Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana
Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana

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Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana

1.12.2 Constructing discursive spaces

Finally, the notion of discursive space draws attention to the broader social practices which construct such spaces. Thus social scientists and discourse researchers have been interested in the practices of production of newspapers and the media and in the ways in which economic and technological developments construct discursive spaces. E-mail, the internet and computer-mediated communication are good examples of how changing practices produce new spaces which construct new kinds of discursive communities. In relation to Diana, I noted earlier Camille Paglia's assessment made in 1992 that Diana may be the most powerful image in world popular culture today. Such celebrity is similarly a new kind of discursive space made possible by innovative globalized technologies of meaning-making.

To make some of these points about the politics of representation a little more concrete, I would like to briefly consider one facet of the contestation over the discursive space which is Diana. Look at the two statements which follow. The first comes from the journalist Peter Hitchens writing in the UK newspaper the Daily Express in response to the Panorama interview.

Monarchy's rules were not decreed by chance, any more than our great cathedrals or castles were thrown up by planless amateurs. The wise men who drew up those rules knew from hard and bloody experience that remoteness, majesty and an iron law of succession were necessary for authority and stability. Like so many children of this silly century, Diana believes she knows better, and has acted accordingly.

(cited in Craig, 1997: 15)

The second statement is only three words long. It is the British Prime Minister Tony Blair's description of Diana after her death as ‘the people's princess’.

Hitchens’ view is a conservative one. He is highly critical of Diana's confessional style in her interview counterposing it against the majesty and authority of monarchy derived from centuries of stiff-lipped reticent tradition. One of the interesting features of his discourse is his construction of ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 1983). He talks, for example, of ‘our great cathedrals’. Who is the ‘we’ that he is constructing here and what properties and qualities might be associated with this community? Who might be excluded from this ‘we’?

Blair, of course, is constructing a very different imagined community – the people who mourn Diana's death – but his phrase also evokes chains of association. ‘The people’ has socialist significations; it is a phrase with a particular discursive history. It implies demotic and ordinary, and claims Diana for an alternative constructed constituency. Indeed part of the argumentative texture which surrounds Diana since her death includes her effect and the effect of the remarkable public mourning for her death on British politics per se. Is this a sea change in British concepts of ‘the nation’ and British identity? Does this represent the ‘feminization’ of politics? Has Blair claimed Diana for his own New Labour political project or does she have more radical feminist and socialist implications? (see Kirby, 1998; Wilson, 1997 and Special Issues of New Formations, 1999 and Screen, 1998).

To sum up. In this and the previous section I have tried to expand our notion of discursive practices and meaning-making to include the content of discourse, the representational work it does, and the interpretative resources which belong to cultures and societies. These, like the practices noted in the previous section, are also a source of order in discourse. In addition, they raise profound debates about power, agency, the nature of subjectivity and contestation.

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