Discourse Studies-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

Concentration in Discourse Studies

What is Discourse Studies?

The Concentration in Discourse Studies in the Rhetoric M.A. takes an interdisciplinary approach to the nature and function of language and "languaging." Discourse studies draws on the theories and methods of rhetoric, linguistics, cultural studies, and literary studies in investigating the operation of discourse across genres, cultural contexts, modalities, and historical moments. Students in the Discourse Studies concentration explore the ways in which discourses—the systems of thought and language that shape how people experience and talk about the world—are both displayed and created in actual instances of discourse.

Why Choose Discourse Studies?

In the past, students in English departments often felt that they had to choose among rhetoric and composition, language study, and literary studies. With the Discourse Studies concentration we attempt, by contrast, to create a climate in which students with interdisciplinary interests are encouraged to study discourse from many perspectives. The Discourse Studies concentration prepares students for Ph.D. work in Cultural Studies, Rhetoric, Linguistics, and a variety of interdisciplinary programs in humanities and social sciences. It provides time and space for a year of post-B.A. reading, thinking, and exploring, for people who are still undecided about where to take their interests in the humanities and social sciences as well as for people whose questions and plans are already clearer.

Discourse Studies at Carnegie Mellon

In a time when scholars wonder about the source of their authority to make claims about the world, to identify problems, and to propose solutions, we must pay more attention than ever to research methodology. Carefully-considered, systematic, and rigorous approaches to inquiry are a hallmark of Carnegie Mellon's well-known graduate program in Rhetoric. The courses in the Discourse Studies concentration pay particular attention to research methodology, and students in our M.A. program have the opportunity to work with faculty members on their research programs. A few of the faculty research projects that are under way in the Department of English will give you a sense of the variety of topics we are interested in and approaches we take.

  • Theories of language and linguistic structure in relation to discourse. (Paul Hopper, Rhetoric and Linguistics)
  • What the study of rhetorical particularity in discourse—local places, individual speakers, particular texts—can show about the mechanisms of sociolinguistic variation and language change. (Barbara Johnstone, Rhetoric and Linguistics)
  • How learning to write is conceptualized, how such conceptions influence writing pedagogy, and the relationship between theory and practice in writing instruction and writing itself. 
  • Foucault; the discourses of romantic love (film, fiction, songs, self-help, etc.) in twentieth-century America. (David Shumway, Literary and Cultural Studies)

Requirements for the Discourse Studies Concentration

In consultation with their advisor, students in the Discourse Studies Concentration of the Rhetoric M.A. select at least three of their courses from the Discourse Studies list. At least one course (or two half-semester mini-courses) must be from each subset of the list, Language Study, Rhetorical Theory and Criticism, and Critical Theory. The courses on this list (a selection of which is available every year) allow students to explore discourse and its effects from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

Discourse Studies Courses

A. Language Study

  • Discourse Analysis  
  • Language and Culture
  • Paragraphs (mini-course)
  • Genre (mini-course)
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Topics in Language Study
  • Linguistic Theory
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Language and Thought
  • Writing in a Second Language
  • Teaching ESL Reading and Writing

B. Rhetorical Theory and Criticism

  • History of Rhetoric
  • The History, Theory, and Practice of Writing Instruction Contemporary Rhetorical Theory
  • Argument
  • Literacy: Educational Theory and Community Practice
  • Comparative Rhetoric
  • Rhetoric of Science
  • Writing and Technology
  • The Rhetoric of Place
  • Local Rhetorics

C. Critical Theory

  • Semiotics and Poststructuralism
  • Introduction to Literary Theory
  • Marxisms
  • Feminisms
  • Theories of the Subject
  • Cultural Studies
  • Postcolonial Studies
  • Media Theory