Prejudice: Discourse Analysis of the Extracts from Keep Them Out

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Table of contents

  1. Methodology
  2. Findings
  3. Discussion

Discourse analysis can be described a phenomenon which has its own properties which have an influence on individuals and their social interaction. The central aspect of discourse analysis is to emphasize the way in which participants themselves have an at least implicit understanding that discourse has these properties (McKinlay and McVittie, 2009). Discourse analysis can be taken to refer to both talk and text (spoken and written utterances). I have read through three extracts which were taken from the television documentary ‘Keep Them Out’ (Dispatches, 2004). Individuals were asked questions about how they felt about asylum seekers joining their community and many of the interviewees were not very happy and were also worried about their own welfare. Reading through all three extracts, most individuals displayed prejudice through their talk using numerous discursive strategies. Prejudice is an attitude (usually negative) towards an individual or group that is based on their membership of that group.

There are many theories which try to explain the causes of prejudice such as Badura’s social learning theory. Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory explains how children imitate behaviors from their parents and caregivers. The social learning theory, therefore, suggests parents who are directly perform prejudice in front of their children can influence their children to behaviour in the same way and share similar thoughts and opinions. Tajfel and Turner (1979) also attempt to explain the cause of prejudice. They state that individuals ‘invoke part of their social identity’ whenever they think of themselves as being one gender/ethnicity/class rather than another. Tajfel and Turner (1979) introduced the social identity theory where they described a series of group processes to allow us understand social groups from the position of the individual. The first process is ‘social categorization’ where we categorize individuals to identify them. The second process involves ‘social identification’ where individuals adopt their identity that they have categorized that they belong to. The final process is ‘social comparison’, during this process individuals compare themselves to other groups and this can lead to prejudice as competition and positive self and negative other increases.

Experimental social psychology believes prejudice is an attitude which is usually negative towards an individual or group that is based on their membership of that group. Experimental psychology is a branch of psychology which is concerned with scientific investigation in order to ‘discover causal and correlated relationships’ which allows researchers to predict and explain psychological phenomena (Dunn, 2015). Critical social psychology, however, believes that stigma is a social action performed in talk. Critical psychology focuses on the individual rather than the group and larger society. Critical psychology believes mainstream psychology over emphasizes, ‘individualistic values, hinders the attainment of mutuality and community, and strengthens unjust institutions’ (Fox, Prilleltensky and Austin, 2009). In this practical the research question we produced and tried to answer was, “how do individuals do prejudice?” which we will be discussing throughout this report.


In this practical, I was the researcher conducting an analysis of how individuals displayed prejudice through their talk. The participants were the individuals being interviewed on the TV programme ‘Keep Them Out’ (Dispatches, 2004). The individuals discussed how they felt about asylum seekers joining their community. I was given a copy of the interview that these participants were involved in. Whist viewing the TV programme, I was able to witness and identify various discursive strategies used. Ethics is an important factor in research. When carrying out this sort of research it is important for a researcher to have respect for an individuals’ autonomy and dignity. The research conducted should also have a scientific value and social responsibility. Psychologists should also protect themselves and their participants from harm e.g. the right to withdraw at any time (BPS, 2010).


Prejudice was a common theme displayed throughout all three extracts. Individuals that were interviewed displayed discursive strategies through their talk. Potter and Wetherell (1987) claim that patterns in talk around race is often a set of ‘descriptions, arguments and accounts’ that individuals use in their race talk to create versions of the world. Also, discursive repertoires such as, ‘positive self and negative other presentation, grounding one’s views as reflecting the external world rather than one’s psychology and the denial of prejudice’ were displayed throughout the extracts.

Billig (1988) believed that prejudging is a combination of ‘irrationality, poor reasoning and unexamined views. To prejudge individuals is seen to be violating societal rules in which reason and rationality has become of an increase. Therefore, it is vital to individuals within society not to appear prejudice and present their views and opinions as reasonable and rational. Billig (1988) suggested that a successful way of doing this is for one to express their views ‘reflecting on the external world rather than one’s internal psychology’ and therefore potentially being racist but is not seen to be prejudging.

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Extract one begins with an interviewee describing how their “colonial friends” have moved into the Oxford Road area of Reading (Dispatches, 2004). The term ‘colonial’ presents a negative view of the outgroup, no names are mentioned of the individuals whom have moved in and instead a term has been given to label the group as outsiders. “Colonial” is also an inappropriate explicit non-prejudice term which also known as political correctedness. The issue addressed in this extract is housing and the means of mentioning the term “colonial” displays the interviewee has already a stereotypical view and made assumptions about this out-group. However, the use of the term “friends” allows the interviewee to justify their comment and allows their race talk to be seen as non-prejudice. The term “friends” allows individuals to believe that the in-group is welcoming and friendly. Van Dijk (1992), claims that this strategy is commonly used where individuals redefine racism so that their views and actions are not presented as racist.

The interviewee further explains that these individuals have “took” over the road (Dispatches, 2004). The verb “took” suggest that this group of individuals have taken something that does not belong to them suggesting that this group of minorities have ‘stole’ something which is not theirs. This implies that this minority group does not conform to societal values and norms where ‘stealing’ is wrong. This presents a discursive strategy known as de-racialization (presenting negative views of out groups as a concern with more socially acceptable issues) where the interviewee indirectly identifies this out-group as different without making reference to their race whilst creating assumptions. Extract two, the interviewee claims that he has “nothing against” the minority out-group “not one little bit” (Dispatches, 2004). This ubiquitous disclaimer (denial of prejudice proceeding a negative representation of an out-group) allows the interviewee not to be perceived as prejudice or racist.

It is said that one of the extensive features of race discourse is the denial of prejudice. Pervasive disclaimers such as “I’m not racist but ...” are preceded regularly and often have a negative representation and evaluation on minorities. Race talk, therefore to this present day is said to be deliberately organised to deny racism. Individuals have changed the way in which their language/talk is worded to prevent being seen as ‘racist’ or possible charges of prejudice. Individuals whom desire to express negative views against out-groups in this historical climate ‘take care to present these views as justified, warranted, and rational’ (van Dijk, 1992).

Extract three, the interviewee mentions that the minorities whom have moved in “haven’t got any jobs to do so presumably they would just be in gangs talking amongst themselves, probably smoking” (Dispatches, 2004). Positive self and negative other presentation is identified here. The interviewee has already a stereotypical view on this out-group believing that they have no jobs and are up to no good whilst indirectly implying that they are more useful to society by having jobs and not doing anything which is out the norms of society, Membership category features (descriptive traits which are inferentially linked to a category) is a discursive strategy that can be identified here, the interviewee is stating that all members in this out-group are jobless and deviant.

Positive self and negative other presentation is another key feature of race talk displayed in the extracts. Individuals can be perceived as prejudicial using an ‘us and them distinction’ where individuals in the in-group present themselves as favorable when compared to an out-group. Individuals within the in-group will present themselves in a positive light and being different and better than those in the out-groups. This discursive strategy can work as a denial of prejudice as individuals are not directly prejudging individuals, however, individuals can be perceived to indirectly construct negative assumptions about an out-group whilst protecting the speaker from charges on racism and prejudice.

Van Dijk (1992) also argues that positive self-presentation also protects the dominant in-groups. Discursive strategies such as ‘civil rights slogans and nationalist rhetoric’ are often used by the elites to present themselves as amicable, friendly, and rational, while characterizing the minorities as problematic. The elite also criminalized the minorities portraying them as deviant and troublesome. Van Dijk (1992) also claims that individuals to validate their views, often ‘appeal to observable and thus purported “factual” claims about minority out-group behaviour’ that is exemplified as negative, antisocial, or disobeying the in-group’s social norms.


To summarize, holding prejudicial views can make an individual look irrational and unreasonable and therefore is something that should be avoided. It has also been shown that individuals use numerous strategies to avoid appearing prejudice. However, by using these strategies, individuals are still able to make claims that may function to serve prejudice. The research question for this practical was, ‘how do people do prejudice?’. Discursive strategies such as, positive self and negative other presentation, denial of prejudice, the grounding of views reflecting the external world and discursive de-radicalization are all ways in which individuals do prejudice. Direct forms of prejudice, is frequently referred to as “old-fashioned racism,” which has recently been replaced with a subtler and covert change known as “modern” (McConahay, 1986), “symbolic”. Although, this ‘modern’ and ‘new racism’ is said to subtle and covert (Barker, 1981), many critics have argued that what is declared to be modern and symbolic alternatives of racism is not racism at all but ‘rather political and ideological conservatism (Sniderman & Tetlock, 1986).

Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory and Tajfel and Turner’s (1979) social identity theory (as mentioned above) have allowed us to understand why individuals and groups do prejudice. The social identity theory allows us to gain a better understanding on why individuals favor the in-group and perceive those in the out-group as non-favorable and outsiders. Condor (2006) argues that discursive psychologists pay too much attention on how individuals avoid being accused of prejudice. He believes that discursive psychologists fail to understand what individuals understand from the term ‘prejudice’ and therefore what they may be trying to distance themselves from. Foggou and Condor (2006) have also faulted the discursive understanding of the term ‘prejudice’ in relation to which researchers use the term ‘prejudice’ and ‘racist’ in the same context without taking into consideration that they are two different concepts. Therefore, individuals can be prejudice without being racist and vice versa. Despite the critiques on the what is understood by the term ‘prejudice’. Discourse analysis allows researchers to look at ‘real data’ (Brain, 2000). When carrying out this practical we viewed a real conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee and therefore made our method valid. Another advantage of discourse analysis is that it tends to use a small number of participants which makes it easier for the researcher to conduct.

However, a disadvantage of discourse analysis is that any analysis, even of the same material is most likely going to be different and therefore the method of discourse analysis is not valid. Discourse analysis is also said to be subjective as the discourse between the researcher and participant can be linked to what is studied and therefore bias (Brain, 2000). Also, using a small number of participants can be easier for the researcher, however, it does not allow the results to be generalizable. Discourse analysis can also be extremely time consuming. When conducting this practical, there was other students that viewed the same video clip and analyzed the same extracts. One of the limitations, included that we all had different analysis of the texts. Although we agreed on some of our analysis, we had different views about if an individual was being prejudice or not. To conduct, this report has outline an overview of the various discursive patterns of formal and informal talk about race.

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