Neither love nor liking is necessary for the sorts of critical discussions among different frameworks that might lead to shared journeys. What is required is goodwill. And goodwill requires, at a minimum, loyalty to what we earlier called the “interpretive principle”, the principle that says that no matter how cherished your belief is, it still needs interpretation, and interpretation is the product of frail human minds and histories, not prophets or gods.
Interpretation of frameworks—in and across science, politics, religion, society, institutions, and cultures—is a job for everyone of goodwill. But is it is also, at a more formal level, the job of the academic field of discourse analysis. Discourse analysis seeks to show how interpretations of frameworks are made, unmade, and transformed across history and in social interaction (which, alas, sometimes is warfare). Discourse analysis, as I conceive it, is inherently an applied field, since it seeks to deal with problems the solution to which will make the world a better place. We hope, as well, that discourse analysis can help make communication on the ground among frameworks better and shared journeys more common.
Discourse analysis uses the analysis of linguistic frameworks (the analysis of words and phrases in terms of exemplars and the application of the principle of sufficient reason) to uncover the workings of ontological models and frameworks in the world. Today, this task, more and more, involves not just language, but digital and multimodal media and “texts”. In this sense, we can talk about “semiotic frameworks”, a wider category that includes linguistic frameworks but also includes frameworks built around other sorts of symbols or signs.
In history, social identities (“kinds of people”), linguistic and ontological frameworks, situational applications of words to reality in specific situations (the application of the principle of sufficient reason), and different styles, varieties, registers, and dialects of a language (or mixtures of languages)—what I call “social languages—are inherently and inextricably linked. Discourse analysis studies them together as an interacting system. What I call Big “D” Discourses are historically shifting ways with words, deeds, values, feelings, beliefs, things, tools, situational meanings, social languages, and frameworks—combined in the “right” ways—that enact and communicate socially meaningful and recognizable identities (“kinds of people”). Such identities are most often (but not always) negotiated, flexible across different contexts, and not so much boxes as waves with clear middles but fading borders or boundaries.
Each individual human is unique and at the same time each person “voices” a given Discourse whenever he or she acts, speaks, or writes. Discourses use us to reproduce themselves through history. Our individuality and our participation in multiple Discourses means we can “spin” the Discourse in certain ways and in the process, change it and adapt it across time and contexts. Discourses cannot live without us and we cannot communicate and mean without them.
It is Discourses that go to war. It is Discourses that can make peace. It is Discourses that can, on shared paths, intermingle and even marry and give rise to new Discourses, perhaps better ones with better frameworks in which to make better sense of the world and of each other. Our job, as discourse analysts, is not to judge (advocacy is a different thing) and not to reach definitive truths. Our job is to deepen the conversations among frameworks. This is the importance of discourse analysis.