Contemporary discursive psychology: Issues, prospects, and Corcoran's awkward ontology


Correspondence should be addressed to Professor Jonathan Potter, Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK (e-mail:


This paper is both an overview of the status of contemporary discursive psychology and a response to Corcoran's critical article. The first part of the paper reports on the main traditions that make up contemporary discursive psychology and how they relate to one another. Then it responds to Corcoran's claims that much of contemporary discursive psychology: (a) is over concerned with epistemic issues at the expense of ontological issues; (b) is too concerned with data purity while failing reflexively to address its own practices; (c) fails to address ethical, applied, and political issues in the way that a reformed ‘ontological’ discursive psychology would be able to; (d) fails to provide an adequate and rich account of relationality (of the kind offered by thinkers such as Bakhtin, Shotter, and Chouliaraki). The limitations of each point are addressed in turn, highlighting errors and confusions. The broadly epistemic focus is appropriate for the subject matter of discursive psychology; discursive psychology is less concerned with data purity than with pursuing the radical and empirically progressive possibilities in studying records of people living their lives in everyday and institutional settings (a surprising oversight in a discipline focused on the actions of human beings) and it has a reflexive tradition going back two decades; it has a strong and distinctive focus on ethical, applied, and political issues; it has an account of relationality that is grounded in conversational materials. A single example from interaction on a child protection helpline is analysed to illustrate the way relationality, knowledge, and intersubjectivity have been made analytically tractable in contemporary discursive research.