Critical discourse analysis (CDA) studies have examined the construction, reproduction, and mental appropriation of 'top-down' discourses of dominance but have paid little attention to 'bottom-up' analyses of semi-formal texts such as Letters to the Editor (LEs) in small-town newspapers. We investigate here the discourse of LEs written by candidates for political office, their supporters, and opponents. Qualitative and quantitative analyses were performed on a corpus of 123 LEs. Four research questions were addressed. The results of the study indicate that (1) letter writers used four specific forms of argumentation and selectively addressed issues; (2) LEs furnished a convenient platform for political campaigning but did not provide an effective medium for constructive dialogue leading to action and social change; (3) tax increases, ratables, the environment, and morality in education emerged as major topics; and (4) gender and class differences were salient in the discourse of LEs. An underlying discourse of disaffection, perceived as loss of social cohesion, emerged from the linguistic choices, content, tone, and structure of the letters. Reader-writers feel powerless at their inability to effect social change in their own communities.
- Form of argumentation
- Gender and class
- Letters to the editor
- Lexical and syntactic choices
- Working-class town