What Is Critical Discourse Analysis? 20 Seminal Books

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a linguistic approach that seeks to understand social phenomena through analysis of power and ideology. It focuses on the ways in which language is used to reproduce and reinforce social hierarchies and power imbalances. CDA aims to uncover hidden meanings in language, including exclusionary and discriminatory language.

CDA emerged in the 1970s and has since been used in various fields, including media studies, political science, and education. Its key principles include a focus on the relationship between language and power, an examination of both written and spoken discourse, and an awareness of the social and historical context in which discourse is produced.

CDA is interdisciplinary, drawing on theories from linguistics, sociology, and philosophy. It is often used to analyze political discourse, such as speeches and debates, as well as media representations of social groups.

Overall, CDA is an important tool for understanding the ways in which language shapes our understanding of the world and our place within it. By analyzing discourse through a critical lens, we can uncover hidden biases and challenge dominant power structures.

If you want to learn more about CDA, explore the theories underlying it, and understand the different analytic methods it draws on, the collection of books below is a good place to start with. These are sources I used in my doctoral research featuring seminal works of established scholars in the field.  For those of you interested in learning about discourse analysis (DA) check out this short introduction to discourse analysis as well as this collection of discourse analysis books.

Table of Contents

1. Methods of Critical Discourse Studies, by Ruth Wodak (Editor), Michael Meyer (Editor)

Methods of Critical Discourse Studies

Methods of Critical Discourse Studies is “a sophisticated and nuanced introduction to critical discourse analysis (CDA) that covers a range of topics in an accessible, engaging style. With international examples and an interdisciplinary approach, readers gain a rich understanding of the many angles into critical discourse analysis, the fundamentals of how analysis works and examples from written texts, online data and images.”

2. A New Agenda in (Critical) Discourse Analysis: Theory, methodology and interdisciplinarity, by Ruth Wodak (Editor), Paul Chilton (Editor)

A New Agenda in (Critical) Discourse Analysis

A New Agenda in (Critical) Discourse Analysis is “essential for anyone working broadly in the field of discourse analysis in the social sciences. The book includes often critical re-assessments of CDA’s assumptions and methods, while proposing new route-maps for innovation. Practical analyses of major issues in discourse analysis are part of this agenda-setting volume.”

3. How to Do Critical Discourse Analysis: A Multimodal Introduction, by David Machin, Andrea Mayr

How to do critical discours analysis

How to do Critical Discourse Analysis “guides students to an understanding of how language, power and ideology are negotiated in visual communication and media texts, from magazine and advertising, to YouTube and music videos. Authors David Machin and Andrea Mayr draw on discourse analysis, appraisal theory, stylistics and conversation analysis to present a systematic toolkit for doing language and image analysis.”

4. Tc: Critical Issues in Discourse Analysis, by H. G. Widdowson

A New Agenda in (Critical) Discourse Analysis

In Text, Context, Pretext, Widdowson did a great job pinpointing weakness of CDA and discussing some of the key points that critical discourse analysts often disregard. “Written by a leading researcher in the field, this fascinating examination of the relations between grammar, text, and discourse is designed to provoke critical discussion on key issues in discourse analysis which are not always clearly identified and examined.” 

5. Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language, by Norman Fairclough

Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language

Norman Fairclough is one of the established scholars in CDA studies.His book, Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language, is definitely a required reading for student researchers. It features Fairclough work spanning 25 years. Key points covered include methodology of critical discourse analysis, analysis of political discourse, critical language awareness in education, discourse in globalisation and transition, language in relation to ideology and power, and many more.

6.The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies, by John Flowerdew (Editor)

The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies

The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies “provides a state-of-the-art overview of the important and rapidly developing field of Critical Discourse Studies (CDS). Forty-one chapters from leading international scholars cover the central theories, concepts, contexts and applications of CDS and how they have developed, encompassing: approaches, analytical methods, interdisciplinarity, social divisions and power, domains and media.”

7. Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Disciplinarity, by G. Weiss (Editor), R. Wodak (Editor)

Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Disciplinarity

Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Disciplinarity “provides an innovative and original debate on critical theory and discourse analysis, focussing on the extent to which CDA can and should draw on the theory and methodology of a range of disciplines within the social sciences.”

8.Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis: In Search of Meaning, by Stefan Titscher, Michael Meyer, Ruth Wodak, Eva Vetter

Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis: In Search of Meaning

Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis provides an extensive  overview of “overview currently available of linguistic and sociological approaches to text and discourse analysis. Among the 10 linguistic and sociological models surveyed in this book some of the more important are Grounded Theory, Content Analysis, Conversation Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis.

The book presents each approach according to a standardised format, which allows for direct systematic comparisons. The fully annotated lists of sources provide readers with an additional means of evaluation of the competing analytical methods.”

9.An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education, by Rebecca Rogers  (Editor)

An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education

An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education “invites readers to consider the theories and methods of three major traditions in critical discourse studies – discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, and multimodal discourse analysis — through the empirical work of leading scholars in the field. Beyond providing a useful overview, it contextualizes CDA in a wide range of learning environments and identifies how CDA can shed new insights on learning and social change.”

10. Language and Power: A Resource Book for Students, by Paul Simpson, Andrea Mayr, Simon Statham

Language and Power: A Resource Book for Students

Language and Power “offers an accessible overview of the subject, with activities, study questions, sample analyses, commentaries and key readings – all in the same volume. The innovative and flexible ‘two-dimensional’ structure is built around four sections – introduction, development, exploration and extension – which offer self-contained stages for study. Each topic can also be read across these sections, enabling the reader to build gradually on the knowledge gained.”

11. Textual Politics: Discourse And Social Dynamics, by Jay L. Lemke 

Textual Politics: Discourse And Social Dynamics

Textual Politics “is about meaning – the meaning we make with words and with the symbolic values of every object and action.; The book begins with an introduction which discusses the relationship between Discourse And The Notions Of Power And Ideology.

These Concepts Are Then applied to major issues: the social construction of class, gender and individuality; the rhetoric of polarizing social controversies religious fundamentalism vs. gay rights; and the abuse of technical language in policy arguments educational research vs. conservative politics.”

12. How to Do Things with Words, by J. L. Austin (Author), J. O. Urmson (Editor), Marina Sbisà (Editor)

How to Do Things with Words

In How to Do Thing with Words, you will have access to John Austin’s lectures on a wide range of philosophical concepts including performatives and constatives, conditions for happy performatives, infelicities (misfires and abuses), possible criteria of performatives, explicit performatives, explicit performative verbs, and many more. I personally find Austin’s book hard to read and requires an extensive knowledge of linguistic theory but still it contains tons of key insights to help you with your CDA research.

13. Language as Ideology, by Gunther Kress (Author), Robert Hodge (Author)

Language as Ideology

Several CDA scholars attribute the onset of critical linguistics to the publication of Language as Ideology  and the book Language and Control both published in 1979. The book “has been widely influential and successful in documenting the detail of the connection of linguistic and social practices.

Even now “Language as Ideology” provides the most detailed theoretical account of the operation of power and ideology in all aspects of text. This new edition presents, in a major new chapter, the advances made in the field of critical language study; and it gives an account of the authors’ current position through a detailed analysis and theoretical discussion of a related set of texts.”

14. Language and Control, by Roger Fowler (Author), Bob Hodge (Author), Gunther Kress (Author), Tony Trew (Author) 

Language and Control

The publication of  Language and Control in 1979 brought to the fore the field of critical linguistics shedding light on the huge potential of critical approaches in language study. “This book studies language variation as a part of social practice – how language expresses and helps regulate social relationships of all kinds.

Different groups, classes, institutions and situations have their special modes of language and these varieties are not just stylistic reflections of social differences; speaking or writing in a certain manner entails articulating certain social meanings, however implicit.”

15. Language and Power, by Norman Fairclough  (Author)

Language and Power

Language and Power is another required reading for using or planning to use CDA in their research. It is one of the best introductions to the field. Language and Power “focusses on how language functions in maintaining and changing power relations in modern society, the ways of analysing language which can reveal these processes and how people can become more conscious of them, as well as, more able to resist and change them.”

16 Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis, by Norman Fairclough  (Author)

Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis

If you are interested in the textual approach to critical discourse analysis, this is your book. “Drawing on a range of social theorists from Bourdieu to Habermas, as well as his own research, Norman Fairclough’s book presents a form of language analysis with a consistently social perspective.

His approach is illustrated by and investigated through a range of real texts, from written texts, to a TV debate about the monarchy and a radio broadcast about the Lockerbie bombing. The student-friendly book also offers accessible summaries, an appendix of example texts, and a glossary of terms and key theorists.”

17. Discourse as Social Interaction, by Teun A. van Dijk (Editor)

Discourse as Social Interaction

“Focusing on the fundamental interactional, social, political and cultural functions of text and talk, this comprehensive volume shows that discourse is not merely form and meaning but also action. This social dimension of discourse is further highlighted by examining the role of social identity and group membership, such as those based on gender, ′race′ and ethnicity: How do members of various groups typically speak among each other and how do they communicate with people of other groups or cultures?”

18. The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean, by Ruth Wodak (Author)

The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean

If you are looking for how established CDA scholars carry out their CDA research, this book is for you. Using the discourse historical approach to CDA, “Ruth Wodak traces the trajectories of [right-wing] parties from the margins of the political landscape to its centre, to understand and explain how they are transforming from fringe voices to persuasive political actors who set the agenda and frame media debates.

Laying bare the normalization of nationalistic, xenophobic, racist and antisemitic rhetoric, she builds a new framework for this ‘politics of fear’ that is entrenching new social divides of nation, gender and body.”

19. The Discursive Construction of National Identity, by Ruth Wodak (Author), Rudolf de Cillia (Author), Martin Reisigl (Author), Karin Liebhart (Author)

The Discursive Construction of National Identity

This book was a life saviour during my dissertation research. In fact, the identity-based CDA frmaework I developed and used in my doctoral dissertation is hugely inspired by this book. “The Discursive Construction of National Identity analyses discourses of national identity in Europe with particular attention to Austria.

In the tradition of critical discourse analysis, the authors analyse current and on-going transformations in the self-and other definition of national identities using an innovative interdisciplinary approach which combines discourse-historical theory and methodology and political science perspectives.”

20. Discourse and Knowledge: A Sociocognitive Approach, by Teun A. van Dijk  (Author)

Discourse and Knowledge: A Sociocognitive Approach

If you want to learn about the socio-cognitive approach in critical discourse studies, van Dijk book Discourse and knowledge is a great book to start with. “Based on a theory of natural knowledge, the book deals with the cognitive processes, social distribution, cultural differences and the linguistic and discursive ‘management’ of knowledge in interaction and communication in epistemic communities.

The first book to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to studying the relationship between the two concepts, Discourse and Knowledge introduces the new field of epistemic discourse analysis.”