Language Analysis Using Foucault's Theory Term Paper

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g., we, society, have done nothing to help cause these crimes; social misfits have committed them).

In addition, according to the Mirror: "Weise was described as a loner who usually wore black and was teased by fellow pupils... his father committed suicide four years ago. His mother, who has brain injuries for [sic] a car crash, lives in a Minneapolis nursing home... Weise wrote messages expressing support for Hitler on a right-wing website [emphasis added]."

This additional information further isolates the killer from the mainstream; he was a loner; dressed atypically; came from a problem family; and admired Hitler. These unusual characteristics, the article implies, singled him out to begin with; therefore, he, like the Columbine killers, is an anomaly within society. Since so few people are like this, although the incident was tragic, society itself need not be concerned about its own implicit role in such tragedies.

The final sentence of the article reads "It was the second fatal school shooting in Minnesota in 18 months. Two pupils were killed at Rocori High in Cold Spring in September 2003. John Jason McLaughlin, 15 at the time, is awaiting trial." This also implies, as Foucault would argue, that perhaps there is something about Minnesota, or Minnesota's TEENAGE [emphasis not added] population in particular, that singles it out for violent crimes against peers. Therefore, it is not us (the powerful majority) that are responsible for such tragedies; it is them (the less powerful minority, [which should, therefore, stay that way]).

The second article, from the Guardian (March 23, 2003) begins differently:

You could hear a girl saying, 'No. Jeff, quit, quit. Leave me alone. What are you doing?'

Nine killing in deadly school rampage of neo-Nazi loner stun Red Lake."

In this opening, the Guardian describes the shooter and his victim as peers, implying more of a relationship of equals than does the Mirror story. This, Foucault would argue, is an important distinction, because the lead paragraph of this article implies far less of an "us vs. him" relationship than does the Mirror's lead. Further, in the second sentence, the words "neo-Nazi loner" appear, but are followed immediately by the words "stun Red Lake," implying that Red Lake itself, a Chippewa Reservation, is as stunned by the violence as anyone, anywhere else (there is also no mention whatsoever, within this article, of the other recent Minnesota school shooting). and, where the Mirror hastened to compare this incident to the Columbine High School massacre within its second paragraph, that comparison does not come, in the Guardian article, until the fourth paragraph. Next we read: "The scale of the violence overwhelmed the emergency services in the remote northern community," further implying that the reservation is not used to such violence, and that, by implication, such violence is not typical of this reservation or tribe. (the detail of Red Lake's medical personnel being overwhelmed was not reported by the Mirror article.) Since most individuals (and readers of this article) are not themselves violent, and since most would be similarly overwhelmed by such an incident in their communities, this sets up far less of an "us vs. them" language/power dynamic, according to Foucault, than does the previous article on this incident from the Mirror.

In addition, the Guardian article mentions the social and economic problems of the community itself, while the Mirror does not. For example, also reported by the Guardian are the presence of: "Poverty, strife and few jobs," implying (as the Mirror does not) that the incident could perhaps spring from unfortunate social circumstances, rather than just the deranged actions of one individual. This further restores, at least to an extent, the language/power balance to one of equals, in which the perpetrator, his community, and the society that allows such problems within the community all have something in common.

The third article, from the, arguably the most sensationalistic of the three, leads off with "Smiling Nazi loner kills 9," again singling the shooter out from others by implying that he is mentally unbalanced, a Nazi, and shunned by others. Like the Mirror article, this immediately establishes an "us vs. him" language/power relationship, in which the shooter is reported to be a misfit vis-a-vis his school, community, society, and the world. The article continues: "Heavily-armed loner Jeff Weise, 16, smirked and waved as he went down a corridor shooting at will... The Nazi-obsessed teenager asked a pal called Ryan if he believed in God - then shot him [emphasis added].

In these sentences, the loner is described not only as a social misfit, but as "heavily armed" (i.e., dangerous) and "smirking: (i.e., crazy), clearly not one with whom readers of this article may easily either sympathize or identify. Of the three articles examined, this one, from the, seems least sympathetic, in either its content or its tone to the social circumstances of the loner and/or his community. Of the three, this article also makes the weakest attempt to suggest sympathy of language/power relationships between the perpetrator, his community, and those either reporting about or reading about him and his actions. The concluding sentences of this article reports the mental health problems of the boy's parents; his neo-Nazi proclivities; his odd-looking wardrobe; and his having been banned earlier from school -- facts that further emphasize his differences from most others, thus cementing readers' impressions of the teenage shooter as other than themselves.


This essay has analyzed three different newspaper articles that each reported a March 21, 2005 high school shooting incident, within the United States, in Red lake, Minnesota. The method of analysis was the language/power/context theory of French linguistic anthropologist Michel Foucault, that language never exists in a vacuum, but is, instead, always inflected with situational relationships of power, context, and/or bias. In the cases of these three articles, their newspapers, the Mirror; Guardian; and enjoy (to a greater of lesser extent) the automatic authority their status as newspapers grants them. Therefore, the way in which each newspaper reports this particular incident, that is, its particular manner of arranging; emphasizing; de-emphasizing; repeating; omitting, etc., particular facts, quotations, observations, or details, influences how the incident itself, and society's responsibility for it (or not) will be seen, and, therefore, how language-power relationships, as reflected within the various reporting of this incident, will be perceived. In comparing and contrasting the three articles, the's reporting seems most biased, and most inflected with language/power relationships that reinforce the lack of responsibility of society for this incident. Reporting by the Mirror is slightly more objective in this respect, although not by much. The Guardian's reporting of the incident seems most balanced of the three, since it makes an effort to connect the teenage shooter's personal and social problems to greater problems within his community, and, by association, within the society that allows such problems to fester, and therefore do too little, pro-actively, to endeavor to prevent incidents like this.


Foucault, M. (1970a). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. London:

Allen Lane.

Foucault, M. (1970b). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. London: Tavistock.

Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge. New York: Harper and Row.

Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge. New York: Pantheon.

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