Political discourse in movement media: Linguistic strategies for bridging issue movements on Democracy Now!

Toft, A. “Political discourse in movement media: Linguistic strategies for bridging issue movements on Democracy Now!” Paper presented at the Political Discourse: Multidisciplinary Approaches conference, London, UK, June 26-27, 2015.


This paper examines the ways that political activists connect issue movements through language use as they build support for their cause, and position it in a broader understanding of the political terrain. I suggest that political discourse in social movements is organized through issues, and that the identification and bridging of issues movements forms a backbone for how movement activity is understood, positioned, and made meaningful in political life. I present an empirical analysis of the linguistic strategies employed by movement participants for bridging issue movements by drawing on a 10-year (2003-2013) 5 million word corpus of spoken word transcripts from the popular TV and radio news program Democracy Now!, a nationally syndicated daily 1-hour program produced in NYC by and for political activists. The paper offers two important claims in the context of political discourse. First, I suggest that we broaden the people and contexts within which this aspect of public life is understood to happen (i.e., beyond politicians making political speeches), and that movement media offer a valuable space for examining how activists speak to each other about their political work (Streitmatter, 2001). Second, I suggest that we broaden the issues and political processes that we understand as facilitating this aspect of public life (i.e., beyond elections and voting), and that social movements and movement media are one of the most important generative spaces for surfacing, defining, and connecting social issues with dominant and resistant Discourse through discourse in action (Gamson, 1988). The paper engages an approach to the study of political discourse rooted in critical discourse studies, and combines quantitative corpus linguistics (Sinclair, 1991; Stubbs, 2001) and semantic network analysis (Doerfel, 1998) with the grounded qualitative tools traditionally associated with CDA (see for instance Baker, 2006; Baker et al., 2008; Salama, 2011; Toft, 2014).


Baker, P. (2006). Using corpora in discourse analysis. London: Continuum.

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C., KhosraviNik, M., Krzyzanowski, M., McEnery, T., & Wodak, R. (2008). A useful methodological synergy? Combining critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics to examine discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press. Discourse & Society, 19(3), 273-306.

Doerfel, M. L. (1998). What constitutes semantic network analysis? A comparison of research and methodologies. Connections, 21, 16–26.

Gamson, W. A. (1988). Political discourse and collective action. International Social Movement Research, 1, 219-244.

Salama, A. H. Y. (2011). Ideological collocation and the recontexualization of Wahhabi-Saudi Islam post-9/11: A synergy of corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis Discourse & Society, 22(3), 315-342.

Sinclair, J. (1991). Corpus, concordance, colocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Streitmatter, R. (2001). Voices of revolution: The dissident press in America. New York: Columbia University Press.

Stubbs, M. (2001). Words and phrases: Corpus studies of lexical semantics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Toft, A. (2014). Contesting the deviant other: Discursive strategies for the production of homeless subjectivities. Discourse & Society, 25(6), 783–809.

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