Discourse and Visual Analysis I   

Professor Carver’s step-by-step approach made even the most complex post-structuralist ideas accessible. He is an expert in his field. Truly amazing! — participant from Australia

This course provides participants with an introduction to the analysis of discourses, 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, and workshop sessions allow participants to develop their own projects in discourse and visual analysis.

This one-week course is the first part in a two-course sequence (cf. Discourse and Visual Analysis II) and introduces the basics concepts, theories, and techniques of discourse analysis.


This one-week, 17.5-hour course runs Monday-Friday, 1:00-4:30 pm, July 1-5, 2019.


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, the built environment, and other kinds of meaningful material objects. 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, incl. five selected Hollywood films, which deal dramatically with boundary line-drawing and the exercise of political power through discourses of certainty. The films also interrogate memory and identity as necessary constituents of a knowing subject in relation to objects that can be known through 'reading' and interpretation.

Upon completion of this course, participants will be familiar with:

  • Structuralism and post-structuralism

  • Non-referential theories of meaning and meaning-making

  • Psychoanalytic projection and hermeneutic interpretation

  • Phenomenology and experiential/cinematic concepts of time

  • Critical discourse analysis (CDA) and ideology-critique

  • Positivist and interpretive methods

This course is of interest to social scientists as well as participants with a broader, policy-related background.


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

Banks, Marcus, and David Zeitlyn. 2015. Visual Methods in Social Research. 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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.

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.

Critchley, Simon. 2001. Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zimmerman, Jens. 2015. Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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