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

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1.11.2 Talk is dialogical

Discourse researchers have also argued that all talk is dialogical, meaning that when we speak we combine together many different pieces of other conversations and texts and, significantly, other voices. We are often quoting. Sometimes this quoting is marked as when we say ‘he said . . . then she said …’ but often it is indirect and unmarked as people take over the voices of others. We carry into our talk and writing fragments from many different sources which carry some of their old connotations with them and acquire new ones as they are used in new contexts. Research on the discourse of children, for example, demonstrates how the process of education and socialization is partly a process of learning to manage the voices of others such as teachers and turn these into an internal mental dialogue carried over, too, into external conversation. Even at higher levels, the process of learning to be a discourse analyst, for instance, is in a real sense a matter of learning to talk as a discourse analyst.

Discursive psychologists and conversation analysts who have worked through the implications of these and other ideas for psychological theories (Sacks, 1992) have argued that the study of discourse has radical implications for the study of psychological states such as memory and emotion. Diana, as we have seen, often talked in the interview about her emotional states. Are these utterances best seen as simple reports of what she felt? The notion that discourse is an activity – a form of work – undermines this simple notion. To report on an emotion or a feeling is also very commonly a rhetorical activity and the display of emotion does some interactional business. Think back, for instance, to what is accomplished by Diana's self-characterization in Extract 1: ‘I wanted to share’.

One response to this might be to see these kinds of examples as anomalous and think of how to arrange communication situations without any ‘rhetorical noise’, where there is nothing at stake for the participants so that internal mental states can be faithfully pictured, represented and described. Therapy, for example, could be seen as an attempt to construct a situation of this type. Perhaps this is a situation where people can talk honestly and openly about their experiences without trying to do any extra discursive work than simply represent in the clearest words possible what they feel. Yet, does therapy escape discursive history? Are we not back to the points Blackman makes, for instance, about the representation of mental states at different periods in history? Most of us have been exposed to popular psychology in one form or other – we have those discursive framings available and yet forty years ago they were not widely available. We might ask, too, about the kind of speech event which therapy constitutes and the contextualization cues which might be relevant.

Similarly, memory might be thought to be a better example of a ‘pure’ psychological state than emotion. Surely we know what we remember uninfluenced by any discursive framing? Yet is it possible to have memories independently of collective social constructions of events? Consider, for example, the kind of memories people might have of the death of Diana and the ways in which these evoke the narratives of her life and death through which the public response was mediated. It makes sense in these cases to talk of ‘collective memory’. Even a collection of people's dreams of Diana (Frances, 1998) demonstrates these marks of her cultural and collective significance. We only know what kind of thing an event is – even the most private and idiosyncratic events – through cultural and conventional codes.