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

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1.11 Voice and the speaking subject continued

1.11.1 Subject positions

In her analysis, Blackman is identifying a pattern in Diana's talk and relating it to other similar methods of self-representation found in our culture. It is worth thinking through this in more detail. One key claim of discourse researchers is that language positions people – discourse creates subject positions. What does this mean? To speak at all is to speak from a position (remember the discussion of footing in the previous section). Further than this, the positions or slots in culturally recognized patterns of talk such as the ‘autonomous woman’, the ‘mad woman’, ‘the fragile victim’ and so on, construct us as characters and give us a psychology. In other words, they provide us with a way of making sense of ourselves, our motives, experiences and reactions.

This raises a profound question. Who speaks when we speak? We could argue that our culture speaks through Diana, that she is animating or giving voice to collective and cultural identities. As a result, it becomes difficult when any person speaks to say what is personal and what is collective and cultural. In talking or writing we take on the discourses of our culture – we rehearse, elaborate and instantiate cultural modes of representation as we communicate. In describing Diana's self-representation in this way I am not trying to undermine its power or the efficacy of this way of talking. The fact that there may be alternative discourses, or that these are cultural first and personal second, does not mean that any particular account might not be a ‘useful truth’ for the women who use it.