The discursive approach within political science has become institutionalised in the early 1990s. As important theoretical antecedents, we should mention the German conceptual history and the Cambridge School of intellectual history, whose representatives tried to shed new light on the history of political thought through contextual research.

As regards new directions, the field was divided by rather distinctive conceptions from the beginning. We can detect at least three specific directions. Furthermore, we can speak of public policy analysis as a separate field of research.

Firstly, there is a modernist tendency of critical discourse analysis (CDA), which explored the discursive phenomena of social inequality and injustice and tried to find correspondence between the linguistic, political and social structures based on Foucault's works and critical linguistic directions.

Secondly, there is a school of postmarxist discourse theory in Essex, which reacted to the postmodern turn in social sciences, and therefore could become one of the most important discursive approaches.

Thirdly, we should mention the Finnish direction of 'reading politically' originated by rhetorical and conceptual historical theories. Its centre is at University of Jyväskylä. According to Kari PALONEN, the main theoretician of 'reading politically', the question is: 'How can we act politically with words?'

Finally, it has to be mentioned that the discursive approach is present not only in historiography and political science, but in other disciplines as well. We refer to the DARG, the most significant social psychological school, which is very close to political discourse studies in methods and theory.


Perhaps the members of the German conceptual historical school would be surprised to be present on a website of political discourse studies. But Begriffsgeschichte is of such great significance that it is an unavoidable example and antecedent of more than one school of discursive approaches. Its leading figure was Reinhardt KOSELLECK (died in 2006), who, as a social historian, started to deal with the linguistic self-reflections of previous ages and started a great enterprise to explore this field in the form of an encyclopaedia entitled Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. One article ('democracy') of this work is published also in Hungarian. Another important enterprise of conceptual historical research is the Handbuch politisch-sozialer Grundbegriffe in Frankreich, 1680-1820 edited by Rolf Reichardt, a student of Koselleck.




  • Brunner, Otto - Walter Conze - Reinhart Koselleck, ed. (1972-1992): Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, Historisches Lexikon zur politisch - sozialen Sprache in Deutschland. IX Bde., Stuttgart: Klett - Cotta Verlag.
  • Koselleck, Reinhart - Michael Jeismann, ed. (1994): Der Politische Totenkult: Kriegerdenkmaler in der Moderne. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.
  • Koselleck, Reinhart (1998): Zur politischen Ikonologie des gewaltsamen Todes: ein deutsch-französischer Vergleich. Basel: Schwabe.
  • Koselleck, Reinhart (2000) Zeitschichten: Studien zur Historik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.
  • Reichardt, Rolf - Eberhard Schmitt ed. (1985-): Handbuch politisch-sozialer Grundbegriffe in Frankreich, 1680-1820. München: R. Oldenbourg Verlag.


The members of the Cambridge School are not political scientists, but rather historians, although their research focused on the discursive, rhetorical and contextual reconsiderations of political thought. Moreover, a leading figure of this school, J. G. A. POCOCK stood up for a 'history of political discourse' in the introductory chapter of The Languages of Political Theory in 1987. Exploring early modern sources, the Cambridge School radically reinterpreted the traditional framework of the history of ideas. The legendary starting point of this turn was the Introduction to a new Locke edition by Peter LASLETT, in which he applied the contexts in a very new form. Later a characteristically original direction developed from these antecedents. The main representatives of the Cambridge School are Quentin SKINNER, J. G. A. POCOCK, John DUNN, Richard TUCK, Istvan HONT and James TULLY.




  • Baker, Keith Michael (1990): Inventing the French Revolution: essays on French political culture in the eighteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ball, Terence - James Farr - Russell L. Hanson, eds. (1989): Political Innovation and Conceptual Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dunn, John (1969): The political thought of John Locke: an historical account of the argument of the "Two treatises of government". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Laslett, Peter (1960): "Introduction". In John Locke: Two treatises of government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 3-120. p.
  • Pagden, Anthony, ed. (1987): The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pocock, John G. A. (1970): Politics, Language and Time: essays on political thought and history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Richter, Melvin (1995): The History of Political and Social Concepts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sharpe, Kevin - Steven N. Zwicker, eds. (1987): Politics of Discourse: the literature and history of seventeenth-century England. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Quentin Skinner (1978): Foundations of Modern Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Critical discourse analysis

The starting point of the critical discourse analysis was a symposium in Amsterdam, January 1991. Teun van DIJK, Norman FAIRCLOUGH, Gunther KRESS, Ruth WODAK and Theun von LEEUWEN spent two days together and worked on the reconciliation of their common interests. They consider the critical linguistics of the University of East Anglia of 1970s as their predecessor. The leading figures of this school are Kress, Tony Trew and Roger Fowler. The linguistic background of CDA is the context in which we can understand better their idea that language is a social practice as well as a political instrument, thus the task of the linguist is to deal with the social and political consequences of language use (therefore it is a 'critical' direction). They published several books and there is a journal Discourse and Society edited by van Dijk. They also organise regular meetings.




  • Fairclough, Norman (1992): Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Fairclough, Norman (1995): Critical Discourse Analysis: the critical study of language. London - New York: Longman.
  • Fairclough, Norman (1995): Media Discourse. London: Edward Arnold.
  • Fairclough, Norman (2000): New Labor, New Language? London: Routledge.
  • Faircloug, Norman - Wodak, Ruth (1997): Critical Discourse Analysis. In Teun van Dijk (ed.): Discourse Studies: A Multidisciplinary Introduction. London: Sage. Vol. 2. 258-284.
  • Riggins, Stephen Harold (1997): The Language and Politics of Exclusion: others in discourse. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
  • van Dijk, T. (1997): Discourse as Social Interaction. London: Sage.
  • van Dijk, T. (1997): Discourse as Stucture and Process. London: Sage.
  • Weiss, Gilbert - Wodak, Ruth, eds. (2003): Critical Discourse Analysis. Theory and Interdisciplinarity. New York: Palgrave Macmillen.
  • Wodak, Ruth (1989): Language, Power, and Ideology: studies in political discourse. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co.
  • Wodak, Ruth (1996): Disorder of Discourse. London - New York: Longman.
  • Wodak, Ruth - Reisigl, Martin, J., eds. (2001): Discourse and Discrimination: rhetoric of racism and antisemitism. London: Routledge.


The postmarxist scholars of the Essex University study 'political theory'. Their founding father is Ernesto LACLAU, who was born in Argentina but studied in Oxford and Essex, and developed a new theoretical approach with Chantal MOUFFE. They reinterpreted Antonio GRAMSCI's hegemony theory following his revision of MARX based on post-structuralism. The Essex School published several books, tried to map the various theories of discourse analysis, and on the basis of a Master's Program (Ideology and Discourse) they built up an international academic web. They have members from several countries, for example Aletta NORVAL from South-Africa, Yannis STAVRAKAKIS from Greece and Jacob TORFING from Denmark. In Essex, there is a yearly Summer School in Discourse Theory. In 2005, two members of our Discourse Seminar, Gábor PÁL and Zoltán Gábor SZŰCS took part in the Summer School. Additionally, Emilia PALONEN, who is working on her PhD dissertation supervised by Aletta NORVAL, joined the Centre for Political Discourse Studies (CEPODS) in 2004.




  • Howarth, David (2000): Discourse. Buckingham Open University Press.
  • Howarth, David R. - Norval, Aletta J. - Stavrakakis, Yannis, eds. (2000): Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: identities, hegemonies and social change. Manchester - New York: Manchester University Press - Marin's Press.
  • Laclau, Ernesto - Mouffe, Chantal (1985): Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. London, Verso.
  • Laclau, Ernesto, ed. (1990): New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time. London: Verso.
  • Laclau, Ernesto ed. (1994): The Making of the Political Identities. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Laclau, Ernesto (1996): Emancipation(s). London: Verso.
  • Mouffe, Chantal (1993): The Return of the Political. London: Verso.
  • Mouffe, Chantal, ed. (1996): Deconstruction and Pragmatism. New York: Routledge.
  • Norval, Aletta J. (2000): Trajectories of future research in discourse theory. In David Howart - Aletta J. Norval - Yannis Stavrakakis (eds.): Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: identities, hegemonies and social change. Manchester - New York: Manchester University Press. 219-236. p.
  • Smith, A. M. (1998): Laclau and Mouffe: The Radical Democratic Imaginary. London: Routledge.
  • Torfing, Jacob (1999): New Theories of Discourse. Oxford: Blackwell.


The Finnish University of Jyväskylä is a world power in political discourse studies. Two significant English works were published with Finnish contributions. Interpreting the Political was edited by Terrel CARVER and Matti HYVÄRINEN, Reading the Political was edited by Kari Palonen and Tuija PARVIKKO. Hyvärinen deals with the conceptual history of narrative, whereas Palonen studies the conceptual history of politics. In contrast to Essex or CDA, Finnish researchers have dealt with historical studies, too. It should also be mentioned that there is an English yearbook of the Finnish Society of Political Science, Redescriptions, edited by Kari PALONEN.




  • Brendtson, Erkki - Palonen, Kari (1990): Text, Contexts, Concepts: Studies on Politics and Power in Language. Helsinki: Finnish Political Science Association.
  • Carver, Terrell - Hyvärinen, Matti, eds. (1997): Interpreting the Political: New Methodologies. London - New York, Routledge.
  • Carver, Terrell (2004 [2002]): Diskurzuselemzés és nyelvi fordulat. (Fordította Szegedi Gábor.) Politikatudományi Szemle, XIII. évf. 4. sz. 143-148. p.
  • Hyvärinen, Matti (1992): Narrative Analysis and Political Auto/Biography. The Journal of Political Science, March, 51-70. p.
  • Hyvärinen, Matti (1998): Thick and Thin Narratives: Thickness of Description, Expectation, and Causality. In Norman K. Denzin (ed.): Cultural Studies: A Research Volume. Stamford and London: Jai Press. Vol. 3, 49-174. p.
  • Palonen, Kari (1985): Politik als Handlungsbegriffe. Horizontwandel des Politikbegriffs in Deutschland 1890-1933. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennicia.
  • Palonen, Kari (1989): Die Thematisierung der Politik als Phenomen. Eine Interpretation der Geschichte des Begriffs Politik im Frankreich des 20. Jahrhunderts. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennicia.
  • Palonen, Kari (1989): Korrekturen zur Gesichte von "Politisierung". Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte, 30. 224-234. p.
  • Palonen, Kari (1992): Politik als Verurteilung: Die Politikkonzept in J. P. Sartre "Critique de la raison dialectique". Münster: Wesfälische Dampfbool.
  • Palonen, Kari - Tuija Parvikko, eds. (1993): Reading the Political. Helsinki: FPSA.
  • Palonen, Kari (2001): Transforming a Common European Concept into Finnish: Conceptual Changes in the Understanding of 'Politiikka'. In Redescriptions. Yearbook of Political Thought and Conceptual History. Helsinki: FPSA.
  • Palonen, Kari (2002): Eine Lobrede für Politiker: Ein Kommentar zur Max Webers "Politik als Beruf". Opladen: Lesbe+Budrich.
  • Palonen, Kari (2003): Quentin Skinner: History, Politic, Rhetorik. Cambridge UK.: Polity Press.
  • Palonen, Kari (2004): Die Entzauberungen der Begriffe: Das Umschreiben der politischen Begriffe bei Quentin Skinner und Reinhard Koselleck. Münster: Sit Verlag.


The Discourse and Rhetoric Group dedicated to the so called 'discourse psychology' at the intersection of a number of interests in discourse, rhetoric, activity and conversation was started in Michael BILLIG's office on a Wednesday afternoon late November 1987. The people present included Derek EDWARDS, Michael GANE, Jonathan POTTER, David MIDDLETON, Nigel EDLEY and Ros GILL. It was never intended as a formal research centre, it was rather a vehicle for generating discussion. Throughout the 1990s the group expanded, many visitors, new staff and some PhD student joined in from various parts of the world. By now the DARG is a significant research centre within social psychology and of similar significance among the discourse directions of contemporary scientific life.




  • Antaki, Charles - Houtkoop-Steenstra, Hanneke - Rapley, Mark (2000): "Brilliant. Next question.": High-grade assessment sequences in the completion of interactional units. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 33. 235-262. p.
  • Billig, Michael (1995): Banal Nationalism. London: Sage Publications.
  • Billig, Michael (1996): Remembering the background of Social Identity Theory. In Social Groups and Identities: Festschrift for Henri Tajfel. Ed. P. Robinson. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  • Billig, Michael (1996): Arguing and Thinking: a rhetorical approach to social psychology. (2. ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Billig, Michael (1999). Freudian Repression: conversation creating the unconscious. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Edwards, Derek (2001): Emotion. In Margaret Wetherell - Stephanie Taylor - Simeon J. Yates (eds.): Discourse Theory and Practice: A reader. London: Sage. 236-246. p. [Edited reprint from Edwards, Discourse & Cognition.]
  • Edwards, Derek - Potter, Jonathan (in press): Discursive psychology, mental states and descriptions. In Hedwig, te Molder - Jonathan, Potter (eds.): Talk and Cognition: Discourse, cognition and social interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Middleton, David - Brown, Steve (2005): The Social Psychology of Experience. London: Sage.
  • Potter, Jonathan - Edwards, Derek (1999): Social representations and discursive psychology: From cognition to action. Culture and Psychology, 5 (4), 447-458. p.
  • Stenner, P. - Brown, Steve D. (1998): Psychology as history and philosophy: Implications for research. The Psychologist, Vol. 11, 4. 172-175. p.
  • Wetherell, Margaret - Potter, Jonathan (1998): Discourse and Social Psychology - Silencing binaries. Theory and Psychology, 8, 379-390. p.