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32 - Discourse Analysis and Digital Surveillance

from Part VI - Discourses, Publics and Mediatization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2020

Anna De Fina
Georgetown University, Washington DC
Alexandra Georgakopoulou
King's College London
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This chapter explores how tools from discourse analysis can contribute to our understanding of digital surveillance. It lays the groundwork for this exploration by first examining the role of discourse analysis in our understanding of surveillance more generally. It then goes on to discuss the mediated nature of all surveillance and the different affordances and constraints that different media bring to it. Next, it provides an overview of the main discursive processes involved in digital surveillance, including participation, pretexting, entextualization, recontextualization and inferencing, showing how they occur differently when mediated through digital technologies. A range of key issues and ongoing debates around digital surveillance related to discourse analysis are then identified and elaborated upon, specifically identity, agency and power. Finally, the chapter discusses the implications of a discourse analytical approach to digital surveillance for the professional practices of applied and sociolinguists and suggests some future directions for research on discourse and digital surveillance.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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Further Reading

This is one of the few examples in surveillance studies to seriously engage with theories of discourse analysis, exploring how regimes of surveillance discursively construct social identities and relationships between citizens/customers and the state and corporations.

This chapter gives a comprehensive explanation of the impact of different kinds of media on the discursive processes involved in surveillance.

This article looks at digital surveillance from the point of view of users of digital media, reporting on a research project in which participants described their “folk theories” of how algorithms work and reflected on how these theories affect the way they communicate.

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Jones, R. (2019). The Text Is Reading You: Teaching Language in the Age of the Algorithm. Linguistics and Education. (available online at


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