Global Justice Academy Spring School: Using Critical Discourse Analysis in Community Settings

In April 2018, the GJA sponsored its first ‘Spring School’ in a collaboration with Moray House School of Education. In this post, Spring School Co-organiser and GJA Management Group member, Dr Callum McGregor, reflects on the Spring School’s innovative community-university partnership, which fostered strong links with local organisations and social justice practitioners. It is hoped that a similar Spring School will run again next year. Callum is also the programme director for the online MSc in Social Justice and Community Action, which is sponsored by the Global Justice Academy.

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) is an institutional forum for dialogue with practitioners engaged in justice issues locally and globally. This short blog highlights one such example of local dialogue, in the form of a series of community-university workshops on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). CDA is a form of critical social research, whose purpose is to analyse the ways in which language can be used to both reproduce and challenge social injustice. Discourses can be thought of as representationsof various aspects of our social lives. These representations are made up sets of rules and statements that determine whatcan be expressed within a particular context, howit can be expressed, by whom and under what conditions. Discourses are important because they have real material effects on the distribution of burdens and benefits along different axes of inequality.

Between April and May 2018, three workshops were held, with the purpose of bringing together community practitioners, community-based adult learners, activists, students and academics to learn together about CDA. Specifically, the workshops focused on how CDA can be used creatively to link education to social action, through addressing the interests and struggles of ordinary people in communities.

Each event had between 40 and 60 participants cutting across a wide range of contexts. Community-based adult educators Gillian Lawrence and John Player did crucial work around and between the workshops with three adult learning groups participating in the project. The first two workshops collectively explored different methods for critically examining how language reproduces inequality, working with examples from the mainstream media.

Dr Joan Cutting at the first workshop.

On 6 April, at Moray House School of Education, we applied ideas introduced by Joan Cutting of the University of Edinburgh, who gave a lucid and accessible overview of CDA, whilst John Player, in a dynamic presentation, offered some political context to set the scene. In addition, participantand performer Petra Reid composed and performed a poem, which creatively synthesised ideas discussed throughout the session.

John Player (independent researcher and community educator) at the first workshop.

On 20 April, in Serenity community café, we held a World Café style event, where three community-based adult learning groups generously shared how they had begun to apply ideas from CDA to their own investigations.

One group, called the ‘A Team’, is a member-led homelessness action and assistance group, formed at the end of 2017. It shares experiences, learns about rights, challenges stigma, supports members and takes action for positive change. It is supported by Crisis. This group examined how language has been used to belittle them, with group members generating messages to inform the public campaign to end homelessness. Another group called Democracy Group is part of the Adult Learning Project which runs free courses in women’s studies, politics, economics, culture and community, literacies, the arts and community development. Based on the philosophy and practice of educationalist and activist Paulo Freire, ALP believes together we can investigate the world; educate and empower ourselves and each other; learn from ‘experts’ through dialogue, on equal terms, and in a co-operative way. This group identified the NHS, Brexit and the Customs Union as issues to investigate using CDA. The third group, called ‘The Share’, meets in Serenity Café and offers an inclusive educational space which looks at structural issues at individual, local, national and global levels. This is to investigate current systems to build and promote solidarity with individuals and groups to champion progressive change. This group applied CDA to Gender and Power, especially Gender and Nuclear Weapons in the U.K. and worldwide, discussing how language reveals, shapes and upholds hegemonic masculinity.

World Café at the second workshop, where community-based adult learners shared their work. Chaired by Dr Margret Petrie, University of Edinburgh (standing left of projector screen in shot).

Following on from this, Dr Katerina Strani of Heriot-Watt introduced Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA), which is useful when looking at membership, representation and identity in texts. Again, we applied this to real life examples from the mainstream media, and the session finished with reflections on what we had learned and how we might use it in the pursuit of social change.

Petra Reid performing her poem.

The first two sessions emphasised the use of practical tools to ‘deconstruct’ media texts. But, it wasn’t enough to just stop there. Just as we heard from poet Petra Reid in the first workshop, this final session encouraged participants to think critically about how art and culture can be used subversively to ‘speak back.’ That is why I was so excited to chair the third workshop, held on May 11that Serenity Café. This workshop included a session by Dr Laura Paterson (Open University) on public perceptions of welfare mediated through ‘poverty porn’. We also heard from Nike Oruh (Profisee), a veteran of the Scottish Hip Hop scene, and a Senior Project Worker and Counsellor with the Health Opportunities Team. Profisee reflected on language and bias in both contexts, and I particularly appreciated the ways in which his reflections on Hip Hop as a form of counter-cultural learning challenged mainstream media denigration of the artform. Scottish writer and rapper Darren McGarvey (Loki) was also scheduled to participate but being unable to attend, sent signed copies of his new book, which were given to participants. The session finished with a panel discussion.

Laura Paterson and Nike Oruh at the third workshop.

Currently, the organisers are gathering feedback from the workshops for a participatory evaluation event later in the year, with a view to building on this innovative programme of work. One local community activist commented:

Personally, taking part in this experience has made me want to learn more about CDA. It brings up feelings and passion: why is society allowing and promoting the Right, capitalist ideas – feel angry about this, I want to learn more. I am informed and am passionate about watching the news, and want to be able to speak with academics, and I’m interested in studying more.

In collecting feedback, some participants have been generous enough to offer their own reflective blogs, which will be featured by the GJA, in the coming months. In the meantime, interested readers can click here to visit a blog post, inspired by the third workshop, written by Nike Oruh (Profisee)

Special thanks to the other organisers: Hannah Bradley, Jim Crowther, Gillian Lawrence, Margaret Petrie, John Player, Jen Ross and Katerina Strani.