1.12.1 Contestation and power
The metaphors of ‘discursive space’ and ‘argumentative texture’ bring a number of points to our attention. First, we can note the emphasis on contestation. There is usually in social life a struggle over how things are to be understood and for that reason it makes sense to talk of a politics of representation. Second, power is at issue here. Social scientists who study discourse have been interested in how people, groups and institutions mobilize meanings. How have some interpretations become dominant and whose interests do they serve? It has been recognized that control over discourse is a vital source of power and also there are limits to this control because meanings are fluid and escape their users and can be mobilized and re-worked to resist domination.
The relationship between discourse and power is a complex one. If we are arguing that discourse is constitutive and new identities emerge for people, for instance, as new modes of representation emerge, then it is difficult to say if discourse is the governor or the servant of social actors. Is Diana, presented as a strong autonomous woman through a discourse of self-help and coping, the powerful subject mobilizing these meanings for her own ends or is she being subjected to this discourse? Is she being ‘disciplined’ by it and having her self powerfully constructed for her as she takes on this mode of representation? Who is in control?