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Tool - Links and Entanglements
2, Relationship between Discourses
Theory - The nature of discourse strands.
Discourse strands can be imagined as varying from thick
ropes to thin filaments, and from large lengths to small
text fragments. We generally "all knit along together"
producing and developing discourse, and it is almost
inevitable that we either deliberately build in links
with other discourse, or accidentally produce links.
The types of links between discourse strands can be
described in many ways - as simple links, as knots,
as tangles, as patterns of interrelationship. The link
or entanglement can also be described in terms of other
characteristics, such as tight, loose, complex or simple
These concepts can open up useful lines of discussion
|Example:- in the Aims, it is stated "MAFF has
the following Aim: good quality food which meets consumers'
requirements, modern sustainable, competitive farming and
fisheries businesses, and protection of the rural and marine
environment and a thriving rural economy". The phrase in
bold is a good example of links in discourse - it makes a connection
with discourse strands on modernity, sustainability, competitiveness
and business - each of these words represents another major
discourse, and they are currently some of the most important
world-wide discourses. In fact, in the Aims and Objectives text,
many of the words used represents another discourse, but not
often to the extent of this 7 word phrase. The authors might
claim that this 'places' the aims and objectives in a wider
picture, or that it 'joins' the Governemtn to these discourses,
but it also creates entanglement.
Interpretation and Discussion. Links and entanglements
are part of the essential nature of discourse, as described
above (I also describe discourse more fully here).
The discourse strand can be imagined as varying from
thick ropes to thin filaments, and from large chunks to small
text fragments. In this case, the discourse seems strong,
but not especially 'heavy'. There are many concepts woven
together, but these are short phrases on each topic - little
is developed from them.
Types of links between discourse strands can be described
in many ways - as simple links, as knots, as tangles, as patterns
of interrelationship. In this case, the individual links are
usually simple rather than being heavily knotted, however
there is a very high level of linkage building (most words
act also as links), so the the overall effect is of a fairly
Other characteristics, such as tight, loose, complex
or simple knots, etc. This passage seems generally to be firmly
written and connected to other discourses, however, the linkages
are very extensive.
However, we must assume that every element of this text has
been worked on by many individuals, groups, committees and
experts, up to the highest level of government, so it is unlikely
that any aspect of it is unconscious - we must imagine that
the entanglements are there deliberately, and that they serve
Therefore, it might be more accurate to describe this passage
("modern sustainable, competitive farming and fisheries
businesses") as the naming of 4 major external
discourses. This might be done to impress or satisfy some
of the readers, and also to place the government is
a context in a way which satisfies them. Perhaps it is also
a 'knowing' example of "the great milling mass"
of discourse and the way that all parts of the "milling
mass" are interconnected, and thus an expression of the
government's sophistication. It is certainly a major statement
of the Government's apparent (unwritten) aim of inclusiveness
- it seems that one of their major techniques is to recruit
and include all possible opinions, and to bind them in so
that they join a process rather than oppose the Government.
This may be a lot to read into a 7 word phrase, but this
is an exploratory stage of the analysis. As an outsider, it
is useful to open up some of these new possibilities and ideas,
and it might be possible to carry forward these new ideas
to form a new picture of what is going on. Further research
using the other techniques in the toolbox or insider information
might be needed to give a definitive answer.
More Notes on Entanglement
A text is seldom simple and must be described in a complex way.
For example, with the sample text, the aims and objectives strand
can be seen as part of a 'rope' of 'discourse fibres' - these fibres
can be visualised as the discourses about the government view of
its own role and purpose (and the views of others about this), national
administration discourses, 'new government' philosophy, targets,
budgets, internal developments, influencing the media, being influenced
by lobby groups from environment, industry and consumers. etc.
Some of these are special 'inside the Government' discourses (the
administrative and new government dimension), others are discourses
of 'government and governed' (green and business lobbies), others
are 'outside world' discourses (relationship to the EU).
This visualisation of discourse strands helps us in a number of
- by widening the way we look at what is going on
- by focussing more narrowly on what the exact purposes of the document
However, the situation is very complex, and one of the ways to deal
with the complexity is to imagine the entanglements that exist.
To define these exactly is almost impossible, however, it is possible
to develop a typology of the entanglements, using such terms as
tight, loose, knotted, complex, simple, etc to describe the entanglement
There are also other broad classes of discourses in the background
- discourses about the nature of government, about the relationship
between blocs such as business, environment, consumers, the media,
and even about the nature of aims and objectives. Aim A2 is also
an example of "the great milling mass" of discourse and
the way that all parts of the "milling mass" are interconnected.
1. Overview. Before describing the discourse strand in detail,
it is worth mentioning the following points:-
a. nearly every word in this text represents another major discourse.
Taking this further, one could propose that the main purpose of
the text is to collect and balance the external discourses which
are most important in the opinion of the government. This could
be a useful definition of government - it chooses the most important
discourses for a society and applies them !
2. from a discourse perspective, everything should be seen
in the context of "the great milling mass" which dominates
all communication. The government has selected the parts of this
"milling mass" that it deals with. This is 'a given' which
is difficult to challenge, and it affects the analyses which can
3. Location of strand. This strand can be described as the
UK Government 'aims and objectives' discourse strand for environment,
food and rural affairs (the responsibilities of the former MAFF).
However, this is like the tip of an iceberg - there are clearly
many discourses and much background knowledge contained in this
4. Although this may be the most important text (and strand) in
the entire output of the Ministry, one can ask if there is a 'special
substance' that makes this strand more important than any other.
The answer to this question is that this strand may operate at a
more inclusive and influential level than other strands, but there
does not seem to be anything 'special' about it beyond the way it
is presented as a key to the Departmental report.
To try to characterise it further, it does not seem like a 'strong
strand' on which administrative decisions depend, it is more presentational.
However, it appears to be the cornerstone of the public service
agreements, but it is debatable if these are also more presentational
than effective in creating change.
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