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

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1 The case of Diana

1.1 Introduction

In this reading I focus on a piece of data to introduce some of the main themes and issues in discourse research. The material I have chosen to examine has historical interest. It is a public text of some import for British society and yet it also has a curiously private and confessional aspect. I am going to look at extracts from Princess Diana's interview with Martin Bashir which was screened in 1995 on Panorama – a British news-documentary television programme.

What was striking about the Panorama interview was that it broke the conventions for British Royal appearances. The interview was revelatory about Diana's private life. It reshaped the usual boundaries between public and private for the British Royal family and here was perhaps ‘the most powerful image in world popular culture today’ and ‘a case study in the modern cult of celebrity’ talking openly (Paglia, 1992: 23). Diana seemed to be giving the inside story. The programme was watched by many hundreds of millions across the globe and the intensity of this public fascination was confirmed by the extent of the mourning when she died in 1997.

Although I focus on Diana's words, I should stress that this reading is not about the Diana phenomenon. Some of the points discourse analysts would want to make about the Panorama interview cast light on her complex public representation. But I will be mainly interested in what the interview tells us about talk in general, about the construction of identity, about language and how it works, and about the sources of the order and patterning in social interaction.