Knowledge, discourse and domination

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Within the framework of an interdisciplinary project on discourse and knowledge, this paper explores the more critical, sociopolitical aspects of the relationship between these two fundamental notions in the humanities and social sciences, relating them with another fundamental notion, namely that of power. More specifically, I focus on power abuse – or domination – as a major dimension of social inequality. After a summary of the main properties of knowledge as I define it – namely as justified, shared beliefs of an epistemic community – I first examine the fundamental role of knowledge in discourse production and comprehension, for instance in the construction of mental (situation) models that are the basis of discourse meaning as attributed by the participants. It is argued that in addition to the standard cognitive theory of discourse processing, we also need a pragmatic component defining contexts as mental context models subjectively representing the relevant parameters of the communicative situation, and defining the appropriateness of discourse. One of the fundamental appropriateness conditions is that speakers adapt their discourse to the (assumed) knowledge of the recipients. It is at this point that the paper focuses on the possible domination as power abuse when powerful persons or institutions manage knowledge or information to recipients in their own interests. The paper examines various levels and structures of discourse as possible means to manipulate knowledge in communication and interaction, finally illustrated with an analysis of the usage of knowledge by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in his well-known Iraq speech in the House of Commons on March 13, 2003.


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