Discourse Analysis vs. Close Reading


Textual analysis is fundamental to many kinds of research, from psychology to literature, philosophy to information science. Not surprisingly, different strategies have emerged from within the various disciplines that do textual analysis, and naturally these strategies reflect the epistemologies of the disciplines from which they emerge. And as long as one stays insular to one’s own discipline, there isn’t a problem.

But as soon as a field claims the mantel of “interdisciplinarity,” it faces a dilemma: to protect and preserve what is known to work, or to open itself out to alternative ways of knowing. Now, both of these impulses are in themselves legitimate in themselves, but as they enter everyday life (e.g., the writing, reviewing, and editing of papers), they sometimes appear in clumsy ways. Some of these clumsy ways are as follows:

  • Epistemological bigotry: This happens when someone asserts (often without meaning to) that she or he knows the right way and everything else is “fluff” or wrongheaded. In HCI, scientism is often confused for science, to the detriment of both HCI and science.
  • Piecemealism: This happens when someone injects a small piece from one tradition uncritically into another, without recognizing that a piece might not represent the whole from which it is drawn, nor recognizing that that piece might be at intellectual odds with the rest. In HCI, I see this with “critical” approaches to HCI where a single concept is ripped from a complex tradition, such as poststructuralism, and applied to traditional design approaches to, say, mobile phones or Web applications.
  • Equivocation: This happens when two or more groups of people use the same word in completely different ways, without seeming to be aware that their use is not “natural” or universal. In HCI, “aesthetics” seems to be a word that has almost no relationship to the 2,500 year old tradition of aesthetic theory, as I’ve ranted on before.

All of these involve a combination of dogmatism and muddled thinking. While scientism–by which I refer to as a fetish for scientific ways of knowing, placing it above other forms of intellectualism–is dogmatic and often intellectually muddled, I would stress that neither dogmatism nor muddled thinking is scientific. Scientism so-defined is bad science.

In this post, I will talk about discourse analysis versus close reading. Both are strategies of textual analysis. Both have disciplinary rigor. Both have legitimate benefits. And yet often when I do close reading, I am attacked on the grounds that I am not being “systematic,” not “coding,” and/or just putting forward my “opinion.” And I want to just scream out: I’ve read Virgil in Latin, Proust in French, Dante in medieval Italian, Joyce in whatever language he wrote in: I don’t need you to tell me how to read! But that is self-expression. It doesn’t solve the broader problem, which is that the rigor I bring to text analysis seems to be literally invisible to these reviewers. Instead, 12 years (!) and a doctorate in a Ph.D. program in Comparative Literature comes off as me just putting forward my “opinion.” I need to address this.

Ironically, and no doubt to the detriment of my tenure case, I think a lot more people read my blog than any of my papers, so I want to use this platform to define both discourse analysis and close reading with the hope of making very clear the following:

  • They take different epistemological positions. That means that their way of knowing–their assumptions about how to derive meaning from texts, what meanings are supposedly there in texts, the approaches you use to access them–differ.
  • They embody different forms of rigor, and if it is your job to evaluate rigor then it is your responsibility to know how to recognize different strategies of textual analysis and to know how to recognize and evaluate their actual or lack of rigor.
  • Their outputs are different. What you learn from discourse analysis is not the same thing as what you learn from a close reading, and each approach lends itself to certain kinds of claims–and also fails to lend itself to other sorts of claims.

My Thesis Statement

All of this leads to my thesis statement, and to make sure no one misses it, or if you just skim this post and only see on thing, then let it be this:

1.  Discourse analysis and close reading are NOT interchangeable

And that implies this:

2.  If someone does a close reading, it does not follow necessarily that they should have done a discourse analysis instead.

With my thesis out of the way, I’m ready to blog-defend it. (A “blog defense” means that this is probably a half-baked and half-assed defense; your recourse is to take me on in comments.) Before I start, I want to share one other value: I try to be generous with concepts, theories, and methodologies. That means that I will attempt a fair-minded summary of both approaches, even though everyone reading this knows which one I like better and am more likely to practice (that said, I have done discourse analysis). But my personal preferences are just that: personal preferences. They do not amount to universal claims or pretenses. Stated directly: I respect discourse analysis as much as I respect close reading, even though I personally practice one more than the other.

On Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis is a scientific and empirical strategy of textual analysis. At its most basic level, it entails a methodology along these lines:

  1. Identify a phenomenon you are concerned with, whose significance is at least partially embodied in texts. Example: FOX, CNN, and MSNBC written news coverage of Obama; mommy blogs; letters to the editor published in your local paper on topic X; Amazon.com customer reviews of Y.
  2. Identify the totality of texts available, and identify a significant and representative sample of the whole.
  3. Develop a coding system that lets you tag instances of a significant textual feature (e.g., the presence or absence of a feature in a given unit of text).
  4. Preferably with multiple people, code the texts using the framework. (I’m hereby skipping summary of establishing intra- and inter-coder reliability, but if you are curious, go read Krippendorf who lays all this stuff out nicely).
  5. When you are done with step 4, you now have a numeric representation of your sample. This can now be analyzed statistically.

What this sort of analysis gets you: If you do it well, you have a bona fide empirical snap-shot of your phenomenon. You are in a position to claim what has been said in those texts. You are in a position to observe patterns that are explicitly present, but which may have been hard to see just by reading all the texts. You are also in a position to discover relationships among those patterns: female writers were more likely to A, while male writers were more likely to B; MSNBC coverage was more friendly to liberals, FOX coverage to conservatives, CNN coverage to lipstick celebrities.

Limitations of this analysis: Strongly empirical approaches such as this are very good at exposing what is there. They are less successful at exposing what is “between the lines,” because in a literal way, what is between the lines is not “there” to be found or represented. Now, obvious stuff between the lines is easy enough to unearth–FOX is conservative, MSNBC is liberal, CNN is vapid–but the deeper, juicier stuff can’t be accessed this way. Discourse analysis alone cannot also get at context very well; who said it and why? I’m sure discourse analysis practitioners will contest me on this, but I mean context in much broader and more radical way than I typically see in these sorts of papers: psychoanalytic, ideological, and other complex cultural and/or subcultural contexts are extremely difficult to see using a positivist strategy like discourse analysis.

[Update]: See comments below for a discussion of whether this is a good or fair summary of discourse analysis.

On Close Reading

The term “close reading” is descriptive, not exactly technical. I might have said “humanistic reading” or “interpretive reading” or something like that. Examples of what I am talking about are acts of criticism. Here I don’t mean critical theory but rather close interpretations of single “texts” (“text” here understood as any cultural artifact): Sontag’s interpretation of photographic portraits of herself; Butler’s interpretation of the ethics of torture photographs in the Bush years; Bloom’s interpretation of Plato; Bazin’s interpretation of de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves; Barthes’ interpretation of a photo on the cover of Paris Match; and so on.

A close reading doesn’t involve a set methodology and as such it is very hard to describe. Foolishly perhaps, I nonetheless attempted it here. But the gist of this sort of approach is that an expert (which I will leave undefined here) engages with a text with great care. This engagement typically entails a number of activities: multiple readings/viewings of the text; situating the text in its social and historical contexts; deconstructing the text using a variety of critical strategies (e.g., from Marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, structuralism, reception theory, psychoanalysis); bringing to bear what, if anything, everyone else has said about that text, including interviews with the author/creator, its critical tradition, similar texts (e.g., by the same author/creator); and so forth. Note that this sort of approach is holistic and relies for its success on the expertise of the expert doing it; it is unique, individual, and subjective; it does not follow any disembodied abstract methodology but rather the logic of the scholar-expert in whose hands it is being executed.

What this sort of analysis gets you: A close reading of this sort explores and exposes far more sensitively the complex cultural embeddedness of the text. It gets at matters of aesthetics, craft, and ethics in profound ways. It is capable of revealing much about a text and a community that is neither explicit in the text nor even known to its community. A spectacular example of this is Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style, whose analysis of the punk subculture explores the specific historical and operational details of the xenophobic working class underpinnings of punk’s emergence and war on mainstream mass culture. At no point does Hebdige claim that his analysis represents the conscious expressed point of view of a subculture; rather, he explores and reasons about what the unconscious, unspoken point of view seems to be, where it comes from, and what evidence justifies this line of thinking.

Limitations of this analysis: Close readings are strongly inductive and speculative in nature, so what it won’t get you is confidence that you have an objective and correct representation of external reality as it is. Rather, a close reading situates the text against a network of complex ideas and reflections, with the hope of cultivating our capacity to appreciate and understand the source text. Close readings of aesthetic works often call attention to theorization of art to help expose (or even create) its cultural significance–in the most robust possible sense, and for better and/or worse–in the critic’s society. As I have said elsewhere, a critic often models the act of reading, not to reproduce a static understanding in the reader’s head of what is in the critic’s head, but rather to encourage the reader to use similar interpretive strategies both in the original text and in subsequent texts of interest to the reader.


If you interview 1,000 people coming out of a theatre and transcribe the interviews, you can use discourse analysis to get a real sense of how that film was liked, understood, perceived, etc.

If you read a critical essay about that same film (and here I don’t so much mean newspaper movie reviews but rather scholarly film critiques), you will understand that film’s participation in film, mass media, and everyday culture: its craft, its ideology, its construction of concepts that matter: love, social justice, freedom, sexual liberation, identity, politics, beauty, and so on.

It should be obvious at the very least that both of these kinds of knowledge are legitimate and important, if not always to the same people. If I am a film investor, I absolutely want to understand how moviegoers perceive, experience, and evaluate movies. That is fundamentally an empirical question, and empirical strategies are entirely appropriate. If I am a prospective director, a concerned citizen, a film student or teacher, a film buff, someone who makes decisions about which films should be shown as a part of a community film festival,  and so on, then the film critic’s message is much more likely to resonate with me.

In HCI, we combine all of these audiences. We want to design stuff for commercial success. We want to design things that do what they are supposed to do. Our scientific and empirical approaches are already very good at helping us achieve these goals.

But now we also care about sustainability, felt experience, quality of life, social justice. We have Web 2.0 communities whose emergent behavior literally changes the “meaning” of a system over time. As battles between Web 2.0 communities and their software “owners” (e.g., Facebook, Second Life) have shown, it is not even clear who does or should be responsible for these systems. Thanks to APIs and SDKs, software developers from Adobe and Blizzard to Twitter and Yahoo allow users to redesign interfaces. The emergent UI results are sometimes cannibalized and implemented in future releases of the software. What, then, is an “interface” now, anyway?

These broader questions are much more complex than whether a system is usable or whether users prefer this color scheme to that one. Their complexity in large part lies in the un-articulated and often unseen relationships between and among vastly complex phenomena, from human identity practices to social behavior, from globalisation to the history of art, from emergent user-created interfaces to the incomprehensibility of information produced by user-content creators. These issues cannot be adequately described by scientific reductionism, the way predicting task performance can be. This is not at all to say that scientific reductionism can’t contribute to our understandings in powerful ways–of course it can! But drop the scientism, HCI! It’s not going to meet our needs and it’s lousy science anyway (all dogmatism is). Good science and good critique should complement and reinforce each other. But as long as we categorically dismiss non-scientific strategies, we’re only fake-interdisciplinary and we’re going to botch our work.

And today, bad HCI is more than an unusable Web page–it is unsustainable, socially unjust, culturally irresponsible–and a significant majority of our thousand best users just might miss it.


  1. egoodman

    I’m with you on much of the critique, but I do think that you are giving other traditions of “discourse analysis” short shrift.

    Specifically, when people claim to be doing “discourse analysis,” they may be doing the kind of positivist, blunt-instrument coding approach that you describe. Or they could be doing a much more continental (read: French, cf http://sociocritique.mcgill.ca/theorie/discourse%20theorie.htm) investigation committed to investigating and historicizing movements of power, authority, and resistance through textual analysis. Or they could be doing ethnomethodological conversation analysis, which confusingly *also* gets linked to discourse analysis (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/mmethods/resources/links/da_primer.html).

    There’s a multitude of approaches and traditions wrapped up in the term — many of which require quite a bit of close reading. And indeed, much of the usefulness of science and technologies studies to HCI work lies in the unpacking of how scientific “facts” come to be produced and recognized as such. I don’t think the distinction between “science” and “critique,” or “discourse analysis” and “close reading” need be quite as much of a binary as you suggest.

  2. Dan

    I really appreciated your description of the work that goes on in what you have described as “close reading.” It’s a battle that needs to be fought (and not just in HCI communities) and it’s great that you are doing a lot of the hard work on this front.

    My only concern is that in your excellent account and defense of “close reading” you have offered up a misleading account of “Discourse analysis.” I am a bit out of the loop to know what counts as “Discourse analysis” in the HCI world these days, but as Liz points out there are a lot of other methods that some call discourse analysis that are not what you describe.

    I have heard what you were describing as discourse analysis at times referred to more generically as “content analysis.” One scholar presented it as one method (of many) that use texts in answering questions posed in the social sciences. It was also used to show how qualitative data could be analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively.

    All that being said, again, found your overall point well put and your discussion of close reading illuminating.

  3. jeffreybardzell

    Thanks again Dan and Liz for these helpful contextualizations. There is indeed a trend in discourse analysis that seems Foucauldian (Foucault! Sigh! Flutter! Pitter-patter!), and of course that practice of DA is not about coding but rather reflects a more hermeneutically engaged strategy of understanding discourses as representing complex knowledge constructs and institutions.

    This is a problem of equivocation, where the term “discourse analysis” itself is used to mean different things by different people.

    I will only say in my defense that I have never been shot down for being insufficiently Foucauldian! (I did once use Foucault in a paper on experience design, and I had an anonymous reviewer ask me who Foucault was, and if he was such an important HCI researcher, why the reviewer hadn’t heard of him. You can’t make this s–t up.) So when I am criticized for just offering my “opinion” when I do close reading, what they want is discourse analysis as I have described it in the post: objective coding and a sanctioned methodology correctly implemented.

    That said, I do appreciate that you both have added contextualization to this post and enriched it with a better treatment of DA and also some great links!

  4. jeffreybardzell

    One other note: There seems to be a trend where HCI and STS are coming together. I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but I think it will help both fields enormously. STS can help HCI do its work more ethically, more reflectively, and with greater sensitivity to its own consequences. HCI can help STS get away from the sidelines and actually get engaged in changing the world through design. So rah rah!

  5. CasTex

    Thanks for this post, I am interested in.

  6. jeremy hunsinger

    I have to say… I tend to review at least 2 papers per year that claim their method is discourse analysis, and then i see no discussion of methods at all and just close reading. Now close reading does play into some forms of discourse analysis, once you’ve defined the corpus as a discourse, you have to interpret it, you can do that by close reading, you can do that by coding, you can do it by hermeneutic analysis, you can do it by semiotic analysis, you can do it by linguistic analysis but you have to be clear about how ‘close reading’, coding or whatever you are doing actually interacts with that corpus to produce the evidence from which you will draw conclusions. I tend to think that many people don’t really do the ‘analysis’ part of discourse analysis, and tend to do…. ‘this is what i saw’. they skip the way that they came to see that, which is what makes the work replicable and can make it scientific if that is a goal.

    as for hci and sts, i’d say they’ve not been apart in some time, but i think sts or at least the major research programs in the field have moved away from computers and hci in interesting ways leaving behind a huge corpus of material related to hci, but substantively concerned with issues that hci wasn’t until recently interested in taking on, so I’d tend not to describe it as a ‘coming together’ and to use a technical term from hci…. the fields intertwingle….

  7. jeffreybardzell

    Thanks for the message, Jeremy.

    Certainly no one is suggesting that shoddy work be accepted as long as it calls itself “close reading.”

    The complication is that you have proposed a binary: between “this is what I saw” (which is subjective impressionism and no good) and “replicable” and “scientific” “analysis.”

    My point is that close reading is none of these. It is not merely subjective impressionism, because it is disciplined, scholarly, and intellectually rigorous.

    It is not “replicable” because it is grounded in the subjectivity of the critic. Now, this subjectivity is a special one. I just read a critique of Bergman’s Seventh Seal. Its author is a Swedish-speaking, feminist trained, film scholar. So first of all, her subjectivity is educated and sophisticated; she is in a privileged position to do this analysis. But second of all, what she says is the outcome of a process of reflection; it is a process that is unique to her. It is evidence-based, to be sure. But dozens of critiques of the Seventh Seal will only “replicate” the most banal observations about the film. What is interesting in each scholarly essay is precisely what is not and is never replicated: the critic’s original take. And what makes it original is its situatedness in that expert’s reflective processes, processes which cannot be abstracted and modeled like a proper scientific methodology.

    It is not “scientific” because it is not replicable, it is not objective, and its claims to accurately represent reality as it is are weak. Its contribution is not ontological. Its contribution is rather toward our ongoing cultivation of our reflective practices and sensibilities.

    It is not “analysis” in the sense that social science works by identifying a “body” of data and then using proven (by which I also mean to emphasize abstract, generalized) methodologies to cut up, discover relationships among, discover trends among the data. The data is understood to just be there. Thus, there is the claim that a different scientist using the same methodology on the same data should get the same result (this is replicability).

    But a close reading has no “data” and denies the possibility of data. I got a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and we never, ever used the word “data” in literary analysis. Neither did we use the word “methodology” (indeed, Derrida is famous for going into a hissy fit when people referred to deconstruction as a method). These terms–and the epistemological assumptions that they absolutely depend on–are not a part of our world. The reasons are philosophical and I won’t rehearse them here, but the gist is that humanist analysis and close reading in particular foreground the unique subjectivity of the critic.

    So it is categorically invalid to criticize a close reading on the grounds that it lacks analysis, its methodology is underarticulated, it is unreplicable, and/or it is unscientific. I say “categorically invalid” because I mean quite literally these are the wrong criteria. You’re declaring a tree dead on the basis of its lack of a heartbeat.

    This is not to suggest that one has no basis to critique a close reading! It is only to suggest that replicability, methodology, data integrity, and all that are the wrong basis.

    Close readings are constructed out of arguments. Arguments are much more important in critical writings than in scientific writing. 75% of CHI papers have the same structure, while most humanist papers have highly idiosyncratic structures. Scientific contributions are not generally their arguments (when what you value is objectivity and replicability it is not hard to see why), but rather the new data that they have collected and the representation of reality that they afford (there is an argument to that, but it is relatively direct and simple, in part because of established methodologies and standards in scientific rigor). There is a major difference between an essay and a description of a scientific research project. An essay is the presentation of an original argument, where the chain of reasoning, the connections made, the interrelations and resonances uncovered are the point, not the “brute data.”

    An argument is an extended chain of interrelated claims. In an essay, this argument expresses the essayist’s individual point of view on a complex phenomenon. A “point of view” is an interpretation; to be worthwhile, this interpretation should be insightful, original, creative, speculative, interesting, relevant, skeptical, and evidence-based. It is about proposing and justifying creative, novel, and fruitful connections that hermeneutically reframe how we even think about something (which is why I keep asserting that close readings are epistemological and not ontological in their goal: they are less interested in say what reality is and more interested in proposing new strategies for interpreting it) As I noted above, it typically situates a phenomenon against a rich body of theory *that is robustly and powerfully understood*. (Piecemealism is a dire weakness in critical writing.)

    There are many ways to critique this point of view. One can argue that the critic’s use of theory is piecemeal, confused, or wooden. One can assert that the point of view is obvious (this is the kiss of death). One can say that the critic has cherry-picked aspects of the text to suit her or his needs. (But this is complicated by different attitudes toward “evidence”: a humanist considers quotes “resonant” rather than “representative.” Establishing resonance is a very different kind of problem than establishing representativeness. Thus, when I tease out an interesting train of thought from a resonant passage, and someone says, “but you haven’t proven that this is representative” then we have another category violation).

    I could go on, but I think I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll restate my point as clearly and emphatically as I can: good close reading is neither “this is what I saw” nor is it “scientific.” The fact that all textual analysis is forced into that binarism (in HCI) is the reason I wrote this post and so many others in the first place.

  8. jeremy hunsinger

    I think there is likely more modes of criticism than perform close reading that yield replicable results than one might assume.

    I also think that there is a huge field of literary computing that uses data for analysis.

    So in the end, well I just think we have to be careful, I don’t think that replicability is a demarkating principle of science. The definition of science that i generally accept is that science performs the acts of dividing and describing the world. Sometimes that will be perfectly replicable, but as we know sometimes it isn’t, and the non-replicative divisions/descriptions are just as scientific as the ones that are insofar as they add to knowledge of what exists in that world.

    I think if you want a more scientific criticism, we have that in marxism, in new criticism, etc. etc. there were many attempts to provide criticism in the past in a formal scientific manner. People still do it today.

    I think that we also need to distinguish critique and critical theory, which is generally methodologically sound from the passing criticism that seems to be perhaps the problem of amethodologicalism or as you call it subjective perspective. my current perspective on ontology and epistemology doesn’t allow for ‘objective’ categories, which don’t seem to exist, so much as universal subjectives which do seem to exist so perhaps the problem of the critic is less the evidence yielding the agreed conditions as much as it is the evidence yielding to the dissensual conditions.

    as for ‘resonance’ i would say switch to the term … ‘salience’ which has been long debated in ethics, and has been picked up by sts in various ways. Salience is an epistemological practice that is learned, you can’t just immediately enter a context and know what is salient, but you might feel all kinds of resonance, but resonance doesn’t really convey much, salience, the important bits of the situation, that conveys, that we can agree is important, or even if we disagree we can have substantive arguments about its relational properties that make it salient or not.

    anyway, like you i’m bumbling along thinking

    I think one can do a close reading that is scientific, but it is a rare thing, and to make it scientific one has to be very clear about the mode of analysis.

  9. jeffreybardzell

    I’m in meetings all day today so I can’t put in a proper reply yet. But regarding “bumbling,” I can’t disagree more. We are “muddling through.” Haha.

    Seriously, this is a comment thread on a blog post. As such, it is (and this is a good thing) about 3% higher quality discourse than if we were hashing this out over drinks. I use the blog to practice working out and framing problems, and comments help me realize where I am oversimplyfing and/or when I don’t frame things quite right. So no worries on the “bumbling” comment, but that said, you are completely wrong and I will fix your wagon … later. 😉

  10. jeffreybardzell

    In case it wasn’t obvious, “you are completely wrong” and all threats of wagon-fixing are meant as humorous banter. In actuality, in my substantive message, I have had an insight that emerged through this interaction, and I suspect you’ll agree with it, at least broadly. But we’ll see.

  11. jeffreybardzell

    OK, I have a mult-part response to Jeremy.

    The first part regards his contention that criticism attempts to work in a scientific manner, and his examples were Marxism and the New Criticism. To those he might also have added Russian Formalism and structuralism. These are all reasonable counterexamples and so they have a place here. But it is a place at the margins.

    The New Criticism began in the 1920s and was more or less finished by the end of the 1960s. Russian Formalism also was around the 1920s. Marxism was considered a science in the 19th century. And structuralism was also popular from the 1930s through the mid-1960s. In short, all of these might be considered modernist modes of critique and all of them were dead by the end of the 1960s, at least in terms of their scientific pretensions. Roland Barthes, the great structuralist who wrote the scientistic work, The Fashion System in the mid-1960s had this to say of it in 1971: he was under the delusions of a “euphoric dream of scientificity.”

    So while you are technically correct that some forms of criticism had scientific yearnings, your examples are now half a century out of date. So it is possible to aspire toward objective criticism–E.D. Hirsch even more recently pushed that agenda–but it is far from mainstream and not even really a respected position in literary theory and cultural studies–nor has it been since 1970.

    So I maintain the original point, which is that most serious cultural, literary, film, and art criticism is not about being objective or replicable, but is in fact about the reflective processes of the expert subject. This is not to suggest that their significance is limited to an individual subjectivity; certainly, feminist, Marxist, queer theoretic and other socially activist theoretic traditions clearly are oriented towards verifiable change in the real world. Yet I would still argue that when these appear in critical essays, they are presented not as replicable science but rather as modeling a critical engagement to a phenomenon that typically exposes some hidden aspect of it (e.g., ideology, repressive hierarchy, etc.) to expose it to some further, subsequent intervention (which could happen through science or some other discourse).

    Finally, my use of the word “resonance” is not my own. I cribbed it from Stephen Greenblatt, who was a key figure in the emergence of New Historicism, which in turn was a major strategy in the emergence of cultural studies. Resonance and salience are different precisely as you describe: salience seems to have a certain intersubjective quality: X isn’t salient unless someone agrees with you that it is. Whereas resonance is much more personal. One might say that the move from criticism to social science is a move from an initial resonance to a demonstrative salience. I definitely need to think more about that, however.

    I have one other point, but I think it is worth its own post, so I’ll just give a teaser here. I return to what got Jeremy and I going in the first place. Jeremy wrote his objection to many doing sloppy discourse analysis and/or close reading is that “they skip the way that they came to see that, which is what makes the work replicable and can make it scientific if that is a goal.” In my responses, I reacted to the last 2/3 of that statement (the part about science and replicability). But actually, the most important part was the first third: “they skip the way they came to see that.” In that regard, I absolutely agree; a good close reading has no trouble establishing how they came to their final understanding; indeed, a good essay is an expression of that very process. Where I differ (and to be fair, Jeremy was writing a comment on a blog post, not a carefully crafted statement for the Cambridge Companion To ___) is that I see replicability and science as representing one legitimate direction among others. And my original thesis in this post (and which I still maintain) is that in HCI, there is a silent bias that it is the only one. And that, not these quibbles with Jeremy about the active decades of the New Criticism, that was the real target of my diatribe here.

  12. The Essay and HCI « Interaction Culture

    […] Essay and HCI In my recent post on discourse analysis versus close reading, I got into a discussion in the comments on the origin of the critic’s understanding and the role of subjectivity, […]

  13. Wyatt Ho

    Hi everyone… I’ve just read this blog and am a bit confused… After my readings on “discourse analysis”, it seems to be that what is described here as “discourse analysis” sounds more like “content analysis” and “close reading” sounds more like what I’ve read about “discourse analysis”. Am I wrong, or are people simply using/mixing terms?


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