construction of the psyche in the process of social interactions. Social-cognitive psychology forms its principles and views in accordance with physicalist principles, on the basis of which it gradually became an independent science from the space of natural sciences. If we look at the history of the conceptualization of the phenomena that cognitive psychology works with (perception, concepts, memory, thinking, etc.), it turns out that the constitutive elements of these phenomena were formed over a long period of time, and at different times were perceived, evaluated and categorized by differently (See, e.g., Foucault, M. 1997). T

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