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Analysing Political Discourse: Confronting Approaches

Political Methodology
Section Number
Section Chair
Lea Sgier
University of Geneva
Section Co-Chairs
Philippe Blanchard
University of Warwick
Theofanis Exadaktylos
University of Surrey

The analysis of political discourse, understood in the broadest sense as the analysis of written, oral, audio-visual or other forms of communication that explicitly or implicitly carry political ideas, has a long tradition in the social sciences and the humanities. It has gained considerable momentum over the last 20 years, thanks to a variety of developments that have contributed to its wider use and to making it more methodologically articulate and rigorous, such as:

- Advances in software solutions allowing for a systematic qualitative or quantitative treatment of large amounts of textual, visual or audio-visual data (for example Däubler, Benoit et al. 2012; Popping 2012; Lejeune 2008);

- An increased acknowledgement of the role of "ideas" in political science, and interest in developing tools to capture the influence of ideas (for example Schmidt 2008, Schmidt and Radaelli 2004, Majone 1989);

- The emergence of qualitative discourse analysis (poststructuralist, post-marxist or critical) within a variety of subfields of political science and international relations, such as policy analysis, European politics or social movements (cf. for example Howarth and Torfing 2005; Milliken 1999; Benford and Snow 2007 or Fischer and Gottweis 2012), and partly related discussions in the field of the analysis of ideology and conceptual history (Freeden et al. 2013; Koselleck 1985, 2002);

- The successful completion of various large international research projects based mainly on textual, content or discourse analysis: the Manifesto project, the Comparative Agenda-Setting project and MAGEEQ (Mainstreaming Gender Equality in the European Union) amongst others.

Yet, the field of political discourse analysis remains very fragmented, both conceptually and methodologically. This fragmentation is partly due to the interdisciplinary nature of the field, which borrows tools also from outside the social sciences (linguistics, philosophy of science, rhetoric, computer sciences, etc.). This section aims to bring together scholars who in one way or another are engaged in this field, whether with qualitative or quantitative tools, whether in a hermeneutic-interpretive or in a more positivist tradition, whether on small- or large-N samples, with or without CAQDAS tools. We are fully aware that this diversity is also an asset for the discipline and that diverging traditions should not be reduced to unity at any price. Yet the section proposes to critically engage with the above-mentioned developments and to promote a dialogue across approaches. We invite papers that address questions such as:

- What can hermeneutic types of discourse analysis learn from content analytical approaches, and vice versa?
- Twenty years into the use of CAQDAS tools, how useful have they been? What are their unused potential and unfulfilled promises?
- What lessons can we draw from neighbouring disciplines (linguistics, rhetoric, and history in particular) for political discourse analysis, or from political science sub-fields (e.g. institutionalism, public policy analysis and foreign policy analysis)?
- How do different methodological approaches deal with key assumptions of discourse analysis (such as the performativity of discourse, or the "ideological" functions of discourse)?
- How do different methodological approaches link discourse to other social and political practices?

We welcome papers that engage with any of the above question through concrete empirical applications.

Section panels would be organised along research strands or traditions, with all participants invited to visit panels they do not contribute to in order to exchange views.
• Advances in CAQDAS (Computer assisted qualitative data analysis)
• Interpretive discourse and narrative analysis
• Content analysis (e.g. press, party manifestos, speeches, tweets)
• The analysis of public controversies and social "problems"
• Visual and audio-visual analysis (e.g. posters, TV clips, advertisements, video games)
• Policy discourse

All three section chairs and several members of the ECPR Standing Group on Political Methodology will attend ECPR GC 2015 and can chair panels. A number of colleagues using the methods covered by our proposed panels have already manifested their interest in joining the section.


Lea Sgier is an assistant professor in political science (qualitative research methods) at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. She has done discourse analytical research on gender quotas in politics, on dementia policy and on doctoral education in the European context.

Philippe Blanchard is an assistant professor at the University of Warwick (UK) and member of the academic advisory board of the ECPR Methods School. He has done extensive TV and press content analysis of long-term nuclear energy policies, the perception of the European Union, public health reforms, and the Middle-Eastern conflict, making use of agenda and framing theories, in connection with constructionist approaches to public controversies.

Theofanis Exadaktylos is a lecturer in European Politics at the University of Surrey (UK) and has recently published a book on research methods and research design issues in Europeanization research. He is currently working on content and discourse analysis of public discourse on the Euro-crisis to determine levels of trust, public perceptions, the emergence of stereotypes and emotions, as well as resistance to public policy implementation.

The three organisers chair the ECPR Standing Group on Political Methodology (SGPM).

Panel List

Code Title Details
P012Applying Discourse Analysis View Panel Details
P067Content Analytical Approaches to Political Discourse View Panel Details
P085Discourse Analytical Schools in Dialogue View Panel Details
P105Engineering Inclusion and Exclusion through Discourse View Panel Details
P226Measuring the Influence of Ideas View Panel Details
P349Shaping the World through Discourse: Frame and Narratives View Panel Details
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