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Regulatory conversations

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The study of regulation is characterised by a kaleidoscope of lenses through which regulation is viewed, though little work has been done on how they might be integrated, or whether they are instead 'incommensurable paradigms'. Nevertheless, this article proposes another perspective, of discourse analysis. Regulation is in large part a communicative process, and understanding regulatory conversations is central to understanding the 'inner life' of that process. Why then not look to discourse analysis, that loosely defined body of theory that ranges across the social sciences and humanities which is concerned with the analysis of language and communication? The article analyses five core contentions of discourse analysis. These are first, that the meaning and use of language vary with context and with genre, and that the development of shared linguistic practices entails co-ordination and forms the basis of social action. Secondly, that communicative interaction is representative and in particular produces identities, which in turn affect social action. Thirdly, that language frames thought, and produces and reproduces knowledge. The fourth, closely related, contention is that language is intimately related to power: that it is marked by the values of social groups, that it encodes perspectives and judgements, and can instantiate certain perspectives or orthodoxies. Finally, that meaning, thought, knowledge and power are contestable, contested and dynamic. The article explores these contentions in the different strands of discourse analysis, and suggests how they might be further explored in the regulatory context and what they might add to current understandings of the dynamics of regulatory systems.

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