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The term discourse (from the Latin discursus “walking around” ) was originally used to mean “discussing lecture” or “conversation going back and forth”.

Since the 1960s, the term has been increasingly used and studied in discourse theories. This gives it changing meanings. Discourse theories try to describe how consequences of utterances arise. The form of the investigation can be philosophical , sociological, linguistic, historical or also literary.

Developed in print media and texts, a further development of discourse theory under the influence of digital structural change and its significance for media education is still in its infancy.

Discourse as a lecture

Two types of discourse can be distinguished in the discourse as an explanatory lecture :

  • in the case of systematic presence of changes of speaker: sequence of speaking actions , e.g. question and answer, reproach and justification
  • In the case of a systematic absence of speaker changes: chaining of speech acts , e.g. lecture, narration

Philosophical concept of discourse


In addition to its purely linguistic meaning, discourse is often used today as a philosophical term, but with different meanings:

  • Jürgen Habermas , as a representative of a linguistic turn in philosophy, saw language ability as the decisive characteristic of humans. In this context he developed a discourse ethic in collaboration with Karl-Otto Apel . For him, discourse is the “arena for communicative rationality ”. In this sense, discourse is an argumentative dialogue in which the truth of claims and the legitimacy of norms are discussed. What is considered reasonable in each case is the intersubjective truth recognized by all participants in a community.
According to Jürgen Habermas, “rational discourse” should mean “any attempt to reach an understanding about problematic validity claims, provided that it takes place under communication conditions that allow free processing of topics and contributions, information and reasons within a public space constituted by illocutionary obligations. The expression also indirectly refers to negotiations, insofar as they are regulated by discursively justified procedures. "
Habermas' discourse theory gains a democratic theoretical dimension through its application to the legal system .
  • The post-structuralist Michel Foucault examined the change in thought systems and the role power plays in them. He describes the process of developing those truths "in which we give ourselves thought to our being" as discourse . What counts as “reasonable” in each case is established from “impersonal and contingent effects of power”. A single discourse in this sense can be understood as speaking determined by certain regularities.
  • Jean-François Lyotard regards discourses as a multitude of different, independent forms of discourse that cannot be hierarchized by a universal rule of judgment .

Jürgen Habermas

The distinction between, developed in the theory of communicative action , is fundamental to Habermas' discourse theory

  • communicative action, in the form of regularly communication-oriented utterances, so-called " speech acts ", and
  • “strategic action” that is strictly oriented towards one's own interests.

According to this understanding, strategic action behaves parasitically to communicative action, which represents the original mode of speaking.

In communicative action, a speaker regularly raises validity claims, which, depending on the statement, appear as such of ( propositional ) truth, (normative) correctness and (subjective) truthfulness and aim at the consent of his counterpart. If this goal is missed, i.e. if no agreement is reached, then this is the starting point for the discourse, which problematizes the validity claims raised and criticized on the one hand and functions "as an authority for communicative action".

The discourse guarantees the possibility of a consensus through the conditions that constitute it, which are inevitably recognized by each of the participants. They were formulated experimentally in “ rules of discourse ” and aim to create an “ ideal speaking situation ” in which nothing more prevails than “the unconstrained compulsion of the better argument and the motive of the cooperative search for truth”.

"Under the keyword 'discourse' I introduced the form of communication characterized by argumentation, in which problematic validity claims are made a topic and examined for their justification."

- Jürgen Habermas : Theories of Truth

In his theory of communicative action, Jürgen Habermas describes the discourse as a process of negotiating the individual claims to validity of the individual actors (also referred to as “ actors” in Habermas). According to Habermas, a characteristic of language is its inherent rationality . The results of a communication - if it is free from distortions by power or hierarchies - are inevitably rational, according to him. As an ideal, as the best insurance for truthful knowledge , he sees the "domination-free discourse" - based on discourse norms (fundamental equality of the participants, fundamental problematization of all topics and opinions, fundamental lack of exclusion of the audience) and authentic feelings . The communicative reality achieved in this way should bring the best argument to a profit - on which one can further build.

Habermas's concept of discourse here was composed in part of the psychoanalytic tradition of American discourse analysis ( discourse analysis ). Jürgen Link sees the enlightening “concept of the rationality of interventions in public debates” as a second element . With these dialogic and interactionist elements, Habermas initially aimed at “a rational debate aimed at informal consensus ”. Habermas later approaches Michel Foucault with his concept of discourse and speaks of special or specialized discourses . In contrast to Foucault, “he [...] insists on the priority of ultimately sovereign intersubjectivity over the respective discourse. To put it simply, one could say: With Habermas, intersubjectivity constitutes the discourse, with Foucault it is first and foremost constituted by discourses, as it is specifically historical ”.

Habermas also relates his concept to literary traditions on the importance of the coffee house and Parisian salons in the 18th century. The idea of ​​an ideal speech situation that is free from hierarchies was criticized by critics that such non-dominant discourses could not be established in modern society. As early as 1966, the sociologist Sherry Cavan empirically investigated conversations in anonymous big city bars in which the participants belong to very different status groups and yet meet each other on an equal footing, and came to the conclusion that mostly small talk predominated.

Michel Foucault

Roughly simplified, Foucault means by discourse the understanding of the reality of a particular culture or epoch that appears in language . The rules of discourse define for a particular context or a specific knowledge area, which is speakable what should be said, what must not be said and by whom it should be when told in what form (for example, only in the form of a scientific statement) .

The so-called “ discursive practice ” is made up of

  • linguistic aspects (the discourse) and
  • non-linguistic aspects (e.g. political institutions or architecture ).
  • In some theories following Foucault, the execution of certain ( physical ) modes of representation ( performativity ) is understood as part of discursive practice. For example, certain grasp feminist theories that gender identity itself as a discursive practice (see. Judith Butler ). The differences between men and women that are perceived as real today can thus be represented as a discursive construction.

Discourse in Foucault's "linguistically produced a sense of context, which forces a certain idea, which in turn certain power structures and interests has simultaneously the basis and generates ". To the extent that “discourse” is equated with “ discussion ” in public debate , a decisive aspect of meaning is lost: the property of discourse to create and structure reality . In Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault himself describes his plan to investigate discourse as follows: “It [is] a task that consists in treating discourses not - no longer - as a totality of signs [...], but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak. It is true that these discourses consist of signs; but they use these signs for more than just denoting things. This more makes them irreducible to speaking and language. This more must be brought to light and described. "

Example is intended to one example, the possibility for constructive use of the discourse concept be made clear: The term " foreigners flood" is a constant in the " Immigration discourse of" in Germany, a term that implies immigrants träten in "flooding" and z . B. as a natural phenomenon and natural disaster. The analysis of the discourse shows the way in which we think about the world - in this case about the problematic immigration phenomenon of crossing (actually only imagined) borders . If immigration often appears in connection with flood in our thoughts and speeches, it has a deeper meaning.

Critical discourse analysis

The so-called critical discourse analysis (for example Jürgen Link and Siegfried Jäger ) connects from a Marxist perspective to Foucault's concept of discourse. Discourse here means the institutionalized social way of speaking that determines how people act . The subject matter is both the form and the content of utterances. It also asks what is not said or can not be said in the ways of speaking . For Jäger, the discourse also has a historical dimension: Discourse is a flow of speech and texts (“knowledge”) through time .

Jean-François Lyotard

Lyotard distinguishes between different types of discourse (genres de discours) : the cognitive (or scientific), the economic, the philosophical and the narrative type of discourse. At the same time, he states: “There is no type of discourse whose hegemony over the other would be fair.” When different types of discourse come together, a conflict inevitably develops. Lyotard distinguishes between conflict (différend) and litigation (litige) . Lyotard thus strives for a philosophy of dissent that does not seek to reconcile the "conflict" of different forms of discourse and knowledge under one all-encompassing idea. Lyotard diagnoses the decline of the universalistic discourses; H. those systems of argument that can claim general validity. There is no overriding rule of judgment.

At the same time, Lyotard deals with the question of legitimacy. He sees discourse as a means of creating legitimacy, but this discourse should not be led through storytelling. Lyotard speaks of the "end of the great stories" which - not least after Auschwitz - would have discredited themselves. At the same time, Lyotard does not understand the discourse as the end of the legitimation process. In such a way the dialogue would never end. Postmodern knowledge "does not find its reason in the agreement of the experts, but in the change in meaning (paralogy) of the inventors". Paralogy literally means "unreasonableness". According to Lyotard, statements cannot be legitimized by the fact that they enable a consensus. With this he contradicts Habermas. To see consensus as the goal of the discussion is sheer aggression. Just recognizing the fundamental heteromorphism of the statements constituting knowledge and the multitude of forms of life leads to the highlighting of the non-agreement as common knowledge. At the same time, this enables the production of what was previously unknown, about what has been kept silent in the discourse, what has not yet been put into language.

See also


  • Johannes Angermüller: After structuralism. Theoretical discourse and intellectual field in France. Bielefeld 2007, ISBN 978-3-89942-810-0
  • Johannes Angermuller / Nonhoff, Martin / Herschinger, Eva / Macgilchrist, Felicitas / Reisigl, Martin / Wedl, Juliette / Wrana, Daniel / Ziem, Alexander (dir.) (2014): Discourse research. An interdisciplinary manual. Volume I: Theories, Methodologies, and Controversies. Volume II: Methods and Analytical Practice. Perspectives on university reform discourses. Bielefeld: transcript, ISBN 978-3-8376-2722-0 , 1250 pages
  • Johannes Angermuller / Maingueneau, Dominique / Wodak, Ruth (eds.) (2014): The Discourse Studies Reader. Main Currents in Theory and Analysis. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamin, ISBN 978-90-272-1211-5 , 417 pages
  • Roland Barthes , Leçon / lesson. Inaugural lecture at the Collège de France [1977], Frankfurt a. M .: Suhrkamp 1980
  • Hannelore Bublitz : Diskurs , Bielefeld: transcript 2003
  • Holger Burckhart et al. (Ed.): The Idea of ​​Discourse. Interdisciplinary approaches , Schwaben: Markt 2000
  • Anna Duszak, Juliane House, Łukasz Kumięga: Globalization, Discourse, Media. In a Critical Perspective / Globalization, Discourses, Media: A Critical Perspective. Warsaw University Press, r. 2010.
  • Iris Dzudzek, Caren Kunze, Joscha Wullweber (Eds.): Discourse and Hegemony: Socio-Critical Perspectives , Transcript, Bielefeld 2012.
  • Michel Foucault : The order of the discourse [1972; German 1974], Frankfurt a. M .: Fischer paperback, 1991.
  • Michel Foucault: Archeology of Knowledge [1969], Frankfurt a. M .: Suhrkamp 1981
  • Manfred Frank : What is a 'discourse'? On the 'archeology' of Michel Foucault , In: ders., The sayable and the unspeakable: Studies on Franco-German hermeneutics and text theory , Frankfurt a. M .: Suhrkamp (stw 317) 1980, 1989, pp. 408-426
  • Jürgen Gerhards : Dimensions and strategies of public discourses , Journal für Sozialforschung 1992, No. 32, pp. 307-318
  • Georg Glasze and Annika Mattissek (eds.): Discourse and space. Theories and methods for human geography and social and cultural spatial research , 2nd unchanged edition. Transcript, Bielefeld 2012. ISBN 978-3-8376-1155-7
  • Jürgen Habermas : Theory of communicative action (Vol. 1: Action rationality and social rationalization; Vol. 2: On the critique of functionalist reason), Frankfurt a. M. 1981, ISBN 3-518-28775-3 .
  • Siegfried Jäger : Critical Discourse Analysis: An Introduction , Münster: Unrast 2004 (4th edition), ISBN 3-89771-732-8
  • Reiner Keller : Knowledge-sociological discourse analysis. Foundation of a research program. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag 2005
  • Reiner Keller: Discourse Research. An introduction for social scientists . 3rd updated edition. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag 2007
  • Reiner Keller / Andreas Hirseland / Werner Schneider / Willy Viehöver (eds.): Handbook of social scientific discourse analysis. Vol. 1: Theories and Methods. 2nd updated and expanded edition. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag 2006
  • Reiner Keller / Andreas Hirseland / Werner Schneider / Willy Viehöver (eds.): Handbook of social scientific discourse analysis. Vol. 2: Research Practice. 2nd Edition. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag 2005
  • Reiner Keller / Andreas Hirseland / Werner Schneider / Willy Viehöver (eds.): The discursive construction of reality. On the relationship between the sociology of knowledge and discourse research Konstanz: UVK 2005
  • Dirk Kurbjuweit: Freedom? Essay - If the discourse of the West always questions everything, really everything, criticizes everything, doubts everything, that seems to make us weak , In: Der Spiegel , No. 4 (2015), 94–95.
  • Jürgen Link : Elementary literature and generative discourse analysis , Munich: Fink 1983, ISBN 3-7705-2142-0
  • Jürgen Link: Basic concepts in literary studies. A programmed introduction on a structuralist basis , Munich: Fink 1993, ISBN 3-7705-1725-3
  • Ryszard Lipczuk, Dorota Misiek, Jürgen Schiewe & Werner Westphal (eds.): Discourse Linguistics - Systems Linguistics . Theories - Texts - Case Studies , Verlag Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8300-4863-3
  • Jean-François Lyotard : Der Widerstreit , Fink, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-7705-2599-X
  • Jean-François Lyotard: Das postmoderne Wissen , (Ed. Peter Engelmann), Vienna 2006 (Passagen Verlag) - 5th unchanged edition, French original edition from 1979 La condition postmoderne, ISBN 3-85165-683-0
  • Jens Maeße: The many voices of the Bologna Process. On the discursive logic of an educational policy program, Bielefeld, transcript, 2010.
  • Jens Maeße (Ed.): Economy, Discourse, Government. Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Wiesbaden: Springer, 2013.
  • Jürgen Spitzmüller: Meta-language discourses. Attitudes to Anglicisms and their scientific reception , Berlin: de Gruyter 2005.
  • Daniel Wrana / Ziem, Alexander / Reisigl, Martin / Nonhoff, Martin / Angermuller, Johannes (dir.) (2014): DiskursNetz . Dictionary of interdisciplinary discourse research. Berlin: Suhrkamp, ISBN 978-3-518-29697-4 , 560 pages
  • Slavoj Žižek , Beyond the discourse analysis , In: Oliver Marchart (Ed.): The unrepresentable of politics. On the theory of hegemony Ernesto Laclaus , Vienna: Turia + Kant 1998, pp. 123-131
  • Boris Traue / Lisa Pfahl / Lena Schürmann: Discourse Analysis, In: Nina Baur / Jörg Blasius (Eds.), Handbook Methods of Empirical Social Research, pp. 493–508. Wiesbaden: VS 2014.
  • Peter Schöttler : After fear. History before and after the “linguistic turn” . Westphalian steam boat, Münster 2018, ISBN 978-3-89691-293-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Discourse  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Christoph Bieber : Digital Structural Change in the Public? On the reconfiguration of political actors through new media Political actors in the media democracy 2002, pp. 113–127
  2. Claudia Fraas, Michael Klemm: Discourses - Media - Media Discourses. Explanation of terms and initial questions Preface to Claudia Fraas, Michael Klemm (Ed.): Mediendiskurse. Inventory and perspectives. Frankfurt / Berlin / Bern / New York / Paris / Vienna 2005.
  3. Valentin Dander: Media - Discourse - Criticism. Potentials of discourse research for media education MedienPädagogik , January 15, 2017.
  4. Judith Butler : Hatred Speaks. On the politics of the performative. Translated by Markus Krist and Kathrina Menke. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006.
  5. Britta Hoffarth: Dispositiv 2.0. How subjects govern themselves and each other in Web 2.0. In: Media Discourse Analysis. Discourses - Dispositive - Media - Power, ed. by Philipp Dreesen, Łukasz Kumięga and Constanze Spieß. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2012, pp. 207–227.
  6. Manfred Spitzer : Digital dementia. How we drive ourselves and our children crazy. Droemer, Munich 2012.
  7. Jürgen Habermas: facticity and validity , 1992, p. 138 f.
  8. Jürgen Habermas: Truth Theories (1972), In: Preliminary studies and supplements to the theory of communicative action , Frankfurt am Main 1995, pp. 127–186, here p. 130.
  9. Link Jürgen, Link-Heer Ursula: Elementary literature and generative discourse analysis. Fink, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-7705-2142-0 , p. 88 f.
  10. ^ Jürgen Habermas: "Structural Change of the Public", Frankfurt am Main 1962
  11. ^ André Kieserling : Social systems. Does Habermas really want to know? In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . December 2, 2016, accessed July 31, 2019 .
  12. ^ Niklas Luhmann : Political Planning. Essays on the sociology of politics and administration . 4th edition. Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 1994, ISBN 3-531-11073-X , p. 30 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  13. Discourse , In: F. Schmidt: Handbuch der Globalisierung , 2002 (February 19, 2006).
  14. Michel Foucault: Archeology of Knowledge . Frankfurt am Main 1981, p. 74.
  15. ^ Siegfried Jäger: Critical Discourse Analysis: An Introduction . 4th edition. Unrast, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-89771-732-8 .