Skip to content
Home » Methodologies in New Materialism and Discourse Analysis

Methodologies in New Materialism and Discourse Analysis

Methodologies in New Materialism and Discourse Analysis - Discourse Analyzer

Are you ready to enhance your learning by asking the assistant?

Log In to Your Account

Alternatively, if you don't have an account yet

Register Now!

New Materialism offers a radical rethinking of how discourses interact with the material world, emphasizing an entanglement where human and non-human agencies converge. In the context of discourse analysis, this theoretical perspective necessitates innovative methodologies that can address the complexities of material-discursive interactions. From integrative approaches that blend traditional and new materialist techniques to specific frameworks like Agential Realism and Actor-Network Theory, New Materialism encourages a multifaceted exploration of discourses across various platforms and contexts. This introduction surveys these methodologies, illustrating their potential to enrich our understanding of the interconnectedness of language, objects, and broader environmental and technological systems.

Table of Contents

1. Integrative Approaches in New Materialism

Integrating New Materialism with traditional discourse analysis methodologies represents a significant shift in how researchers approach the study of text, speech, and other forms of communication. New Materialism encourages us to consider the active role of matter and the material contexts within which discourse is produced and received. This approach challenges traditional methodologies that primarily focus on language and human agency, urging researchers to account for the influence of non-human elements and material forces.

1) Combining Traditional Discourse Analysis with New Materialist Perspectives

A. Expanded Scope of Analysis

Traditional discourse analysis often centers on language use, narrative structures, or rhetorical strategies within specific texts or speech. By incorporating New Materialist insights, researchers expand this scope to include the physical and material conditions that both shape and are shaped by discursive practices. This could involve analyzing:

  • Technological Mediations: How digital platforms, software, and hardware shape the production and reception of discourse.
  • Material Settings: The influence of physical spaces (like urban landscapes, institutional buildings, classrooms) on discursive interactions.
  • Object Agency: The role of objects (like documents, tools, or consumer products) in facilitating or constraining certain discourses.

B. Methodological Adaptations

Integrating New Materialist approaches involves adapting existing methodologies to accommodate the agency of matter and material conditions:

  • Multi-modal Analysis: Beyond textual and verbal language, this approach examines visual, audio, and spatial modalities through which discourses operate. This might include the analysis of how physical layouts or the design of digital interfaces contribute to the shaping of discourse.
  • Ethnographic Sensitivity: Applying an ethnographic approach to observe the interplay of human and non-human actors in natural settings. This could involve fieldwork that pays close attention to how material conditions influence social interactions and discursive practices.
  • Actor-Network Theory (ANT): Although not originally part of New Materialism, ANT’s focus on networks of relationships that include both human and non-human actors can complement New Materialist analyses. It helps trace how discourses emerge and stabilize across different material and social nodes.

C. Interdisciplinary Approaches

  • Incorporating Science and Technology Studies (STS): STS provides tools for understanding how scientific knowledge and technologies shape and are shaped by cultural and social practices. In discourse analysis, this might involve examining how scientific discourses about climate change are materially embedded in practices such as policy-making or public behavior.
  • Environmental and Ecological Analyses: These analyses consider how discourses about nature and the environment are materially connected to ecological practices and policies, reflecting on how they contribute to shaping human and non-human futures.

2) Example: Analyzing Climate Change Discourse

An integrative New Materialist discourse analysis of climate change might examine:

  • Scientific Publications and Media Reports: Analyzing the language and imagery used to communicate climate science and policy.
  • Technological Infrastructures: How digital platforms disseminate climate change discourse and the role of algorithms in shaping public engagement.
  • Material Effects: The impacts of discursive practices on actual environmental policies and physical changes in the environment.

By blending traditional discourse analysis techniques with New Materialist perspectives, researchers can develop a more holistic understanding of discourse as materially and discursively co-constituted. This approach does not merely add a material layer to discourse analysis; rather, it fundamentally transforms the theoretical and methodological frameworks, recognizing the dynamic and interconnected nature of language, matter, and meaning.

2. Ethnographic Analysis in New Materialism

Applying New Materialism in ethnographic research within the context of discourse analysis provides a rich and nuanced framework for understanding the intricate ways in which material conditions and discursive practices are entwined. Ethnography, traditionally used to study cultures through direct observation and participation, can be enhanced by New Materialist perspectives by emphasizing the agency of both human and non-human actors in the social and discursive fabric of everyday life.

1) Integrating New Materialism with Ethnographic Research

A. Material-Sensitive Observations

A New Materialist approach to ethnography emphasizes observing and interpreting the roles that objects, technologies, and environments play in social interactions and discursive practices. Researchers adopting this method will pay close attention to:

  • Physical Settings: How does the layout of a space (e.g., an office, a classroom, a public square) influence the types of interactions and discourses that occur there?
  • Technological Mediations: How do devices like smartphones, computers, or even medical equipment contribute to the shaping of conversations and social behaviors?
  • Interactions with Objects: How do people interact with objects, and how do these interactions influence or constitute discursive practices?

B. Incorporation of Non-Human Agency

Ethnographic studies influenced by New Materialism would incorporate an analysis of how non-human entities (objects, animals, plants, and even ideas) exert influence within social settings:

  • Agency of Objects: Considering objects not as passive tools but as active participants that can initiate, mediate, or disrupt social practices and discourse.
  • Material-Discursive Entanglements: Examining how material conditions and discursive elements are mutually constitutive, e.g., how policy documents (their physical form and textual content) affect administrative practices.

C. Thick Description of Material-Discursive Practices

Building on Clifford Geertz’s concept of thick description, New Materialist ethnography seeks to provide detailed accounts of how material conditions and discursive practices are deeply interwoven:

  • Detailed Narratives: Crafting narratives that highlight the interdependencies between human actors and their material environments.
  • Contextual Depth: Exploring the historical, cultural, and material contexts that give rise to specific discursive events or practices.

2) Methodological Tools and Techniques

  • Participant Observation: Engaging in settings where the interaction between materiality and discourse is visible, such as workshops, laboratories, or public events, observing how materials (tools, artifacts) play a role in shaping discursive outcomes.
  • Interviews and Conversations: Asking participants about their interactions with and perceptions of the material aspects of their environment, focusing on how these materials influence their thinking and speaking.
  • Artifact Analysis: Examining objects and technologies not just for their symbolic meanings but as active components of the social world that affect and are affected by discursive practices.

3) Case Study Example: Digital Workplaces

An ethnographic case study using New Materialism could explore a digital workplace, examining how:

  • Digital Tools and Platforms shape collaborative practices and corporate discourse, potentially facilitating or hindering certain types of communication and social interactions.
  • Physical and Virtual Environments interact to produce new types of workplace cultures and discourses, such as how remote work tools reconfigure perceptions of presence, supervision, and productivity.

By applying New Materialism in ethnographic research within discourse analysis, scholars can uncover deeper layers of interaction between humans and their material environments, revealing how these interactions shape and are shaped by discursive practices. This approach not only enriches the ethnographic toolkit but also extends its reach, making it a powerful method for studying the complex realities of contemporary social life.

3. Textual and Media Analysis in New Materialism

The integration of New Materialism into textual and media analysis offers a distinctive approach that extends beyond traditional interpretations of texts and media artifacts as mere conveyors of meaning. New Materialism invites us to consider texts and media not only as products of cultural and social processes but as active participants in those processes. This perspective emphasizes the materiality of media and texts—their physical presence, the conditions of their production and reception, and their interaction with human and non-human agents.

1) New Materialist Approach to Textual and Media Analysis

A. Materiality of Texts and Media

A New Materialist approach to textual and media analysis focuses on the physical and technological aspects of texts and media artifacts. It examines:

  • Physical Properties: How the physical form of a text, such as the type of paper, font, or digital interface, influences the reception and interpretation of the text.
  • Production Processes: The technological and labor conditions under which texts and media are produced, which can include everything from the mining of minerals for electronic components to the ergonomics of digital devices used in media consumption.
  • Sensory Experiences: How texts and media engage the senses (visual, auditory, tactile) of the audience and how these sensory experiences shape the interpretive process.

B. Agency of Media Artifacts

New Materialism argues for a broader understanding of agency, extending it to non-human entities. In the context of media:

  • Technological Agency: Media technologies (e.g., algorithms, cameras, editing software) not only facilitate but actively shape the production and dissemination of content. This perspective could lead to analyzing how algorithms curate personal and public discourse through social media feeds or how camera technologies influence journalistic narratives.
  • Interactivity: The interactive nature of many digital media platforms where the materiality of the interface (e.g., touch screens, virtual reality headsets) actively shapes user engagement and discourse production.

C. Discursive Practices

This involves looking at how texts and media are involved in the creation and perpetuation of discourses and how they are simultaneously shaped by these discourses:

  • Discursive Constructions: How texts and media reproduce or contest cultural narratives and social norms.
  • Role in Social Practices: The function of media artifacts in everyday practices and their role in shaping social relations and identities.

2) Methodological Tools and Techniques

  • Multi-modal Analysis: This method expands the analytical focus to include various modes of communication (text, image, sound, interaction) and their material underpinnings. It examines how these modes work together to produce meaning and affect.
  • Actor-Network Theory (ANT): Useful for tracing the relationships and networks that texts and media artifacts form with human and non-human actors. This can reveal how agency and influence are distributed across a network.
  • Critical Media Analysis: Examining the ideological content of media artifacts while considering their material aspects. This can involve a critique of how media technologies reinforce or disrupt power structures.

3) Case Study Example: Smartphone Usage in Social Movements

A New Materialist analysis of smartphone usage in social movements could explore:

  • Materiality: How the physical design of smartphones facilitates rapid communication and content sharing.
  • Technological Agency: The role of smartphones in shaping the nature of social interactions and the formation of collective identities in movements.
  • Discursive Impact: How smartphones mediate the production and circulation of discourses within social movements, including the creation and dissemination of protest symbols, slogans, and narratives.

By applying a material-discursive lens to textual and media analysis, New Materialism enriches traditional methodologies by incorporating the active role of material conditions and non-human agents. This approach not only deepens our understanding of how texts and media function within social and cultural contexts but also challenges us to reconsider the boundaries and definitions of agency, influence, and meaning in the contemporary media landscape.

4. New Materialist Methodologies

New Materialist methodologies offer fresh insights into how materials and objects shape social and discursive realities. Two influential approaches within New Materialism are Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO). These theories provide robust frameworks for analyzing the roles that non-human entities play in networks of relations and for rethinking traditional anthropocentric perspectives in discourse analysis.

1) Actor-Network Theory (ANT)

Overview: Developed by scholars like Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, and John Law, ANT is a methodology that treats humans and non-humans as equally significant actors within networks. It emphasizes the interdependencies among all actors, whether they are people, animals, objects, or ideas.

Key Concepts:

  • Actants: ANT uses the term “actant” to describe any entity that can affect action within a network. This term is deliberately chosen to avoid human-centered language and to emphasize the agency of non-human entities.
  • Networks: ANT views social and natural worlds as consisting of dynamically related networks. Understanding these networks requires tracing the connections and effects each actant has within the network.
  • Translation: This process describes how actors within a network negotiate and align their interests, transforming the input of various actants into a coherent network of actions and reactions.

Application in Discourse Analysis:

  • ANT can be used to analyze how specific technologies or objects (e.g., scientific instruments, media technologies) influence the production and circulation of discourses.
  • It provides tools for examining how these objects participate in networks that include human agents, shaping and reshaping discourses in fields such as science, politics, or education.

2) Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO)

Overview: OOO is a branch of speculative realism that puts objects at the center of being and insists on their rich and complex reality. It was developed by philosophers like Graham Harman, who argue that objects exist independently of human perception and have their own dynamics and relations.

Key Concepts:

  • Object Withdrawal: OOO holds that objects always withdraw from interaction; no object can be fully known or exhausted by its relations with other objects or by human perception.
  • Intra-Object Relationships: OOO emphasizes the internal life of objects and their interactions with other objects, which are seen as having their own agency and autonomy.
  • Flat Ontology: This aspect of OOO posits that all objects, regardless of their nature or status, should be considered on equal ontological footing without privileging humans or sentient beings.

Application in Discourse Analysis:

  • OOO encourages discourse analysts to consider how objects contribute to discourses not just as tools or symbols but as entities with their own agency and impact.
  • It allows for exploring how objects (e.g., texts, media artifacts, technological devices) influence human interactions and discursive practices independently of human intentions.

3) Integrating ANT and OOO in Discourse Analysis

Methodological Implications:

  • Both ANT and OOO disrupt the conventional focus on human-centric agency in discourse analysis. They invite analysts to trace the roles of various non-human entities in the creation, transformation, and dissemination of discourse.
  • They encourage a broader methodological openness in discourse analysis, including detailed case studies, ethnographic observations, and multi-modal analyses that consider the influence of material conditions and object interactions.

Case Study Application:

  • An analysis of environmental discourse might use ANT to trace how scientific instruments, ecological data, and political policies interact within networks that shape public understanding and policy decisions.
  • Using OOO, a discourse analyst might explore how a specific technology (like a smartphone) mediates human relationships and cultural practices, focusing on the device’s material and design features as well as its software capabilities.

By incorporating these New Materialist methodologies, discourse analysis can broaden its theoretical and empirical scope, offering deeper insights into the material-discursive networks that shape social and cultural realities.

5. Discourse Analysis Methodologies

Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) are two prominent methodologies in discourse analysis, each with distinct theoretical underpinnings and analytical focuses. Integrating New Materialist perspectives into these methodologies can enhance their ability to account for the role of material conditions in shaping discourses.

1) Foucauldian Discourse Analysis

Theoretical Background: Foucauldian Discourse Analysis is based on the theories of Michel Foucault, who emphasized the power-knowledge relationship and how discourses shape what can be thought and said within specific historical contexts. Foucault’s approach to discourse focuses on the rules and practices that produce meaningful statements and knowledge within a particular domain.

Key Concepts:

  • Discursive Formations: These are the rules that define what is sayable and knowable in a particular context. Foucault studied these formations to understand how they control knowledge and truth.
  • Power/Knowledge: For Foucault, knowledge is not independent of power but is a means through which power is exercised. Discourses, as carriers of knowledge, are thus intrinsically linked to power.
  • Archaeology of Knowledge: This is Foucault’s method for analyzing historical discourses to uncover the underlying rules, institutions, and epistemological assumptions that shape them.

Integration with New Materialism:

  • Applying a New Materialist lens, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis might explore how material practices and technological infrastructures condition and shape discursive formations, thus affecting how knowledge is produced and circulated.

2) Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

Theoretical Background: CDA seeks to understand the connection between language and power in social contexts, drawing heavily from Marxist theory and focusing on the ideological manipulation through text and talk. It is particularly concerned with the role of discourse in the reproduction of power and inequality.

Key Concepts:

  • Ideology and Discourse: CDA analyzes texts and practices to reveal the ideological content underlying linguistic choices. It looks at how discourses perpetuate systems of belief that benefit certain groups over others.
  • Discursive Practices: These are the language use patterns and communicative practices within specific fields that both shape and are shaped by social structures.
  • Intertextuality and Interdiscursivity: These concepts refer to the ways discourses build upon and reference each other, shaping meanings across different texts and social practices.

Integration with New Materialism:

  • CDA can incorporate New Materialist perspectives by examining how material conditions—not just textual content—contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of power structures. This might involve analyzing how media technologies or institutional architectures influence discursive practices.

3) Integrative Methodological Applications

  1. Case Studies:
    • A Foucauldian analysis might investigate how medical technologies (e.g., diagnostic tools) shape discourses around health and illness, examining the material bases of medical knowledge production.
    • A CDA approach could analyze how digital platforms shape political discourses, focusing on the material aspects of these platforms (e.g., algorithmic filtering, user interface design) and their role in shaping communicative practices and ideologies.
  2. Ethnographic Approaches:
    • Foucauldian and CDA methodologies could be enhanced by ethnographic studies that observe the interactions between material settings (e.g., urban landscapes, workplaces) and discursive practices, providing a richer context for understanding how power and knowledge are enacted.
  3. Multi-modal Analysis:
    • Both methodologies can benefit from examining multiple modes of communication (textual, visual, digital, spatial) to understand how these various forms are interlinked and how their material conditions influence discursive outcomes.

By integrating New Materialist insights, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis can extend their analytical scope to include the material dimensions of discourse, providing a more comprehensive understanding of how discourses function and exert power in social contexts. This approach not only enriches traditional discourse analytical methodologies but also aligns them more closely with contemporary concerns about the entanglements of language, materiality, and power.

6. Material Semiotics

Material Semiotics is an approach that synthesizes insights from Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and semiotics, focusing on the intricate interplay between materiality and meaning-making processes. This methodology extends the scope of traditional semiotic analysis by incorporating the active role of non-human elements and material conditions in the production and interpretation of signs and symbols.

1) Key Features of Material Semiotics

Integration of Materiality and Semiotics: Material Semiotics argues that meaning-making is not only a human cognitive process but also occurs through the interactions between humans and material objects. This approach challenges the conventional semiotic focus on language and symbols by emphasizing that objects, technologies, and even natural environments participate actively in semiotic processes.

Actant-Networks: Drawing from ANT, Material Semiotics uses the concept of actant-networks to describe the assemblages of human and non-human actors that co-produce meanings. In this view, actants (which can be anything that affects or mediates action) are not merely passive tools but active participants in the networks of meaning-making.

Performativity of Practice: Material Semiotics highlights the performativity of everyday practices, where the meanings of signs and symbols are enacted and reconfigured through material engagements. This performativity extends to how objects and technologies “perform” their roles within social and communicative practices.

2) Methodological Applications in Discourse Analysis

1. Analyzing Texts and Objects Together: A material semiotic approach in discourse analysis might involve studying how textual documents (e.g., policy papers, technical manuals) and the objects they refer to (e.g., technological devices, architectural structures) co-constitute each other. This analysis could reveal how specific technologies are discussed and understood within different cultural and institutional contexts.

2. Tracing Material-Discursive Networks: By mapping the networks of interactions among various human and non-human actors, researchers can trace how discourses are materially and semiotically constructed across different settings. For example, an analysis of climate change discourse could examine how scientific instruments, computer models, research articles, and public media interact to shape public understanding of climate science.

3. Ethnographic Approaches: Conducting ethnographic research that pays close attention to material practices and the semiotic roles of objects within these practices. This could involve observing how medical tools (like MRI machines) and the technical terminology used by healthcare professionals shape patient experiences and understandings of health and illness.

4. Multi-modal Analysis: Material Semiotics encourages a multi-modal analysis that goes beyond textual analysis to include visual, auditory, and spatial modalities. For instance, studying urban planning discourse might involve analyzing architectural drawings, planning documents, and the physical spaces of urban environments to understand how urban meanings are produced and contested.

3) Case Study Example: Digital Learning Environments

In a material semiotic analysis of digital learning environments, a researcher could examine:

  • Educational Software: How does the software design (interface, functionality, content) interact with educational theories and pedagogical practices to produce specific learning experiences?
  • Interactions: How do students and teachers interact with digital platforms and physical devices (tablets, smartboards), and how do these interactions shape learning processes and outcomes?
  • Institutional Policies: How do institutional policies about technology use in education influence the material and semiotic aspects of teaching and learning?

Material Semiotics offers a powerful methodological framework for discourse analysis, broadening the understanding of how meanings are not merely constructed linguistically but are deeply entwined with material conditions and practices. By focusing on the interdependencies between material and discursive elements, this approach provides a more comprehensive view of how meanings are enacted, stabilized, and transformed in various social contexts.

7. Agential Realism

Agential Realism, developed by Karen Barad, is a profound and innovative theoretical framework within New Materialism that provides a unique perspective on the entanglement of matter and meaning. This approach is especially impactful for rethinking methodology in fields such as discourse analysis, as it compels us to consider how discursive practices are not merely overlays on material configurations but are fundamentally intertwined with them.

1) Core Concepts of Agential Realism

1. Intra-action: Central to Agential Realism is the concept of intra-action, which posits that entities (including both human and non-human, material, and discursive) do not pre-exist their interactions. Instead, entities emerge through specific intra-actions, which implies that the properties of objects and the identities of subjects are established as they intra-act within the phenomenon they are a part of.

2. Phenomena: In Agential Realism, phenomena are the primary units of reality. Phenomena are complex assemblages where the entanglement of matter and meaning occurs. This ontological framework suggests that phenomena arise from and include all relationships and interactions, thus collapsing the traditional boundaries between subject/object and nature/culture.

3. Entanglement: This refers to the lack of an independent, separable existence among entities. Entanglement challenges the notion of autonomous agents and instead describes how agencies emerge from the entangled state of the universe, where everything is connected to, contingent on, and co-constitutive with everything else.

2) Methodological Implications for Discourse Analysis

Integration of Materiality and Discursivity: Agential Realism encourages discourse analysts to study how discursive practices and material phenomena co-create each other. For instance, in analyzing scientific discourses, one might focus on how laboratory instruments (material) and scientific language (discursive) co-produce the phenomena under investigation.

Refocusing Agency: In traditional discourse analysis, agency is often attributed primarily to human actors. Agential Realism redistributes agency across the human-non-human spectrum, examining how non-human elements (like texts, technologies, and even physical settings) also “act” in the production and transformation of discourses.

Ethico-Onto-Epistemology: Barad’s framework emphasizes that knowing is a direct material engagement with the world, an ethical and ontological act that affects the studied phenomena. This perspective suggests that discourse analysis is an ethical practice, implicating the researcher in the realities they help to co-construct. It challenges analysts to consider how their methodologies influence the phenomena they are studying and the broader implications of their research.

3) Practical Applications in Discourse Analysis

Case Studies: Using Agential Realism, a discourse analyst might examine a policy debate on climate change by focusing not only on the spoken and written arguments but also on how these discourses are materially embedded in practices such as data gathering, report writing, and the physical effects of policy implementations.

Multi-modal Analysis: Given the focus on the material dimensions of discourse, analysts might employ multi-modal approaches to explore how visual, textual, and numerical data intra-act in the production of knowledge, such as in news media or academic publications.

Technological Discourses: Investigating how technologies such as AI are discussed in various fields might involve analyzing how these technologies are both shaped by and shape the discourses of intelligence, ethics, and agency.

Agential Realism, by highlighting the inseparability of matter and meaning, provides a rich, complex lens for examining discursive practices. It pushes the boundaries of traditional discourse analysis by incorporating the dynamics of materiality, thus offering more holistic insights into the interactions that constitute social and natural realities.

8. Posthumanist Analysis

Posthumanist analysis in the context of discourse analysis broadens the methodological scope significantly by challenging the anthropocentric focus that has traditionally characterized the humanities and social sciences. This approach incorporates non-human actors and forces, emphasizing the intertwinement of human agency with the non-human, such as technology, animals, environments, and even microbial life. Posthumanism redefines the boundaries of agency, subjectivity, and the production of knowledge, making it a valuable perspective within New Materialism.

1) Key Features of Posthumanist Analysis

1. De-centering the Human: Posthumanist analysis challenges the privileged position of humans as the primary holders of agency and knowledge. It recognizes that non-human entities also possess agency and can influence cultural and social phenomena.

2. Agency of Non-Human Actors: This involves acknowledging that non-human actors (technologies, animals, plants, objects) play active roles in social and discursive networks. In discourse analysis, this perspective leads to examining how these entities contribute to the creation, propagation, and transformation of discourses.

3. Material-Semiotic Networks: Inspired by Donna Haraway’s and Bruno Latour’s work, posthumanist analysis often employs the concept of material-semiotic networks, where human and non-human actors are entangled in the production of meaning and reality. These networks do not merely facilitate human action but actively participate in it.

2) Integrating Posthumanist Perspectives into Discourse Analysis

Revising Methodological Approaches:

  • Broadened Actor Analysis: Including non-human entities in the analysis of discursive practices, such as examining how medical devices, environmental landscapes, or digital interfaces influence medical, environmental, or technological discourses.
  • Interdisciplinary Research: Combining insights from science and technology studies, environmental sciences, and digital humanities to enrich the analysis of discourse and its material underpinnings.

Ethical and Epistemological Implications:

  • Ethical Considerations: Recognizing the agency of non-human actors introduces new ethical considerations, such as the implications of technology use on privacy or the rights of animals in research.
  • Epistemological Shifts: Posthumanism encourages a reconsideration of what constitutes knowledge and who or what can be a ‘knower’. This challenges traditional epistemological hierarchies and invites a more inclusive approach to understanding the world.

3) Practical Applications in Discourse Analysis

Case Study: Environmental Discourse:

An analysis might examine how climate change discourse is shaped not only by scientific and political texts but also by the material effects of climate change itself, such as extreme weather events, which act back on the discourse.

Case Study: Digital Communication:

Exploring how algorithms and data analytics tools in social media platforms shape public discourses, potentially having agency by amplifying certain viewpoints over others.

Case Study: Urban Planning:

Investigating how both the physical infrastructure of cities and the discourses around urban development interact to shape the lived experience of urban spaces, where roads, buildings, and public spaces all participate in the discourse of urban life.

Posthumanist analysis within the framework of New Materialism and discourse analysis offers a radical shift in how we understand the production of meaning and knowledge. By acknowledging the role of non-human actors and forces, this approach not only enriches our understanding of complex discursive networks but also prompts us to reconsider the ethical and epistemological foundations of our research practices. This broadened perspective is crucial for addressing contemporary challenges that are inherently intertwined with non-human actors and systems.

9. Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis

Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis (MMDA) is an essential approach within the broader spectrum of discourse analysis, particularly under the influence of New Materialism. This methodology focuses on the ways various modes of communication—visual, textual, auditory, spatial, and gestural—interact and contribute to the production and interpretation of meaning. New Materialism, with its emphasis on the entanglement of material and discursive elements, enriches multi-modal analysis by incorporating a critical focus on how material conditions influence and are influenced by these diverse communicative modes.

1) Key Concepts in Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis

1. Modes of Communication: MMDA recognizes that communication goes beyond text and speech to include images, sounds, gestures, and even the design of physical and digital spaces. Each mode has its own specificities and affordances in conveying meaning.

2. Intermodality: This concept refers to the ways in which different modes interact within a communicative event. Understanding how modes complement, enhance, or contradict each other is key to a comprehensive analysis of discourse.

3. Semiotic Resources: MMDA examines how various semiotic resources (e.g., linguistic, visual, audio) are used to construct messages. The choice and configuration of these resources are influenced by cultural, social, and material contexts.

2) Integration of New Materialism into Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis

Incorporating Materiality:

  • Material Influence on Modes: New Materialism prompts analysts to consider how material environments and objects shape the use and effectiveness of different modes. For instance, the layout of a website influences how textual and visual elements are perceived and understood.
  • Technological Mediations: Exploring how technologies (like VR interfaces, digital displays) materially affect how modalities are experienced and interacted with. For example, how does the tactile nature of a smartphone screen affect the engagement with visual and textual content?

Expanding Agency:

  • Agency of Material Objects: Objects and technologies are seen not just as passive conveyors of meaning but as active participants that influence how modes are used and interpreted. For example, the design of a classroom affects auditory communication (acoustics) and visual communication (lighting, sight lines).
  • Dynamic Interactions: Analyzing how changes in material conditions (e.g., urban redevelopment, technological upgrades) alter the communicative practices and modal interrelationships in a community or organization.

3) Methodological Approaches and Applications

1. Case Studies:

  • Educational Settings: Analyzing how textbooks, digital tools, classroom layouts, and teacher-student interactions across various modes contribute to learning processes.
  • Corporate Communications: Examining how companies use combinations of textual, visual, and spatial modalities in advertising and branding to create specific corporate images and consumer responses.

2. Ethnographic Fieldwork:

Observing real-world settings to understand how material conditions and multi-modal communications shape social interactions and cultural practices. This might include studying how people interact with public displays in a museum or engage with multi-modal installations in an art exhibit.

3. Digital Media Analysis:

Investigating how digital platforms integrate multiple modes (text, image, video, interactive elements) and how these integrations influence user behavior and discourse construction, such as in social media or multimedia journalism.

Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis enriched by New Materialism offers a robust framework for understanding complex communicative landscapes. By emphasizing the material underpinnings of communicative modes and their interrelations, this approach provides deeper insights into how discourses are constructed, experienced, and perpetuated in contemporary society. This integration not only broadens the analytical capacity of discourse analysis but also aligns it with current realities where digital and material worlds are increasingly intertwined.


The methodologies in New Materialism bring a transformative lens to discourse analysis, challenging and extending traditional boundaries to include the dynamic interplay of material and discursive forces. Techniques such as Ethnographic Case Studies, Textual and Media Analysis, and Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis are reconfigured through a new materialist perspective to better understand how material realities co-construct discursive outcomes. Frameworks like Agential Realism and Material Semiotics further illustrate the intricate entanglements of matter and meaning, emphasizing a continuum rather than distinct separations between the material and the linguistic. By integrating these methodologies, discourse analysis not only deepens its analytical reach but also becomes more attuned to the complexities of contemporary social and environmental issues. The application of New Materialist methodologies in discourse analysis thus not only expands theoretical horizons but also enhances the practical relevance of research in understanding and addressing the challenges of a materially interconnected world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Integrative Approaches in New Materialism?

Integrative approaches in New Materialism combine traditional discourse analysis with new materialist insights to examine how material conditions influence and are influenced by discursive practices. This methodology aims to bridge the gap between linguistic analysis and material interactions.

How is New Materialism applied in Ethnographic Case Studies?

In ethnographic research, New Materialism is applied by focusing not just on the cultural and social interactions but also on how these interactions are influenced by and interact with material conditions. Researchers pay close attention to the agency of objects and the environment in shaping social practices.

What is the focus of Textual and Media Analysis in New Materialism?

This approach examines texts and media through a material-discursive lens, considering how physical mediums, technological tools, and tangible environments contribute to the creation and reception of textual and media content.

How do New Materialist Methodologies incorporate Actor-Network Theory (ANT)?

Actor-Network Theory in New Materialism emphasizes the network of relationships between humans and non-human entities, considering all actors (human and non-human) as equally significant in the production of knowledge and societal structures.

What is Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) in the context of New Materialism?

Object-Oriented Ontology is a branch of metaphysics in New Materialism that rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of non-human objects. OOO posits that objects exist independently of human perception and have intrinsic properties that affect other objects and humans.

How does Agential Realism enhance New Materialism in Discourse Analysis?

Agential Realism, developed by Karen Barad, integrates the study of discourse with the material world by focusing on their entanglement. It challenges conventional analysis by asserting that discourses and material conditions co-constitute and reshape each other.

What does Material Semiotics involve?

Material Semiotics extends Actor-Network Theory and integrates semiotics to explore how both material and discursive elements create networks of meaning and action. It examines how these networks perform, compete, and stabilize within various contexts.

How is Posthumanist Analysis applied in Discourse Analysis?

Posthumanist Analysis expands Discourse Analysis to include the roles and impacts of non-human actors, considering how these entities influence human agency and societal discourses, thereby highlighting the interconnectedness of human and non-human agents.

What is Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis in the context of New Materialism?

Multi-Modal Discourse Analysis in New Materialism looks at how different communication modes—textual, visual, auditory, etc.—are materially and discursively involved in the production of meaning. It considers how these modes interact and influence social and cultural discourses.

How do these methodologies challenge traditional views in Discourse Analysis?

These methodologies challenge traditional views by emphasizing the active role of material conditions in shaping discourses. They move beyond viewing language as the primary conduit of meaning and incorporate the influential capacities of non-linguistic elements and their entanglements with human activities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *