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Repertoires of resistance: A discourse analysis of the rhetoric of parapsychologists

Repertoires of resistance: A discourse analysis of the rhetoric of parapsychologists
Isaac John Hughes


Department of Sociology, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UNITED KINGDOM.


This thesis analyses the discourse of researchers associated with the field of parapsychology - a field of contested knowledge and controversial academic standing. The thesis is positioned as an update and extension of the discourse analysis methodology and analytical framework implemented by Gilbert and Mulkay (1984). Ties to the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge are also delineated within the literature background. Core aims of the thesis include; analysing the discourse of researchers connected to a field of controversial positioning and revealing the social action(s) behind this discourse as points of construction. Uncovering interpretative repertoires was the primary focus of analysis. The thesis also expands upon previous discourse studies by actively exploring the connections between the potential repertoires - presenting an overarching theoretical binding that is noticeably absent from prior analysis within the literature. Researchers with current or previous career ties to parapsychology and UK academic institutions were interviewed in semi-structured phone interviews - discussing their careers, connections, and perspectives of parapsychology. From this interview data, three interpretative repertoires were identified. The ‘categorisation and stake’ repertoire revealed how the researchers managed presentations of identity and stake towards category constructions. The ‘outsider repertoire’ demonstrated how the researchers’ discourse constructs identity borders that differentiate between concepts of ‘insiders’ / ‘outsiders’ and how this is a key tool for ideological positioning. Finally, the ‘reflection of contingency’ repertoire illustrated discursive reflective informal formulations of personal biographies that were used to construct presentations of contingency for scientific and academic practice. Whilst each repertoire is distinctive the social actions between them are connected, including; field boundary work, group border identity construction and personal identity construction. The thesis presents an overarching theoretical concept that binds these actions together: the ‘Positioning Construction Device’. It is proposed that this discursive device incorporates the three identified repertoires as multiple layers of a single device where the main function is positioning within the communicative context.