Psychology, Social Psychology

Things and words: a critical discursive approach to new technologies

Over on the DD317 – Advancing Social Psychology – blog Stephanie Taylor reviews an interesting new book and presents a view of new technologies that is informed by critical discursive psychology.


In a season when people are acquiring lots of things, as gifts and in New Year sales, I have enjoyed reading a new book on ‘The Internet of Things’ by Mercedes Bunz and Graham Meikle (Polity, 2018). The authors are particularly interested in things that have sensors (like the location device on a smartphone) and can be connected together in networks. The book is therefore about new technologies, but ones which are becoming increasingly common.

‘The Internet of Things’ is not a psychological text but it includes research using Critical Discourse Analysis, an approach which of course has parallels with discursive and discourse analytic approaches in social psychology. In addition, the book interested me because it presents some examples of how people’s engagement with the material world is shaped by the kind of social knowledge that discursive researchers might discuss as ‘discourses’ or ‘repertoires’ or ‘resources’, and also examples of how that knowledge changes

Discursive research is often criticised for just being about words, that is, for not taking account of the material world, or bodies, or emotion, or other aspects of our lives and contexts which are supposedly extra-discursive. The counter-argument is that by analysing words and language discursive researchers can explore the social knowledge and meanings which structure our experience, including our engagement with the ‘things’ of the material world: ‘there is no neat separation between the meanings in language and in the social world more generally’ (Taylor, 2013, p.78). However, discursive researchers are also interested in other evidence of social meanings, such as what people do and how they interact. Bunz and Meikle offer a number of entertaining, and disturbing, examples of how we interact with technological ‘things’, and how new interactions are shaped by older meanings. Read more…

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