Re-reading Discourse and Social Psychology: Transforming social psychology


Jonathan Potter, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 3TU, UK (e-mail:


This paper considers one theme in the contemporary legacy of Potter and Wetherell's (1987) Discourse and Social Psychology. It overviews the context that led to that book and considers a series of critical responses from both experimental and critical/qualitative social psychologists. It refutes criticisms and corrects confusions. Focusing on contemporary discursive psychology, it highlights (a) its rigorous use of records of actual behaviour; (b) its systematic focus on normative practices. In methodological terms, it (a) highlights limitations in the use of open-ended interviews; (b) considers the way naturalistic materials provide access to participants’ own orientations and displays; (c) builds a distinctive logic of sampling and generalization. In theoretical terms, it (a) highlights the way discourse work can identify foundational psychological matters; (b) offers a novel approach to emotion and embodiment; (c) starts to build a matrix of dimensions which are central to the constructing and recognizing of different kinds of social actions. It now offers a fully formed alternative social psychology which coordinates theory and method and a growing body of empirical work.