Pêcheux's Contribution to Discourse Analysis

  • Niels Helsloot RSM Erasmus University
  • Tony Hak RSM Erasmus University
Keywords: Michel PÊCHEUX, French discourse analysis, automatic discourse analysis, epistemology, ideology, interdiscourse


Michel PÊCHEUX (1938-1983) was one of the main representatives of a critical and productive episode in French discourse analysis, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He shared with more famous contemporaries such as Michel FOUCAULT a background in BACHELARDian epistemology and ALTHUSSERian "post-structuralism" and an interest in theories of discourse, but his most important contribution to discourse analysis consisted in the development of tools for conducting empirical studies of discourses. In an attempt to break away from the "spontaneous ideology" of content analysis, PÊCHEUX developed a formal, potentially automatic instrument, which he called Automatic Discourse Analysis. This instrument could generate a structuralist description of a discourse by identifying and describing relations of selection and substitution of syntactic elements in a corpus of texts representing that discourse. When dealing with criticisms of this approach and attempting to overcome its limitations, PÊCHEUX moved away from structuralism and developed a more reflective theory of "interdiscourse" in which he tried to account for the ideological struggle and dynamic inequality between discourses. This article discusses the rationale of the different stages PÊCHEUX went through to develop an empirical instrument of discourse analysis. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs070218


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Author Biographies

Niels Helsloot, RSM Erasmus University
Niels HELSLOOT, b. 1959, PhD (Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 1999), 1978-1985 Dutch linguistics and literature (Free University, Amsterdam) and 1981-1987 Philosophy (University of Amsterdam); freelance university teacher and translator, independent researcher in the history and philosophy of theories of language and communication. Niels HELSLOOT published, among other things, on the philological approaches of Antonio GRAMSCI, Ferdinand de SAUSSURE and Friedrich NIETZSCHE, and edited (with Tony HAK) the volume Michel Pêcheux. Automatic Discourse Analysis, Rodopi (1995).
Tony Hak, RSM Erasmus University
Tony HAK, b. 1950, PhD (Political and Social Sciences, University of Amsterdam, 1988). 1967-1973, MSc in Psychiatric Epidemiology and Medical Sociology, Rotterdam Medical School. 1975-1995, Assistant Professor of Medical Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam. 1996-2000, Lecturer in Medical Sociology, University of Liverpool. 2000-Present, Associate Professor of Methodology, RSM Erasmus University. Tony HAK edited (with Françoise GADET) a volume of core texts of Michel PÊCHEUX in Portuguese, Por uma análise automática do discurso, Editora da Unicamp (1990) and (with Niels HELSLOOT) a similar volume in English, Michel Pêcheux. Automatic Discourse Analysis, Rodopi (1995). His next book (with Jan DUL) is Case study methodology in business research, Butterworth-Heinemann (2007).