Carnegie Mellon University

Orders of Discourse in the Science-Based Controversy Over "Reparative Therapy" for Homosexuality

Author: Craig O. Stewart
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2006

Discourses of and about science are increasingly frequent in public discourse; numerous “science-based controversies” (Brante, 1993), such as those over “intelligent design,” stem-cell research funding, The Bell Curve, the biology of gender and sexuality, and “reparative therapy” for gay men and lesbians, weave scientific and scientistic discourse into the discourse of politicians, citizens, activists. At the same time, public discourse about controversial science may shape scientific practice. Thus, scholars in rhetoric and in discourse analysis have begun to “question the boundaries” (Myers, 2003) between scientific and public discourse. In this dissertation, I sketch a framework for studying science-based controversies that integrates Goodnight’s (1982) model of technical, personal, and public argument spheres with Fairclough’s (1992) conception of “orders of discourse,” that is, “relatively stabilized configurations of discourse practices” (Fairclough, 1995, p. 2). I argue that Fairclough’s three-layered approach to critical discourse analysis enriches Goodnight’s insights by incorporating methods of bottom-up textual analysis to account for the multiple discourse practices that comprise science-based controversies, while rhetorical theory enriches critical discourse analysis by providing methods for linking text to discursive practice (the production and consumption of discourse) and social practice (ideology and hegemony) in Fairclough’s three-layered approach. I apply this rhetorical/discourse analytic framework to the science-based controversy about “reparative therapy” for homosexuality—that is, debates over whether gay men and lesbians can change their sexual orientation through psychotherapeutic or religious means. I investigate five events within this controversy, from the American Psychiatric Association’s deliberations in the 1970s leading to the removal of homosexuality as a category of mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual through the 2003 publication of a study purporting to show that “highly motivated” gay men and lesbians can change their sexual orientation.