Analysing Discourse as a Causal Mechanism
Utilising critical realist philosophy of social science, this article contends that discourse may be studied as a causal mechanism in the generation of events — and one relationally connected to mechanisms of differing kinds. To do this, it is argued that we should adopt critical discourse analysis rather than the guidance of poststructuralist discourse theory. After establishing the key assumptions of poststructuralist discourse theory, some of the substantive analytical tendencies that secrete are discussed and illustrated through a look at the treatment of humanitarian discourse in the International Relations literature on the nature of Western warfare. The article then places discourse within a critical realist view of the social world. I argue that unlike in poststructuralist discourse theory, with critical realism, discourse can be differentiated from the realm of extra-discursive practice, placed in dialectical relation to this wider realm of social relations, and analysed as a possible causal mechanism in the generation of social phenomena, alongside these other mechanisms, as a way to better determine discourse’s actual effect on events. critical discourse analysis is introduced as offering an amenable methodological tool-kit for studying discourse as conceptualised in this way.