Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Education. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 05 March 2024

Critical Discourse Analysis and Information and Communication Technology in Educationfree

Critical Discourse Analysis and Information and Communication Technology in Educationfree

  • Cheryl BrownCheryl BrownUniversity of Canterbury


Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a cross-disciplinary methodological and theoretical approach. At its core CDA explores the intersections between discourse, critique, power, and ideology which hold particular values for those teaching in developing contexts. CDA has emerged as a valuable methodological approach in cultural and media studies and has increased in prominence since the 2010s in education research where it is drawn on to explore educational policy, literacy education, and identity. This research has intersected with the field of information systems which has explored the dominant discourses and discursive practice of how information and communication technologies (ICTs) are viewed in policy and the contradictions between rhetoric and reality. It has also been drawn on in research in developing contexts to critique the role of ICTs in education. A brief historical background to CDA and overview of the key components of the approach will be provided. How CDA has been drawn on in educational studies will be examined and research on CDA will be highlighted to explore discursive practices of students and the influence of students’ digital identities on their engagement with and experience of online learning. By focusing on four key constructs of CDA—namely meaning, context, identity, and power—the potential of CDA to critically investigate how students’ are constructing their technological identity in an increasingly digital world will be demonstrated, particularly as examples of research emanating from developing contexts will be drawn.


  • Research and Assessment Methods
  • Educational Theories and Philosophies
  • Education and Society
  • Technology and Education
  • Languages and Literacies

Historical Overview

During the 1960s, the term “discourse” began to take on a more philosophical and theoretical meaning (Mills, 2004). In trying to provide an all-encapsulating summary of the theoretical conception of discourse, van Dijk (1997) notes that it goes beyond who uses the language to include the how, why and when. Underpinning this is a communicative event which observes that when people use language to communicate ideas, beliefs, or emotions, they do it as part of a more complex social event (i.e., within a context). Therefore, the three main dimensions of discourse analysis are language use, communication of beliefs, and interaction in social situations (van Dijk, 1997).

Critical approaches to discourse analysis first began to emerge as a cohesive paradigm in the early 1990s (Billig, 2003; Wodak & Myers, 2001) with the coming together of a network of scholars in Amsterdam (van Dijk, 2001), the launch of the journal Discourse and Society, and the “rise to fame” of various seminal, critical discourse analysis (CDA) books, such as Language and Power (Fairclough, 2001) and Language, Power and Ideology (Wodak, 1989). Billig (2003) notes the change from Fairclough’s discussion of critical approaches (in the plural) in his 1992 Discourse and Social Change to the use of the definite article in his book Critical Discourse Analysis in 1995, which seemed to signal the recognition of a CDA that is used to refer particularly to Fairclough’s brand of discourse analysis.

CDA (as opposed to other types of discourse analysis) regards language as social practice and has been described as “at most a shared perspective on doing linguistic, semiotic and discourse analysis” (van Dijk, 1993, p. 131) due to the “heterogeneity of methodological and theoretical approaches represented in this field of linguistics” (van Dijk, 2001, p. 2). Its roots lie in “classical rhetoric, text linguistics and sociolinguistics as well as in applied linguistics and pragmatics,” and it still has a huge continuity with critical linguistics (van Dijk, 2001, p. 3).

What distinguishes CDA from other sociolinguistic approaches relates primarily to the problem under investigation. Myers sums it up as “it endeavors to make explicit power relationships which are frequently hidden and thereby to derive results which are of practical relevance” (Myers, 2002, p. 15). Because one of the central tenets of CDA is that discourses cannot be understood without reference to context, it draws on extra-linguistic factors in its research approach (Myers, 2002), particularly social processes and structures (Wodak & Myers, 2001).

CDA emerged at a time of growth in critical paradigms in other disciplines, such as critical anthropology and critical psychology (Billig, 2003). Billig (2003, p. 37) notes that “in this context, the term ‘critical’ can be seen to mark out a specific genre of academic studies.” While most critical discourse analysts do not tend to position themselves directly with philosophers from the critical theory school, such as Kant and Popper, there are two philosophers who have had a strong influence on the development of CDA, namely Foucault and Habermas (Weiss & Wodak, 2003).

However, even though CDA does not have a specific association with a single critical theorist, it does share the concerns and agenda of critical theorists in that it argues that language is always “part and parcel of, and partially constitutive of, specific social practices and the social practices always have implications for inherently political things like status, solidarity, the distribution of social goods and power” (Gee, 2004, p. 23). Gee notes that when discourse analysis combines a model, grammar or textual analysis (of some kind) with sociopolitical and critical theories of society and its institutions, it becomes critical. Critical approaches always examine the implications of status, power, distribution of social goods, and solidarity.

Critical Discourse Analysis and Theory

One of the strengths of CDA is that it is multidisciplinary and essentially diverse (van Dijk, 2001). In fact, van Dijk (2001, p. 95), who is one of its original proponents, says that good CDA scholarship seldom follows just one person or one approach but is enriched through the integration of the “best work of many people, famous or not, from different disciplines, countries, cultures and directions of research.” However, given that CDA is concerned with the critique of ideology and the effects of domination, it has clear links to critical theory. There is quite a broad range of epistemological and ontological positions that fall under the ambit of critical theory, ranging from the Frankfurt school of Habermas, Adorno, and Horkheimer, to the actor–network theory of Latour, to Marxism, to Bourdieu, to Foucault and Heidegger (Howcroft & Trauth, 2004). While there is no such thing as a uniform, common theory formation determining CDA (Weiss & Wodak, 2003), it can also be argued that the plurality of theory in CDA is a positive phenomenon to which this research discipline owes its dynamics. The mediation between the social and linguistic levels of texts is highly relevant to the theory formation process of CDA (Weiss & Wodak, 2003). The CDA viewpoint is likened to Giddens’s “duality of structure” and Bourdieu’s “structured and structuring structures”—as social systems and societies are not viewed as self-contained entities (Weiss & Wodak, 2003). However, this flexibility within CDA has also been criticized, as lack of theoretical consistency or “indiscriminate mixing” can lead to inconsistencies that become even more acute when under the influence of grand theorists like Bourdieu and Giddens (Myers, 2002).

Weiss and Wodak (2003), therefore, recommend a number of steps in order to develop an integrated theoretical framework. Clarification of the theoretical assumptions regarding text, discourse, language, action, social structure, institution, and society should be done preceding analysis. This creates the framework for analytical operationalization. When using CDA, it is not about what grand theory is needed but rather which conceptual tools are relevant to solve which problem in which context. This makes the context of the discursive practice very important.

This requires the development of conceptual tools that are “capable of connecting the level of text or discourse analysis with sociological positions on institutions, actions and social structures” (Weiss & Wodak, 2003, p. 8). These conceptual tools are analytical interfaces that allow connection between the linguistics and the sociological. They do not represent a “self contained edifice of theories” (Weiss & Wodak, 2003, p. 8) but rather an integrated theoretical framework and mediate between “text and institution, communication and structure and discourse and society” (Weiss & Wodak, 2003, p. 9).

The notion of discourse offers us possibilities for engaging critically with language and meaning located in the context of use (the speakers and their intentions in wider social, cultural, and political worlds).

Common Themes

While CDA has been noted as having a heterogeneity of methodological and theoretical approaches, cornerstones to the approach have been described as discourse, ideology, and power (Weiss & Wodak, 2003; Wodak & Myers, 2001). CDA, like many other dominant theories of education, arose in the Global North, and whatever the opportunity for critical analyses it offers, has aimed at uncovering power relations, often focusing on disempowered groups, such as women (Adam, 2002; Kvasny, 2006; Trauth & Howcroft, 2006) or lower socioeconomic groups (Bozionelos, 2004; Lizie, Stewart, & Avila, 2004). This has made it a very useful approach for scholars operating in developing contexts (Brown, 2011; Ng’āmbi, 2008; Wagid & Wagid, 2016) and those exploring black discursive identity (Brock, 2018).

While the term discourse is used differently by researchers, all share the perspective that language use in speech and writing is a form of social practice (Fairclough, 2009) and that discursive practices—the process through which texts are produced (created) and consumed (received and interpreted)—are an important form of social practice which contribute to the constitutions of the social world (including identities and relations) (Pennycook, 2001).

Language is not viewed as powerful on its own but is seen to gain power by the use people make of it (Weiss & Wodak, 2003). Discursive practices contribute to unequal power relations between social groups, namely class and gender, which have ideological effects. The research focus of CDA is therefore on the discursive practices which construct representations of the world, social subjects, and social relations (including power); and the role these have in furthering the interests of particular social groups (Fairclough, 2001; Pennycook, 2001; Wodak & Myers, 2001).

Differences and Points of Contention

One of the main criticisms leveled at CDA from “outside” the field is that it is an ideological interpretation and not an analysis. It has been criticized particularly for being prejudiced in favor of a particular ideological commitment (i.e., the uncovering of power imbalances and hidden meanings) and selecting texts that support this preferred interpretation (Myers, 2002).

However, the main response to this has been that CDA is transparent about its positions and commitments, and does not hide this bias (Myers, 2002). CDA is not politically neutral but is committed to social change and takes the side of oppressed social groups (Jørgenson & Phillips, 2002). In this, van Dijk (2001) notes that it is biased scholarship and is proud of it. He also notes that biased scholarship is not necessarily bad scholarship if based on rigorous scholarship with explicit and systematic methods that are empirically grounded.

This particular conflation of discourse and ideology has been tackled head on by Pennycook (2001), who also takes issue with the way the real world is confused with ideology in CDA and consequently adopts a more explicitly Foucauldian position on discourse that separates discourse and ideology, suggesting that the latter determines the former. Discourses are about the creation and limitation of possibilities; they are systems of power and knowledge within which subject positions are taken up. A Foucauldian analysis is not concerned with how discourses (texts) reflect social reality, but how they produce social reality (Pennycook, 2001).

Critical discourse researchers also openly acknowledge the diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches, publishing books that explicitly explore the multidisciplinary range of both (Weiss & Wodak, 2003; Wodak & Myers, 2001).

Critical discourse researchers are not shy of self-criticism or reflection. Billig (2003) raises the issue of subjecting the field of CDA to its own critique in an endeavor to be reflexively self-critical and aware that CDA must necessarily occur within an academic context of power and economic relations. Billig (2003) notes that academics themselves replicate power imbalances through the process of teaching, grading and passing or failing students.

Critical Discourse Analysis in Education

CDA as a multidisciplinary set of theories and methods has been adopted in educational research by scholars exploring the ideological nature of educational practices and the social, historical, and political contexts in which they emerge and are transformed.

It has increased in prominence in educational research over the past 20 years, particularly in countries where English is the primary language: the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, or Canada (Rogers et al., 2016). In a review of CDA and education-related literature between 2004 and 2016, Rogers et al. (2016) noted that the majority of studies were situated in the higher education contest (including teacher education and professional development), but were also scattered across early childhood right through middle and high school settings to include community and adult education. Nearly half of the studies included a focus on cultural and linguistic diversity of students or teachers, or an emphasis on local, state, or national ideologies. Although the study of global technologies in CDA research increased (20%), Rogers et al. (2016, p. 24) noted a paucity of CDA research in the area of online learning and became interested by the lack of critical examination of digital data sources, commenting that CDA was “amply prepared to inquire into how meanings are made in an increasingly digital world.”

Rogers (2004) notes that Gee is one of the few examples where discourse theories have been applied to matters of learning. It is therefore not surprising that many of the applications of his research have a firm base in the areas of education. In addition, because of his explicit link between Discourses and identities, Gee’s (2000) approach to discourses has been utilized by various researchers across many different contexts (e.g., fan fiction writing, internationalization of universities, and science learning) to examine how individuals use language and text to identify aspects of their identity when traditional markers of identity are unavailable. Gee’s concept of big D Discourse encompasses more than just the use of language (what he refers to as little d discourse); it includes ways of being (thinking, acting, and interacting) (Gee, 2005) that take on socially meaningful identities in various situations or contexts.

For example, Black (2008) looks at the world of online gaming and how individuals use language and text to identify aspects of their identity when traditional markers of identity are unavailable. She examines the sort of roles an individual occupies compared to the one ascribed to them by society. Brown, Reveles, and Kelly (2005) examine how the relationship between language, identity, and classroom learning can provide insights into how students learn to become literate members of a scientific community. They note that, in every discursive exchange, speakers and listeners are co-constructing meaning through interactions that position them as certain types of people. Their examples focus on students’ demonstrations of themselves as experts, willing participants in the discourse, and outsiders.

Gee’s notion of D(d)iscourse has been drawn on to better understand the way in which groups of students construct science knowledge in an engineering context. Kittleson and Southerland (2004) did not find much evidence of competing discourses and attributed this to the unusual homogeneity of the students’ group, but they did note that the disciplinary discourse of engineering was an important element in structuring the groups’ interactions. In order to understand their work on a project, students had to be aware of the ways in which they actualized their understanding of being engineers and doing engineering.

The contradictions between different types of discourses were also explored in an Australian education context where primary school girls struggled with discourses of ethnicity in a Studies of Asia curriculum project (Hamston, 2006). Here Fairclough’s earlier textually oriented discourse analysis (TODA) was complemented by Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue. This enabled a micro-linguistic description of the data, which was foundational to the students’ struggle with discourses and their framing of it within the curriculum and an exploration of the shift toward the individual nature of the struggle occurring at a micro level within the classroom. The flexibility of CDA to work alongside other approaches enabled foregrounding of both the larger social discourses at play as well as the individual internalized discourses.

Discourses and Information and Communication Technologies

In the field of information systems CDA has played a role in understanding people’s interaction with ICTs generally, which has aided in interpreting hidden meaning about ICTs and in understanding what ICTs are, how they can be used, and how different understandings affect use (Stahl, 2004).

Examples of this include analysis of media discourses about technology projects and applications in Canada and South Africa (Chigona & Chigona, 2008; Chigona, Mjali, & Denzl, 2007; Cukier, Bauer, & Middleton, 2004; Cukier, Ngwenyama, Bauer, & Middleton, 2009), and the exploration of contradictions between rhetoric and reality in Egyptian ICT policy (Stahl, 2004, 2008). This has been extended into the education context with a CDA analysis of specifically ICT educational policy in Cameroon (Ndenge, 2013), Zambia (Konayuma, 2012), and Rwanda (Byungara et al., 2016). The research concludes that CDA was useful in understanding the particular historical, social, and political contexts, and some of the contradictions between these in terms of the perceived and actual role of ICTs in education in developing contexts.

Building on CDA research of discursive practice and genres in relation to global or national ICT policy (Roode, Speight, Pollock, & Webber, 2004; Thompson, 2004), Ng’ambi (2008) explored social practices (text messages) in a community of online learners in the South African higher education context. He highlighted the tension between perceptions of inflexibility of traditional teaching practices and student demands for flexible learning. In Pakistan Perveen (2015) evaluated discursive practice in online discussion forums and noted how a virtual context (which lacks explicit social context as it is anonymous and devoid of usual demographic details) enables a neutrality that can be very empowering for learners as it does not explicitly reproduce sociopolitical hierarchies. Rambe (2012) analyzed academic relations in social media sites such as Facebook using CDA in the South African higher education context. He noted less formal, more liberating discourses, and a nascent developing networked learning culture (although one where learning was still regarded as shallow rather than deep, and that has not achieved its transformational potential). CDA was also used as an analytical tool to engage secondary school students deliberately and critically to explore social, political, and cultural issues using Facebook as a social media platform (Waghid & Waghid, 2016).

Using CDA to explore interactions in a virtual learning environments, Giles (2017) examined how learners use discourse devices to portray identities and how this can contribute to their learning in the higher education context in Mexico. She foregrounds the complexity of multiple identities and their role in creating a social presence which is essential for effective learning in a virtual context. In the South African higher education context, Brown explored discursive practices using CDA to expose hidden assumptions about power and implicit ideologies related to technology in education. The dominant Discourse around learning was about efficiency rather than effectiveness of learning with some students viewing technology as a liberator with access to information equating to knowledge (in their mind). However, they lacked the critical digital literacy abilities that are needed to transform their learning. There is also a small but significant group who feel alienated by technology. These students are marginalized and face enormous challenges in using technology effectively for their learning (Brown, 2012; Brown & Hart, 2012).

Similarly, but with a focus on instructors this time, the discursive practices around online learning were explored at open universities in two countries where cultural norms meant the relationship between students and teachers were viewed quite differently (Lee & Brett, 2014). The prevailing rhetorical discourse was shown to be one of interactivity (or lack of it). Like Brown, Lee noted this had the potential to marginalize particular groups of students and urged researchers not to have a single-minded focus on developing more effective interactive distance education practices as the only response to online education (2014).

Discourses about Information and Communication Technologies and Education

Research on discourses of ICTs in education has revealed a variety of themes across educational settings, and while researchers have named these differently and noted varying levels of dominance across their contexts, these can generically be categorized as technological optimism, disembodiment, liberation, imperialism/globalization (digital divide), and productivity (Brown, 2012; Budd, 2005; Sasseville, 2004).

Technological optimism privileged technology, seeing it as a “force to which all things must respond and adapt” (Budd, 2005), as having “no choice but to follow technological evolution” and from the teachers’ point of view, as essential for today’s job market (Sasseville, 2004), and being essential for the working world since “nowadays wherever a person is working, a computer is needed” (Brown, 2012, p. 50).

The invisible space or disembodiment in the virtual space due to a lack of physical presence offered both positive dimensions to learning, namely anonymity and potential empowerment for marginal groups (Budd, 2005), and negative ones as learners feel disconnected: “a person can depend too much on using ICTS & not even use their own mind to think & study from books” (Brown, 2012, p. 51).

The myth of freedom of information and notions of liberation through the availability of free information ignores the reality that information is commodified and controlled. Sasseville notes that having access to so much information changes the way students think (2004) while Brown (2012) notes both opportunities this offers students in terms of furthering themselves in their studies and in contrast new forms of discrimination.

The discourse on imperialism, which Budd (2005) notes, acknowledges social divisions and yet still “sells” ICTs to the world as potentially liberating for development, which contributes to reinforce the myth of the global marketplace and neoliberal education. Brown (2012) notes that students in developing contexts often view this as “the privilege of having access to and using these new technologies” (p. 50).

Productivity discourses viewed ICTs as having a strong imperative and helping students to get things done better, faster, and to keep up with the fast pace of life. However, teachers in Sasseville’s study (2004) were also aware of the challenges of learning to use new technologies and were principally concerned with the lack of time at their disposal.

Value of Critical Discourse Analysis as an Approach to Information and Communication Technologies in Education

Avgerou and Madon (2004) note that it is necessary to understand new technologies (i.e., the Internet and the mobile phone), which can only be achieved by taking into account their symbolic meaning in everyday life. One of the ways of examining meaning is to look at identity, as identity also acts as a source of meaning and experience for people (Koc, 2006). It is not just about how the technology is adopted, but also about the way it is integrated into people’s lives (Cushman & McLean, 2008). However, critical research involves a shift away from just individual situations and local meanings to the system of relations which make these meanings possible (Trauth & Howcroft, 2006). Thus, context is critical if we are to understand how ICTs are used, especially in developing countries (Avgerou & Madon, 2004).

Issues of power surface when people’s freedom to set and pursue their own goals and interests or achieve their personally constructed life projects are curtailed (Cushman & McLean, 2008; Zheng & Walsham, 2008). That is, where local actors are not able to shape ICTs to their interests and appropriate their functionality.

Consequently, Brown (2011) foregrounded four key analytical concepts which she believed were key to exploring the relationship between ICTs and learning in a resource constrained context. These were identity and meaning (which were considered essential in understanding how new technologies were appropriated), context (which was necessary to examine the system as a whole), and power (as this influenced what was possible within the context the actors operated within).


One of the key elements of discourse analysis (critical or not) is the relationship between form (the hard structures of the linguistic system, i.e., the words, nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) and the function (the soft structures; i.e., the communicative purpose or, as Gee [2004, 2005] phrases it, the “meaning potential”) (Rogers, 2004). Gee’s (1994) premise is that literacy in and of itself does not lead to any higher level cognitive skill, but that literacy acquisition is a form of socialization into a mainstream way of taking meanings, of making sense of experiences, and that, as students participate in different literacy practices, they begin to partake of this set of values and norms, of this worldview.

Given that higher education institutions are expected to produce students who are computer proficient and have 21st-century skills, the importance of having a positive attitude toward computers and high computer self-efficacy is critical to students learning (Kilfoil, 2015; Schlebusch, 2017). It is therefore not surprising that students are so positive about ICTs and their role in education. How can they not be? In Brown’s (2011) research students were positive about the global opportunities ICTs enable, the value of ICTs for learning, the access to information offered, and the efficiencies ICTs offered them in life. However, by excavating beneath the surface of the Discourse and endeavoring to uncover hidden meanings, it became clear that “discursive mechanisms” limited what could be said, in what forms, and what was counted as worth knowing or remembering (Mills, 2004). Using this concept of hidden meanings, one can see how hard it is for students to say anything negative about computers and technology. Their overwhelmingly positive attitudes are not necessarily a true reflection of what they think. It is a consequence of operating in a larger context where negativity with regard to ICTs is perceived to be associated with ignorance which is then associated with backwardness (Brown, 2011).


CDA has been noted by Ainsworth and Hardy (2004, p. 225) as being “regularly used to study identity.” For Gee (1996), capital “D” Discourses are a sort of identity kit. They are the combination of what people say, do, think, feel, and value. Each community or social group masters a home-based discourse that integrates words, actions, values, feelings, attitudes, and thinking in specific and distinctive ways. Each of these discourses is connected to a particular social group’s way of being in the world, its “form of life,” its very identity it regards itself as having (Gee, 1996). Discourses are acquired through enculturation into a social practice and they cannot be taught (Gee, 1996).

Each discourse incorporates a usually taken-for-granted and tacit theory of what counts as a normal person and the right way to think, feel, and behave. These theories crucially involve viewpoints on the distribution of social goods, like status and worth, and material goods in society (who should and should not have them). They are defined not just by what they are, but also by what they are not (i.e., often in relation to an opposing discourse).

Discourse theories are related to the distribution of social power and hierarchical structure in society and empower the groups who have the least conflict between their discourses. Sometimes people’s discourses can be conflicting. For example a discourse can be at odds with a person’s other social practices. Gee (2005) also notes that it is a great advantage when secondary discourses are compatible in words, deeds, and values with one’s primary discourse.

However, identity construction is more than the sum of an individual’s social experiences. There is an inherent tension between group affiliation and individual agency. Membership of an identity group does not determine behavior but, as Foucault notes (1994), there is an ease with which people readily accept the social groupings imposed.

Students do not just talk about technology, but also about how technology makes them feel, what values it holds for them, and what role they see for technology in their lives. These collections of ideas are a representation of an identity, in that it shows how students understand their relationship to the digital world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how they understand their possibilities for the future (Norton, 2000). As Foucault (1994) notes, membership of an identity group does not determine one’s behavior, but there is an ease with which people readily accept the social groupings imposed on them. Many students do not exercise individual agency and move with the mainstream Discourse, feeling like outsiders, marginalized, excluded, lost, and powerless. Thus, technological identity has a role in both facilitating and constraining students’ participation and future opportunities (Brown, 2011).


Blommaert (2005) notes that context is a crucial methodological and theoretical issue within CDA as it comes in various shapes and sizes, and operates at different levels from very small to very big. Context is potentially everything and potentially infinite, but it can be to some extent predictable.

Another important aspect of context is Foucault’s (1969) rooting of discourse as a historical product, Gee (2008, p. 162) notes that, in this regard, it is sometimes helpful to say that “it is not individuals who speak and act but rather that historically and socially defined Discourses speak to each other through individuals. The individual instantiates, gives body to a Discourse every time he or she acts or speaks, and thus carries it and ultimately changes it through time.”

In other words, discourses are systematically organized sets of statements that give expression to the meanings and values of an institution. Beyond that, they define, describe, and delimit what it is possible to say and what it is not possible to say (and by extension, what to do, and what not to do) with respect to the area of concern of that institution, whether marginally or centrally (Pennycook, 2001).

In resource constrained contexts there exists an economic and moral dilemma with regard to using technology for learning and teaching as students come from diverse backgrounds, geographical locations, and material and technological capacities. In South African higher education this means that access to ICTs cannot be assumed (Broekman, Enslin, & Pendlebury, 2002; Brown & Pallitt, 2015; Czerniewicz & Brown, 2014). This dilemma is not unique to the context of developing countries. Even in contexts with high Internet penetration like New Zealand, disparities of digital access have also been observed as a consequence of socioeconomic background (Internet World Stats, 2016). This influences the number of digital devices in the home, the types of devices available, and whether the device(s) are shared or individually owned by students (Hartnett, 2017). The contextual reality is that we cannot ever assume equality, and we need to consciously choose not to disadvantage particular groups of students due to their socioeconomic or cultural contexts.


Theoretically, the concept of power is hotly contested. In a history of theoretical conceptions of power, Hindess (1996) describes three core views of power at the level of the individual. The first view of power is as a capacity to act, where people use power over things and people. In this view, there is an unequal relationship between those who use power for their own purposes and those who are subject to its effects; and power is used as an instrument of domination.

The second view of power is one where the subjugated are covertly excluded from decision-making structures and thus, while they might be exercising some voice, that voice is not heard.

The third view of power is where the subjugated are compliant in their powerlessness, failing to recognize that their interests are at risk or not making any attempts to defend these interests.

The view of power and identity as being open to change is crucial as it opens up opportunities or possibilities for interventions—a crucial aspect of critical research.

Norton (2000, p. 7) comes up with a very useful succinct definition of power as the “socially constructed relations among individuals, institutions and communities through which symbolic and material resources in society are produced, distributed and validated” relations that are inevitably produced in language.

Having access and being seen to be computer or digitally literate is a big status symbol, and students perceive the opportunities afforded through digital technologies and use of ICTs as giving them higher status and more power. Interestingly, there is a contradiction though as students with empowerment also come with feelings of disempowerment. They feel they are operating in an environment with limited options and choices, hence limiting their sense of empowerment. Thus, students are encouraged to embrace technology but within its existing structures and processes, in other words, they seldom challenge it in the way described by Kvasny and Trauth (2002, p. 276) as “commandeering IT to charts one’s own usage and career course.” However, there is some evidence of students who demonstrate agency and drive to achieve their goals, despite contextual challenges (Czerniewicz & Brown, 2014).


CDA as a theoretical and methodological approach enables researchers to systematically explore language (in whatever form it takes) and to move beyond understanding what people say to understanding meaning. This enables them to uncover hidden power dynamics, critique the status quo, and challenge dominant views. CDA places the unit of analysis at the level of the individual, and foregrounds social and cultural contexts by situating lived experiences in a landscape of culturally situated practices and by enabling a more nuanced understanding of peoples’ worlds. Research drawing on CDA to explore the intersection of ICTs and education has demonstrated its value as a lens for questioning assumptions, understanding the marginalized, and mapping contradictions between policy and practice. Yet there is still further potential to draw on this approach in educational studies in particular by exploring technological identities and practices. The type of technological identity a student holds creates both academic opportunity and obstacles for them. By understanding the act of being a student in social, economic, political, and educational terms and how students construct their technological identities and position themselves, they can benefit from better support. In their learning, viewing identities as a product of participation in communities (i.e., as contextually specific) can strengthen the investigation of how digital experiences influence individuals’ relationhships with technology.

This article has demonstrated that, although CDA has been dominated by analysis of formal texts like policy documents, there is a move to using and encouraging CDA in new emerging texts and discourses, particularly in resource constrained contexts. This is an underdeveloped opportunity for CDA to expand as a methodological approach to exploring the intersections of learning in a digital world.


  • Adam, A. (2002). Exploring the gender question in critical information systems. Journal of Information Technology, 17, 59–67.
  • Ainsworth, S., & Hardy, S. (2004). Critical discourse analysis and identity: Why bother? Critical Discourse Studies, 1(2), 225–235.
  • Avgerou, C., & Madon, S. (2004). Framing is studies: Understanding the social context of is innovation. In C. Avgerou, C. Ciborra, & F. Land (Eds.), The social study of information and communication technology (pp. 162–182). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Billig, M. (2003). Critical discourse analysis and the rhetoric of critique. In G. Weiss & R. Wodak (Eds.), Critical discourse analysis: Theory and interdisciplinarity. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Black, R. W. (2008). Adolescents and online fan fiction. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
  • Blommaert, J. (2005). Discourse: A critical introduction. London, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bozionelos, N. (2004). Socio-economic background and computer use: The role of computers anxiety and computer experience in their relationship. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 61, 724–746.
  • Brock, A. (2018). Critical technocultural discourse analysis. New Media & Society, 20(3), 1012–1030.
  • Broekman, I., Enslin, P., & Pendlebury, S. (2002). Distributive justice and Information Communication Technologies in higher education in South Africa. South African Journal of Higher Education, 16(1), 29–35.
  • Brown, B. A., Reveles, J. M., & Kelly, G. (2005). Scientific literacy and discursive identity: A theoretical framework for understanding science learning. Science Education, 89(5), 779–802.
  • Brown, C. (2012). University students as digital migrants. Language and Literacy, 14(2), 41–61.
  • Brown, C., & Hart, M. (2012). Exploring higher education students’ technological identities using critical discourse analysis. In P. Isaias & M. B. Nunes (Eds.), Information systems research and exploring social artifacts: Approaches and methodologies. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  • Brown, C., & Pallitt, N. (2015). Personal mobile devices and laptops as learning tools. In W. R. Kilfoil (Ed.), Moving beyond the hype: A contextualised view of learning with technology in higher education. Pretoria: Universities South Africa.
  • Budd, Y. ((2005, November 15–18). Technological discourses in education. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the International Conference on Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory into Research. University of Tasmania, Australia.
  • Byungara, J.-C., Hansson, H., Masengesho, K., Karunaratne, T. (2016). ICT capacity building: A critical discourse analysis of Rwandan policies from higher education perspective. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 19(2), 46–62.
  • Chigona, A., & Chigona, W. (2008). MXit up in the media: Media discourse analysis on a mobile instant messaging system. Southern Africa Journal of Information and Communication, 9, 42–57.
  • Chigona, W., Mjali, P., & Denzl, N. (2007, November 18–23). Role of ICT in national development: A critical discourse analysis of South Africa’s government statements. Paper presented at the QualIT’07 Qualitative research in IT, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Cukier, W., Bauer, R., & Middleton, C. (2004). Applying Habermas’ validity claims as a standard for critical discourse analysis. In B. Kaplan, D. P Truex, D. Wastell, A. T. Wood-Harper, & J. DeGross (Eds.), Information systems research: Relevant theory and informed practice (pp. 233–258). London, U.K.: Kluwer Academic.
  • Cukier, W., Ngwenyama, O., Bauer, R., & Middleton, C. (2009). A critical analysis of media discource on information technology: Preliminary results of a proposed method for critical discourse analysis. Information Systems Journal, 19, 175–196.
  • Cushman, M., & McLean, R. (2008). Exclusion, inclusion and changing the face of information systems research. Information Technology & People, 21(3), 213–221.
  • Czerniewicz, L., & Brown, C. (2014). The habitus and technological practices of rural students: A case study. South African Journal of Education, 34(1), 1–14
  • Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and power (2nd ed.). London, U.K.: Longman.
  • Fairclough, N. (2009). A dialectical-relational approach to critical discourse analysis in social research. In R. Wodak & M. Myers (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis (2nd rev. ed., pp. 162–186). London, U.K.: SAGE.
  • Foucault, M. (1969). The archaeology of knowledge (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). London, U.K.: Routledge.
  • Foucault, M. (1994). Truth and power. In J. Faubion (Ed.), Power (pp. 111–133). New York, NY: The New Press.
  • Gee, J. (1994). Orality and literacy: From the savage mind to ways with words. In J. Maybin (Ed.), Language and literacy in social practice (pp. 168–192). Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.
  • Gee, J. (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. London, U.K.: Falmer.
  • Gee, J. (2000). Identity as an analytical lens for research in education. Review of Research in Education, 25(1), 99–125.
  • Gee, J. (2004). What is critical about critical discourse analysis? In R. Rogers (Ed.), An introduction to critical discourse analysis (pp. 19–50). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Gee, J. (2005). An introduction to discourse analysis (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Gee, J. (2008). Social linguistics and literacies (2nd ed.). London, U.K.: Falmer.
  • Giles, D. (2017). Discourse in the development of identities in an online teacher education programme. Memorias del Encuentro Internacional de Educación a Distancia, 5(5).
  • Hamston, J. (2006). Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue: A construct for pedagogy, methodology and analysis. Australian Education Researcher, 33(1), 55–74.
  • Hartnett, M. (2017). Differences in the digital home lives of young people in New Zealand. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48(2), 642–652.
  • Hindess, B. (1996). Discourses of power. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.
  • Howcroft, D., & Trauth, E. (2004). The choice of critical information systems research. In B. Kaplan, D. P. Truex, D. Wastell, A. T. Wood-Harper, & J. DeGross (Eds.), Relevant theory and informed practice: Looking forward from a 20 year perspective on IS research (pp. 195–211). London, U.K.: Kluwer.
  • Jørgenson, M., & Phillips, M. (2002). Discourse analysis as theory and method. London, U.K.: SAGE.
  • Kilfoil, W. R. (Ed.) (2015). Moving beyond the hype: A contextualised view of learning with technology in higher education. Pretoria: Universities South Africa.
  • Kittleson, J., & Southerland, S. (2004). The role of discourse in group knowledge construction: A case study of engineering students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(3), 267–293.
  • Koc, M. (2006). Cultural identity crisis in the age of globalisation and technology. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 5(1), 37–43.
  • Konayuma, G. (2012). A critical discourse analysis of e-learning policies in education and training in Zambia. Paper presented at the ODL 12, Pretoria, South Africa.
  • Kvasny, L. (2006). Let the sisters speak: Understanding Information Technology from the standpoint of the “other.” Database for Advances in Information Systems, 37(4), 13–25.
  • Kvasny, L., & Trauth, E. (2002). The digital divide at work and at home: Discourses about power and underrepresented groups in the Information Society. In E. Whitley, E. Wynn, & J. DeGross (Eds.), Global and organizational discourse about information technology (pp. 273–294). New York, NY: Kluwer Academic.
  • Lee, K., & Brett, C. (2014). A critical discourse analysis: Reconceptualising online distance learning through a Foucauldian lens. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014.
  • Lizie, A., Stewart, C., & Avila, G. (2004, July 24–30). Cultural dimensions of the digital divide: Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Brockton’s Cape Verdeans. Communication and Technology Policy Division 2004 International Association for Media and Communications Research Conference, Porto Alegre, Brazil.
  • Mills, S. (2004). Discourse: The new critical idiom. London, U.K.: Routledge.
  • Myers, M. (2002). Between theory, method, and politics: Positioning of the approaches to CDA. In R. Wodak & M. Myers (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis (pp. 14–31). London, U.K.: SAGE.
  • Ndenge, K. (2013). Analysing Cameroon government’s ICT policy documents and trainee teachers’ perception of ICT in education policy implementation using critical discourse analysis. Paper presented at the Pan-Commonwealth Forum 7 (PCF7).
  • Ng’ambi, D. (2008). A critical discourse analysis of students anonymous online postings. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education, 4(3), 31–39.
  • Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. Harlow, U.K.: Pearson Education.
  • Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Rambe, P. (2012). Critical discourse analysis of collaborative engagement in Facebook postings. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(2), 295–314.
  • Rogers, R. (2004). An introduction to critical discourse analysis in education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Rogers, R., Schaenen, I., Schott, C., O’Brien, K., Trigos-Carrillo, L., Starkey, K., & Chasteen, C. (2016). Critical discourse analysis in education: A review of the literature, 2004 to 2012. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1192–1226.
  • Roode, D., Speight, H., Pollock, M., & Webber, R. (2004, June 14). Its not the digital divide—Its the socio-techno divide! Paper presented at the 12th European conference on Information Systems Turka.
  • Sasseville, B. (2004). Integrating information and communication technology in the classroom: A comparative discourse analysis. Canadian Journal of Learning Technology, 30(2).
  • Schlebusch, C. L. (2017). Computer anxiety, computer self-efficacy and attitudes towards the Internt at of first year students at a South African University of Technology. African Education Review, 15(3), 72–90.
  • Stahl, B. (2004, August). Whose discourse? A comparison of the Foucauldian and Habermasian concepts of discourse in critical is research. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the tenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, New York.
  • Stahl, B. (2008). Empowerment through ICT: A critical discourse analysis of the Egyptian ICT policy. In C. Avgerou, M. L. Smith, & P. van der Besselaar (Eds.), Social dimensions Of information and communication technology policy. IFIP International Federation for Information Processing (vol. 282, pp. 161–177). Boston, MA: Springer.
  • Stahl, B. (2009). Critical research and ethics. In C. Brooke (Ed.), Critical research in information systems (pp. 25–40). Oxford, U.K.: Elsevier.
  • Thompson, M. (2004). ICT, power, and developmental discourse: A critical view. Electronic Journal on Information Systems in Developing Countries, 20(4), 1–25.
  • Trauth, E., & Howcroft, D. (2006). Social inclusion and the information systems field: Why now? In E. Trauth, D. Howcroft, T. Butler, B. Fitzgerald, & J. D. Gross (Eds.), Social inclusion: Societal and organisational implications for information systems (pp. 347–364). Boston, MA: Springer.
  • van Dijk, T. (1993). Editor’s foreword. Discourse and Society, 4, 131–142.
  • van Dijk, T. (1997). Discourses as structure and process. London, U.K.: SAGE.
  • van Dijk, T. (2001). Multidisciplinary CDA: A plea for diversity. In R. Wodak & M. Myers (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis. London, U.K.: SAGE.
  • Wagid, Z., & Wagid, F. (2016). Examining digital technology for (higher) education through action research and critical discourse analysis. South African Journal of Higher Education, 30(1), 265–284.
  • Weiss, G., & Wodak, R. (2003). Introduction: Theory, interdisciplinarity and critical discourse analysis. In G. Weiss & R. Wodak (Eds.), Critical discourse analysis: Theory and interdisciplinarity (pp. 1–34). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Wodak, R. (1989). Language, power, and ideology: Studies in political discourse Amsterdam, The Netherlands: J. Benjamins.
  • Wodak, R., & Myers, M. (2001). Methods of critical discourse analysis. London, U.K.: SAGE.
  • Zheng, Y., & Walsham, G. (2008). Inequality of what? Social exclusion in the e-society as capability deprivation. Information Technology & People, 21(3), 222–243.