Discursive Psychology: Theory, Method and Applications - Sally Wiggins 2017



A particular version of events, a description or explanation provided for a specific purpose.


The activity of being held to account for something, or managing one’s responsibility (or lack of it) for an event or behaviour. This can also include one’s responsibility to provide an account. It is similar to the issue of blaming, but being accountable for something does not necessarily mean that the person is to blame for it.


The feature of discourse (talk and text) that focuses it towards a particular social action (i.e., ’orientates it’). For example, the action-orientation of the statement, ’it’s cold’ might be as a request to close a window or turn up the heating.


The property or ability of something to be the cause of an action, e.g., being able to take control of something, make choices or be able to act independently.


A set of principles and assumptions for undertaking research, including everything from theory to data collection to analysis. The term ’approach’ is thus much broader than theory, methodology or model.


The judgement or evaluation of something; making a claim about the quality of an object, event or person, for example.


A psychological concept that is typically associated with a cognitivist approach, where it refers to an evaluative belief or perception about something in the world. In DP research, an attitude is understood as a discursive accomplishment, an assessment or evaluation that is situated within a specific discursive context.


Inferring or ascribing a cause for an event; whether or not the attribution is understood to be cognitive or discursive is dependent on the theoretical approach taken.

Bottom-up analysis (or approach)

An analysis (or approach) where the data are the starting point for developing an analysis, rather than ideology or theory.


The process through which objects, people or places are assigned to categories. In DP research this is achieved through discursive practices (through talking and writing) rather than being ascribed to cognitive processes.

Category entitlements

The rights and responsibilities associated with a particular category.


The process of sorting through a data set and separating out those parts of the data — both the transcript and the associated recording — that relate to the research question.


An approach which interprets people’s talk and behaviours primarily in terms of underlying cognitive causes.

Cognitive agnosticism

Taking a neutral stance on whether or not (particular) cognitive states exist.


The process through which different concepts (such as identity or attitudes) are produced in particular ways in discursive practices.


The setting in which something takes place, the limits of which are taken as relevant for the research, specifically in terms of data collection and analysis.

Conversation analysis

An approach to analysing everyday and institutional discourse that examines the sequential organisation and action-orientation of talk-in-interaction.

Critical discourse analysis

A set of approaches that analyses how discourses are both productive of and produced by ideologies and power relations.

Critical discursive psychology

An approach to analysing discourse that combines both macro and micro features of discourse analysis.

Critical realism

A theoretical position which argues that we cannot directly access reality as it will always be represented or mediated in some way. For example, the words we use to describe something are a way of representing that thing, but they are not that ’thing’ in itself.


All the materials — in DP, this is talk or text in social interaction — collected (e.g., in online discussion forum interaction) or generated (e.g., in a focus group) for research. In DP research, data are therefore the original texts or audio/video recordings as well as any representations of this (e.g., transcripts). Data corpus refers to the whole set or collection of data for a research project.


The process through which discourse is ’taken apart’, i.e., the unpacking or exposing of the assumptions which underlie concepts or ways or talking.

Deviant cases

Those instances (cases) or sections of the data that do not appear to fit into the interpretation or explanation provided in the analysis.


A phrase that makes a direct claim against the speaker being accused of something (e.g., racism) even if the subsequent talk might perform that action. For example, one might say, ’I’m not racist…’ before stating something that could be interpreted as racist.


Any form of spoken or written language — talk or text. In some forms of discourse analysis, this can also be extended to other ways in which meaning is produced in interaction, such as gestures, symbols and objects.

Discourse analysis

A broad collection of approaches that analyse discourse in all its forms. They share in common the assumption that discourse produces and creates reality rather than reflects it.

Discursive action

How things are accomplished in talk and text (e.g., asking questions, blaming someone, teasing, flirting, excusing).

Discursive devices

The analytical tools used by discursive psychology (and other forms of discourse analysis) to examine the constituent parts or structure of discursive practices.


A turn in interaction that is potentially problematic for the other speaker or which does not fit the normative pattern of a particular sequence. Preference here is understood in the sense of what is preferred for smooth, untroubled social interaction.

Emic analysis

Analysis that privileges the interpretations, orientations or terminology used by the participants in the research.


The study of, or theory of, knowledge, of ’how we know what we know’. It can cover everything from what counts as knowledge, how we obtain or produce knowledge to what are the consequences of this knowledge.


The argument that there are fixed qualities or ’essences’ inside people — such as personality or intelligence — that are relatively enduring and not changed by the social context.


An approach that studies groups of people and their practices.


An approach that aims to understand the methods through which people make sense of each other’s practices in everyday settings: how people make sense of what they are doing. It often examines the processes through which the social world is made orderly and coherent.

Etic analysis

Analysis that privileges the interpretations, orientations or terminology used by the researchers, rather than those of the participants in the research.

Extreme case formulation (ECF)

An ECF is a semantically extreme word or phrase that works rhetorically to build an end-of-the-line description while also accomplishing other social actions.

Focus group

A method of data collection whereby a person (called the moderator) asks a series of questions or instigates discussion in a group of people who have been organised for that purpose. The discussion is typically focused on a particular topic.


The stance that people take on an issue; the ’participant role’ that is produced in the interaction at a particular moment.


A summary or gist of a previous discussion or statement.

Foucauldian discourse analysis

An approach to discourse analysis that draws on the work of Michel Foucault, and which examines the socio-historical aspects of discourse and the impact of these on social and psychological life.


The marking of a turn in interaction as being in some way tentative, conditional or provisional. It can also mark talk as potentially problematic.


A coherent and organised set of ideas, which often underpins social structures or political arguments.


How the meaning of an utterance or turn in interaction is understood to be situated both within the turn-by-turn sequential context as well as the broader interactional and rhetorical context. To identify what is ’meant’, therefore, analysis should be based on what comes before and what comes after the turn.

Interpretative repertoire

A collection of words or ways of talking about objects or events in the world which provide a relatively coherent and culturally recognisable characterisation of that object or event.

Linguistic determinism (see also Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)

A theory that states that our language shapes (or determines) our thought processes. There are weaker versions of this (sometimes called linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) that argue that language influences, rather than determines, our perceptions and experiences of the world.

Macro analyses

Analyses that draw on broader contextual issues, such as socio-historical aspects, culture, ideology and power, to analyse data.

Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA)

A sub-set of conversation analysis that analyses the categories used to make inferences about people and events in the social world.


A theory of theory, i.e., a way of understanding and analysing what makes a theory.


The tool or technique used to collect data or carry out the research.


The set of theoretical assumptions that underpin research, from the research questions, to the data and how they are collected, to the analytical procedure.


Analyses that focus on the specifics of the interaction, such as turn-taking organisation and the words and gestures used within an interaction.


Broadly defined, this refers to research or analysis that considers different ’modes’ of communication or interaction. In conversation analysis, this might refer to talk, gesture, facial movement and use of objects. Multimodal critical discourse analysis, on the other hand, refers to visual imagery (photographs, diagrams, pictures) as well as language in the analysis of texts.

Naturally occurring data (or naturalistic data)

Data collected from settings that would have occurred regardless of the research taking place, such as family mealtimes, online discussion forums or doctor—patient interaction. Such data are often contrasted with researcher-generated data, where the setting is specifically designed for the research (such as interviews or focus groups).

Next-turn proof procedure

The process of checking the interpretation of a turn in talk by examining the next turn in the sequence, and focusing on how the speakers themselves understand or orientate to a turn in talk, rather than the analyst’s assumptions.


A pattern or regular feature of human behaviour or interaction; something that is treated as expected or for which someone might be held accountable if they do not adhere to the norm.


The study of things in the world: what exists, what form this takes, and the relationship between things in the world and our understandings of these.


The way in which a section of talk (or speaker) attends to, or makes relevant, a particular action or interpretation.

Orthographic transcript

A written version of an audio or video recording that includes only the words spoken but not the way in which they are spoken.


The features of speech that detail how words are delivered, such as emphasis, volume of speech, rising or falling pitch. It can also include non-lexical sounds such as coughs, laughter or crying.


The term used to refer to the people who take part in our research, or whose discursive practices we are analysing.


A set of theoretical approaches that developed as a response to structuralist approaches to language. They argue that meaning is produced through discourse, and that there are not fixed (structured) links between meaning and language.


The features of speech that relate to its production and sound, such as pitch, volume, timing and voice quality. These are sometimes referred to as the rhythmic or musical aspects of speech.


The fake name that you give to participants or places to protect their anonymity.


(see also critical realism) An ontological and epistemological position that assumes that there is a single reality that we can access or know in some way, that a real world exists independently of our representations or interpretations of it.


The acknowledgement of the researcher’s involvement in the production of knowledge.


An epistemological position that assumes that there are multiple realities (rather than a single one). It argues that there is no basis on which we can claim that one version of reality is more ’real’ than another. Thus all versions are, in theory, equally valid. This is not the same as saying that all versions of reality have equal status. A relativist can still argue for one version over another, but they should be transparent in stating that this is not an absolute truth.


According to a realist position, this is the extent to which a study might be replicated and the same results observed. According to a relativist position, this is the extent to which other researchers (or readers) might interpret the data and analysis in a similar way to our interpretations.

Reported speech/thought

A section of talk or text in which the speaker (or writer) appears to provide a literal representation of something that had been previously said. It is sometimes known as ’active voicing’.

Research question

The question used to guide the research in a specific and structured way. It is not as prescriptive as a hypothesis, but should still narrow the focus of the research.


The design features of talk that favour one interpretation over others; the persuasiveness or argumentative features of talk.


Where discourse appears to present a set of events or behaviours as if these were recurrent, normative or frequent.


The study of signs, and use of signs in meaning-making in social practices.


The turn-by-turn organisation of conversation and social interaction.

Social constructionist/m

An approach that examines how social phenomena are primarily the product of discursive practices and social interaction. The emphasis is on the social concepts that are produced, rather than an individual’s learning or understanding of them (cf. social constructivism).

Social constructivist/m

A theoretical approach that examines how knowledge and human development is produced in social interaction, though with the emphasis on individual processes of understanding (including cognitive processes).


An area of study that examines language in society, with a focus on linguistic features rather than social or psychological issues.

Synthesised discourse analysis

(also known as multi-level DA) A blended version of discourse analysis that draws across different forms (such as blending discursive psychology and critical discursive psychology).


A term used to emphasise the way in which talk is produced within, and should therefore be analysed as part of, conversation and interaction.


Discourse in a written format (also includes text messages on a smartphone).


An explanatory framework for an area of research.

Top-down analysis

An analysis that draws on theoretical or ideological concepts to make sense of data and uses these as the starting point for analysis.


The process through which audio or video data are transferred into a written document and presented as a sequential series of turns, with each turn at talk written on a new line. Transcripts that are described as ’words-only’, ’basic’ or ’first-pass’ are those which include line numbers, speaker names and the words spoken by speakers. Those described as ’Jefferson transcripts’ also include paralinguistic features (e.g., rising or falling pitch, emphasis, volume of speech).


In realist terms, this is the extent to which a study reflects the reality that it seeks to observe (i.e., how ’true’ it is). In relativist terms, this is the extent to which a study is consistent with the social context in which it was produced (i.e., how true to the context it is).