Discursive Ethnography: Understanding psychiatric discourses and patient positions through fieldwork

Agnes Ringer*, Mari Holen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


In this chapter, we discuss a methodology for studying health communication, which we call discursive ethnography. Such an approach combines a discursive perspective on language as productive and co-constituent of reality with an ethnographic lens for the contextual, material and spatial dimensions of the world. The discursive perspective we draw on regards language not just as a neutral or ‘innocent’ medium of information sharing. Rather, language and communication are seen as practices, which imply, and are embedded in, specific relations of power (Foucault 1980). While the focus on language is important in understanding health communication, health settings consist of more than language and communication. Hospitals and clinics are physical spaces with institutional norms guarding patient and professional conduct (Holen 2011; Ringer 2013). They are material environments in which objects and bodies exist and interact; places filled with technical equipment, machines, pills, scales, charts, televisions, whiteboards and hospital beds. They are places in which people live and die, where bodies heal or turn out to be irreversibly broken, where despair and hope live. The material environment, objects and bodies play a part in what becomes possible to say and communicate and in how the spoken or written words are interpreted.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnalysing Health Communication : Discourse Approaches
EditorsGavin Brookes, Daniel Hunt
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2021
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-68183-8
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-68184-5
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Cite this