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Review of  Power Without Domination

Reviewer: Lelija Socanac
Book Title: Power Without Domination
Book Author: Eric Grillo
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.2946

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Date: Fri, 7 Oct 2005 16:23:13 +0200
From: Lelija Socanac
Subject: Power Without Domination

EDITOR: Grillo, Eric
TITLE: Power Without Domination
SUBTITLE: Dialogism and the empowering property of communication
SERIES: Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 12
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Lelija Socanac, Linguistic Research Institute, Croatian Academy of
Sciences and Arts, Zagreb, Croatia


The book is a collection of papers that were first presented at the
Seventh International Pragmatics Conference (Budapest, July 2000)
as contributions to the panel on "Mental and Social Representations
of Power as Discursive Constraints" organized by E. Grillo.


During the past few decades, major theorists have shown that
discourse is closely intertwined with power, a claim that is nowadays
widely agreed upon in the field of Discourse Analysis. The
contributions aim at bringing new insights into the discursive
dimension of power by:
1) Challenging the reductive conceptions of discourse and power;
2) Questioning other forms of power relations that may lead to mutual
empowerment rather than to mere domination; and
3) Focusing on the dialogical dimension of communication.

The book is divided into two main parts, each one consisting of three
chapters. The first part: "Discourse and Power in Dialogical
Perspective: Theoretical Foundations" brings together the
contributions which focus on some of the main theoretical aspects,
while the second: "Dialogical Constraints of Verbal Interactions: In
Search of Empirical Evidence" assembles the contributions which aim
to present relevant empirical data.

In Chapter 1: "Two Dogmas of Discourse Analysis", Eric Grillo
provides the shared theoretical framework, following Jacques's (1979)
seminal work in the field of philosophy of language that
emphasizes "dialogical strategies" as discursive strategies in which
new shared knowledge is produced as a result of collaboration of
communicating partners. The chapter discusses the "reductive"
character of the classical Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) thesis that
focuses exclusively on discourses taking place in situations in which
the agents are assigned fixed (asymmetrical) roles, and opens a
space for reflection about the possible opposition that can be traced
between domination and empowerment, widening the scope of what is
usually described as "power relations". Grillo shows how the usual
conceptions of discourse and power (as domination) often fail to
account for situations in which a strong dialogical constraint creates a
communicative context in which new shared knowledge is produced
as a result of the collaboration of communicative partners. According
to the author, the relevant model of power in co-operative contexts
should be a participative one. While the agonistic model reduces
power to domination, the participative model equates it with
empowerment. The main conclusion of the contribution is that the
agonistic dimension of discourse derives from its being, first and
foremost, an instrument of communication. In other words, "discourse
could not be used as a instrument of power if it were not, by its very
nature, an instrument of communication".

Chapters Two and Three partly undertake to account for the agonistic
dimension within the conceptual framework of the dialogical
conception. They show that two important linguistic devices
(metaphors and euphemisms respectively) that are often described as
being power-oriented actually play a prominent role in the creation of
new shared knowledge and mutual understanding.

In Chapter 2: 'Discussion as a war'? Metaphor and/in discourse --
From semantics to pragmatics, Guy Achard-Bayle analyses different
uses of metaphor in interpersonal relationships. On the one hand,
conceptual metaphors can work as powerful means of domination, but
on the other, they are also efficient means of creating new shared
knowledge within the community of those who use and understand
them. In the examples, which are mostly based on
Diderot's "Entretiens" and "Dialogues", these two kinds of use of
metaphors often combine in the course of a given interaction. The
analysis focuses on different but complementary conversational
strategies leading from contradiction to reconciliation. The conclusion
is that metaphor works as a highly synthetic way to combine points of
view, surpass contradictions and to create new representations of
entities and events. "Metaphor both splits up and reconstitutes the
meaning of entities which make up the world and fill discourse". The
contribution thus brings to light the cognitive and discursive
mechanisms of the interplay of the agonistic and dialogical dimensions
of verbal interactions.

In Chapter 3: "Euphemism and co-operation in discourse" Ana
Margarida Abrantes analyses the role of euphemism as a linguistic
tool to convey indirect "forbidden" meanings. The main result of her
analysis consists in the distinction she introduces between official and
conventional euphemism, the latter being based on discourse co-
operation, whereas the former is not. Official euphemism, often seen
within the framework of 'political correctness', enforces the
asymmetrical power relations because one discourse partner has
direct access to information and the other only attains it through the
first one's version. Semantic co-operation is not ensured in this case
because the relation between the word or phrase and the referent is
not clear to one of the discourse partners. On the other hand,
conventional euphemism allows the partners equal access to
information as well as their monitoring of the discursive processes.

Part Two: "Dialogical Constraints on Verbal Interaction: In Search of
Empirical Evidence" moves from theory to contributions based on
empirical data.

In Chapter 4: "Pragmatic goals and communicative strategies in
journalistic discourse under censorship", Lioudmila Savinitch analyses
the so-called "Aesopian Language," bringing to light how "underlying
ideas" can be conveyed and grasped through specific discursive
devices showing that semantic innovation and social empowerment
may paradoxically result from discursive reactions to dominance.
Aesopian language properties, such as contextual synonyms,
conventional words, periphrases, irony, euphemisms, lacunae,
analogy, metonymy etc. were used strategically to conceal the names,
notions and facts which were officially undesirable or forbidden. Thus
the self-control which Russian journalists were forced to exercise led
them to the invention of new linguistic devices that were shared both
by journalists themselves and their readers, creating new shared
knowledge within the social community. In her analysis, the author
focuses on censorship and various strategies to circumvent it during
the period of tsarist Russia. It would be interesting, however, to
compare the results with the analogous discursive practices during the
Soviet period, i.e. after the power relations described in the article had
radically changed.

In Chapter 5 "Read me that sentence": From social and
methodological conceptions to the real exercise of power relations in
the classroom", Filomena Capucho studies examples of classroom
verbal interactions in the context of foreign language learning as an
example of institutional discourse, focusing on the way in which the
conception of power-as-domination influences the teachers'
discourse. The institutional conception of power as domination often
amounts to the creation of contradictions between what is said to be
done and what is actually done in the classroom context. According to
the author, given an effective change has occurred, the discourse
produced both by the teacher and by the learners will demonstrate a
move from the institutionalized ritual, where the actors are socially
assigned fixed asymmetrical places and strictly follow coercive rules,
to a free co-operative process allowing semantic innovation and the
common production of new shared knowledge according to the free
will of the participants. New methodologies of language learning
should be developed based on the recognition of the dialogical
dimension of meaning-giving activities and of the efficiency of the
participative model of power in the classroom context.

Chapter 6: "Power and knowledge: How can rationality emerge from
children's interactions in a problem-solving situation?" addresses the
domination vs. empowerment dilemma in the context of cognitive and
developmental psychology. In this essay, Christine Sorsana and
Michel Musiol examine the emergence and the role of power relations
among 6-8 year-old-children in a problem-solving situation, paying
particular attention to the interplay of the interpersonal relationships
and the cognitive management of the problem-solving task. As the
results show, there is a close connection between the cognitive
management of the logical aspects of the problem, and the nature of
the relation between children: "affinitive dyads" performances were
generally better than those of "unaffinitve dyads", which is explained
by the overcoming or weakening of power relations
between "affinitive" dyads.

To conclude: according to the E. Grillo, the results of the contributions
show that: 1) discourse is accounted for better when conceived of as
an interpersonal practice, rather than a mere personal activity, 2)
power cannot be reduced to domination, but often amounts to mutual
empowerment, and 3) the relationships between partners in
communication turn out to be of mutual dependence rather than sub-
ordination. The Dialogical Model assumes the primacy of the relational
over the conflicting aspects of human interactions, grounded in the
conviction that language is not to be thought of as a power
technology, but as a medium for communication, that is a co-operative
process aiming at mutual understanding by means of the expression,
the critical discussion and the overcoming of the oppositions it allows
for. The dialogical perspective allows us to focus on the empowering
property of communication that results from genuine co-operative
strategies and behaviors that have cognitive, social and practical


The contributions in this volume are rather heterogeneous in their
subject matter, but a common thread -- a cooperative model of
communication that sees power in terms of empowerment rather than
domination -- brings them together. Compared to the main tenets of
the Critical Discourse Analysis, one has the impression that the focus
of the new approach are aspects of communication which are less
problematic and need less "decoding" than those explored by CDA
theorists in their effort to integrate the study of discourse with the
wider social framework, focusing on the changing nature of power
relations and ideology as the representation of 'the world' from the
perspective of a particular interest (Fairclough 1995). The dialogical
model advocated in this volume, with its emphasis on communicative
cooperation and empowerment, however, is a welcome theoretical
contribution to the growing field of discourse analysis.


Arendt, H. (1972) "Sur la violence", in: Du mensonge à la violence,
105-187. Paris: Calmann-Levy.

Dijk, T. A. van (ed.) (1997) Discourse Studies: A Multidisciplinary
Introduction, 2 vols. London: Sage.

Fairclough, N. (1989) Language and Power, London: Longman.

Fairclough, N. (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of
Language, London: Longman.

Foucault, M. (1994) L'Étique souci de soi comme pratique de la
liberté, in: Dits et Ecrits, Vol 3, 418-428. Paris: Gallimard.

Grillo, E. (2000) Intentionnalité et significance: une approche
dialogique. Bern: Peter Lang.

Jacques, F. (1979) Dialogiques I, recherches logiques sur le dialogue,
Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Lakoff, G.; Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors we live by. Chicago:
Chicago University Press.

Wodak, R. (1989) Language, Power and ideology, Amsterdam:


Lelija Socanac is a researcher at the Linguistic Research Institute,
Zagreb, Croatia. She is currently directing the project
entitled "Croatian in Contact with European Languages". Her research
interests include contact linguistics, sociolinguistics and discourse