Discourse and Visual Analysis 

Professor Carver is very knowledgeable and extremely approachable. He made complex concepts very easy to understand. — participant from Taiwan

This course takes an interpretive and constructivist approach to discourse, where discourses are communicative social practices incorporating spoken and written language, still and moving images, the built environment, and other ways through which meaning is created. It reviews the origins of discourse analysis in classical rhetoric and empirical linguistics before providing participants with an understanding of the latest non-referential theories of language and meaning. Regular lectures are complemented with the viewing and discussion of feature films in which the basic tenets of post-structuralism are acted out in lively, fictive contexts. Workshop sessions allow participants to develop their own projects in discourse and visual analysis, using the full range of digital and conventional resources available at the Methods School.


This course was offered in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.


Terrell F. Carver (picture), University of Bristol

Detailed Description

This course on discourse and visual analysis introduces participants to the basic concepts and distinctions through which the empiricst philosophy of science and the philosophical positions of post-structuralism can be easily contrasted. These include subject, object, perception, factuality, referential validity, and truth on the one hand, and language, communicative activity, projection and meaning-making, power, and politics on the other. Participants will become familiar with these two approaches and with their implications for rhetoric, social science, critique, and knowledge.

The discussion sessions and readings equip participants with the analytical techniques necessary for the semantic, rhetorical, semiotic, narrative, and communicative analysis of written texts. They also learn the basic techniques of analyzing images, including photographs and other still representations, and how to apply these same techniques to moving images, in particular cinema, television, digital social media, and other aspects of popular and commercial cultures.

In workshop sessions, participants can use their newly acquired methodological tools to examine and analyze a wide range of materials. Participants will also view three popular films, which deal dramatically with boundary line-drawing and the exercise of political power through discourses of certainty and interrogate memory and identity as necessary constituents of a knowing subject in relation to objects that can be known.

Overall, participants will learn how to analyze the myriad and changing ways through which communicative and representational practices make meanings, create regimes of truth, and generate power in society. Through various classroom and study group activities, participants will be able to identify their own research project and to undertake and develop a practical piece of discourse analysis.


There are no prerequisites for this course.


Participants are expected to bring a WiFi-enabled laptop computer. Access to data, temporary licenses for the course software, and installation support will be provided by the Methods School.

Core Readings

Howarth, David. 2000. Discourse. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Howells, Richard, and Joaquim Negreiros. 2012. Visual Culture. 2nd edition. Malden, MA: Polity.

Chandler, Daniel. 2007. Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd edition. New York, NY: Routledge.

Martin, James. 2013. Politics and Rhetoric: A Critical Introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.

Yanow, Dvora, and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, eds. 2013. Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn. 2nd edition. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Suggested Readings

Belsey, Catherine. 2002. Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Butler, Christopher. 2003. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bateman, John A. 2014. Text and Image: A Critical Introduction to the Visual/Verbal Divide. New York, NY: Routledge.

Bleiker, Roland. 2009. Aesthetics and World Politics. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rose, Gillian. 2011. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.