Chapter 21: The role of discourse analysis in understanding spatial systems
The concept of discourse entails a critical conception of the subject under study. Michel Foucault describes discourse as a property of power and an intersection of power and knowledge, using the term to describe how something can be spoken of and the boundaries that determine what can be said in a specific setting and what cannot (Foucault 1972). The implication here is that discourse on any topic always refers back to ‘what is known’ on that topic, in order to make it understandable. Discourses construct an essential system of being as well as thinking about specific things (Foucault 1972). Discourses are thus not only language but are manifest in language as well as in practice, where we all exist within discourse as a production system (Feder 2010). As a result, misdescriptions in discourse may have consequences beyond language: they can lead to faulty decisions, and may lead people to ignore specific features because those characteristics or ways of being are not acknowledged. An important question is therefore how accurate specific discourses are as regards what is being described, and to what extent they may harm the persons described by them. A relevant case in point may be the conception of ‘the Arctic’ as an eight-state region – today seen as including not only the USA (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Norway (Svalbard), northern Canada and Russia, but also Iceland as well as northernmost Sweden and Finland.
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