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English Literature

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In general terms, the term, ‘discourse’ refers to the language or terminology used in the discussion of a subject or field of study. For example, the terms defined in this glossary belong to a literary discourse; laws about contracts belong to a legal discourse; a debate about the best ways to remove a skin cancer belongs to a medical discourse. Within literary theory, it is argued that meaning is constructed through discourse, that nothing has any meaning outside of discourse. Every idea belongs to at least one discourse. For example, it would be reasonable to conclude that some ‘nature’ poems and their themes belong to a discourse of ecological sustainability. Discourses are involved in the distribution of social power, favouring different people, institutions and ideologies. For example, a discourse condoning the expansion of an empire favours some people and institutions over others; it has a very different language and ideology from a post-colonial discourse.

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