> discours

discourse> discours [Dutch/English]

discours [dIskurs] (noun); discourse 
Discourse is a social boundary that defines what can be said about a specific topic. Judith Butler describes these boundaries as “the site […] where the opacity of what is not included in a given regime of truth acts as a disruptive site of linguistic impropriety and unrepresentability” 

(Butler 53). Humans ascribe meaning to the things they experience. These meanings are trapped in language, since in language certain meanings are fixed. This language is formed by the discourse within which it is used. Discourse is a social process in which people actively engage. In this way, all meaning we ascribe to things is a product of language and social process. Or as O'Sullivan, Tim, Hartley, John, et al. put it, “[it refers] both to the interactive process and the end result of thought and communication” (93). It is a social process – the linguistic interaction between people – and a social boundary – the restrictions someone’s vocabulary poses on his knowledge. Discourse forms vocabulary and therefore judgment. It limits the way one looks at the world, but it also enables one to communicate her understandings.


This is also particularly evident in relation to performance. During the performance, the conveyed message is constrained by the vocabulary of the encoder  (i.e. performer). This restriction creates complications for both the encoder and the decoder (i.e. audience). A performance should open up a territory of thought and create new entries for the development of meaning. These thoughts and meanings make the performance as a whole. And since the audience is, in this way, co-creator of the performance, the performer has to take in consideration the discourse in which his audience resides. Simultaneously he has to be aware that he might not reside in the same discourse as his audience, which could lead to the audience misinterpreting his message. This could possibly undermine the entire performance, for the audience’s interpretation makes the performance as a whole. This illustrates the importance of discourse in performance.


Butler, Judith P. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “sex”. New York:

Routledge, 1993.
O’Sullivan, Tim and John Hartley et al. Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural

Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. p 93.

Author and translator:  Amber Barelds