Critical Discourse Analysis and the Party Conventions

My project was using Critical Discourse Analysis on two speeches: one from Donald Trump and one from Hillary Clinton, in order to uncover how power was established, subverted, and maintained through their language use.


At the beginning of conducting this project I was really trying to solidify what my Critical Discourse Analysis would look like. Would it be heavy on the discourse analysis and light on the critical? The other way around? Which other fields would I draw from (Communications, history, political theory, etc.)?


I had to start by cementing my knowledge on what Critical Discourse Analysis was and what it entailed. Critical Discourse Analysis is not a single method, but rather a “critical perspective” (Dijk, 466). It is based on the understanding that discourse in its many forms is one of the main ways that ideology is spread (Johnstone, 45). It takes a critical perspective by studying the way that power and power imbalances are established and maintained through speech and language use. Critical Discourse Analysis looks not just at the text itself, but also at the context of the speech. What is the speech event and why is it important? How does the speech interact with people? What place does it have in a broader sociological context?


I also had to address what exactly I would be doing CDA on:  Which speech would I draw from? Would it be a survey of the whole speech, or just a selection?


It was hard to really decide on what speech I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to wait until after both conventions to really make my pick, but I realized while watching both conventions that looking at the convention speeches themselves would be extremely beneficial. Not only would I be able to view both Clinton and Trump in similar contexts, thereby eliminating some potential bias in the decision making part, but also because convention speeches do have importance and historical significance.


The National Party Conventions have changed greatly over time. Before the election of 1972, there was much turmoil and drama at party conventions. Many states did not have primaries, and even the ones that did did not have to be enforced in the decision of the final candidate. Because of this, most parties’ candidates were decided by top political elites. As such, the results were not determined going into the convention like they are today. There was much arguing and political maneuvering that occurred, and it was seen as a source of entertainment, with almost all of the convention broadcasted on TV. However, with the McGovern-Fraser Reform in 1968 that came about as the result of the Democratic Party picking Hubert Humphry despite not having run in any of the primaries, the Democrats started using primaries in every state and the Republicans followed suit four years later. This changed the nature of the convention. Where before it was uncertain and dramatic it is now predictable and scripted. Most major networks don’t show any of it, and only the candidates’ speech at the end of the convention if they show any of it. Luckily, this is the most important part of the modern convention. While there are other interesting and exciting speeches and important party decisions made throughout the week that help to solidify a party, the most informative part is indeed the nominee’s speech.


One of the President’s most important jobs is giving speeches. Although we’re far from the days when rhetoric and oration were heralded as talents that were not only helpful but necessary for public office, speech-making is still a vital part of the American presidency. Whether it is addressing the nation in wake of a national tragedy or addressing a foreign country on a diplomatic meeting, or addressing Congress and by extension the rest of the nation in the annual State of the Union speech, the President makes many speeches that are important for the morale of the people, the relationships of the state, and the laws of the land. The speech that the nominee gives at the convention is the first that give as the nominee of a national party for president. It therefore gives the first real glimpse of the candidates fulfilling a Presidential role.


I decided to look at both speeches as a whole because I think that the speeches were meant to be consumed as a whole. Removing a chunk would remove context and would take away from a thematic reading of the piece.


Works Cited

Dijk, Teun A. Van. “Critical Discourse Analysis (new version)”. D. Tannen, H. Hamilton, & D. Schiffrin (Eds.), Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Second Edition.  2 vols. (vol. 1, pp. 466-485). Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.


Johnstone, Barbara. Discourse Analysis. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002. Print.