Discourse (L. discursus, "running to and from") means either "written or spoken communication or debate" or "a formal discussion or debate" . The term is often used in semantics and discourse analysis.
In semantics, discourses are linguistic units composed of several sentences; in other words, conversations, arguments, or speeches. In discourse analysis, which came to prominence in the late 1960s, the word "discourse" is shorthand for "discursive formation", which is what Michel Foucault called communication that involves specialized knowledge of various kinds. Michel Foucault ( (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984 was a French philosopher, Historian, Intellectual, Critic and Sociologist. It is in this sense that the word is most often used in academic studies.
Studies of discourse have been carried out within a variety of traditions that investigate the relations between language, structure and agency, including feminist studies, anthropology, enthnography, cultural studies, literary theory and the history of ideas. Within these fields, the notion of discourse is itself subject to discourse, that is, debated on the basis of specialized knowledge. Discourse can be observed in the use of spoken, written and signed language and multimodal/multimedia forms of communication, and is not found only in 'non-fictional' or verbal materials. Communication is the process of conveying information from a sender to a receiver with the use of a medium in which the communicated information is understood the same way
In the social sciences (following the work of Michel Foucault), a discourse is considered to be an institutionalized way of thinking, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic, or, as Judith Butler puts it, "the limits of acceptable speech"—or possible truth. The social sciences comprise academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups and individuals including Anthropology, Communication studies Michel Foucault ( (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984 was a French philosopher, Historian, Intellectual, Critic and Sociologist. Institutions are structures and mechanisms of Social order and Cooperation governing the Behavior of a Set of Individuals The meaning of the word truth extends from Honesty, Good faith, and Sincerity in general to agreement with Fact or Reality Discourses are seen to affect our views on all things; it is not possible to escape discourse. For example, two notably distinct discourses can be used about various guerrilla movements describing them either as "freedom fighters" or "terrorists". Guerrilla warfare is the unconventional warfare and combat with which a small group of combatants use mobile tactics (ambushes raids etc Freedom fighter is a term to describe those that engage in a struggle to achieve freedom for themselves or to free others in some matter Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion In other words, the chosen discourse delivers the vocabulary, expressions and perhaps also the style needed to communicate. Discourse is closely linked to different theories of power and state, at least as long as defining discourses is seen to mean defining reality itself. Power is the ability to influence the attainment of goals of an individual or a group A state is a political association with effective Sovereignty over a geographic Area and representing a Population.
This conception of discourse is largely derived from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault (see below)
Modern theorists were focused on achieving progress and believed in the existence of natural and social laws which could be used universally to develop knowledge and thus a better understanding of society . Modernist theorists were preoccupied with obtaining the truth and reality and sought to develop theories which contained certainty and predictability . Modernist theorists therefore viewed discourse as a being relative to talking or way of talking and understood discourse to be functional . Discourse and language transformations are ascribed to progress or the need to develop new or more “accurate” words to describe new discoveries, understandings or areas of interest . In modern times, language and discourse are dissociated from power and ideology and instead conceptualized as “natural” products of common sense usage or progress . Modernism further gave rise to the liberal discourses of rights, equality, freedom and justice however this rhetoric masked the substantive inequality and failed to account for differences . Modernism describes an array of Cultural movements rooted in the changes in Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century
Structuralist theorists, such as Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Lacan, argue that all human actions and social formations are related to language and can be understood as systems of related elements . For the use of structuralism in biology see Structuralism (biology Structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that attempts to analyze Ferdinand de Saussure (fɛʁdinɑ̃ də soˈsyːʁ ( November 26, 1857 – February 22, 1913) was a Swiss linguist Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan (French ʒak lakɑ̃ ( April 13, 1901 &ndash September 9, 1981) was a French Psychoanalyst A language is a dynamic set of visual auditory or tactile Symbols of Communication and the elements used to manipulate them This means that the “. . . individual elements of a system only have significance when considered in relation to the structure as a whole, and that structures are to be understood as self-contained, self-regulated, and self-transforming entities” . In other words, it is the structure itself that determines the significance, meaning and function of the individual elements of a system. Structuralism has made an important contribution to our understanding of language and social systems. Saussure’s theory of language highlights the decisive role of meaning and signification in structuring human life more generally . Course in General Linguistics ( Cours de linguistique générale) is the influential book compiled by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye
Following the perceived limitations of the modern era, emerged postmodern theory . Postmodernism literally means 'after the modernist movement' While " Modern " itself refers to something "related to the present" the movement of modernism Postmodern theorists rejected modernist claims that there was one theoretical approach that explained all aspects of society . Rather, postmodernist theorists were interested in examining the variety of experience of individuals and groups and emphasized differences over similarities and common experiences .
In contrast to modern theory, postmodern theory is more fluid and allows for individual differences as it rejected the notion of social laws. Postmodern theorists shifted away from truth seeking and instead sought answers for how truths are produced and sustained. Postmodernists contended that truth and knowledge is plural, contextual, and historically produced through discourses. Postmodern researchers therefore embarked on analyzing discourses such as texts, language, policies and practices .
French social theorist Michel Foucault developed an entirely original notion of discourse in his early work, especially the Archaeology of Knowledge (1972). Michel Foucault ( (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984 was a French philosopher, Historian, Intellectual, Critic and Sociologist. In Discursive Struggles Within Social Welfare: Restaging Teen Motherhood,  summarizes Foucault's definition of discourse as “systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak. " He traces the role of discourses in wider social processes of legitimating and power, emphasizing the construction of current truths, how they are maintained and what power relations they carry with them. ” Foucault later theorized that discourse is a medium through which power relations produce speaking subjects . Foucault (1977, 1980) argued that power and knowledge are inter-related and therefore every human relationship is a struggle and negotiation of power. Foucault further stated that power is always present and can both produce and constrain the truth . Discourse according to Foucault (1977, 1980, 2003) is related to power as it operates by rules of exclusion. Discourse therefore is controlled by objects, what can be spoken of, ritual, where and how one may speak and the privileged, who may speak . Coining the phrases power-knowledge Foucault (1980) stated knowledge was both the creator of power and creation of power. Power-knowledge is a Concept coined by the French Philosopher Michel Foucault.
Feminists have explored the complex relationships that exist among power, ideology, language and discourse.  Feminist theory talks about ‘doing gender’ and/or ‘performing gender’. Feminist theory is the extension of Feminism into theoretical or philosophical, ground Gender Performativity is a term created by Feminist Philosopher Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble.  It is suggested that gender is a property, not of persons themselves but of the behaviours to which members of a society ascribe a gendering meaning. “Being a man/woman involves appropriating gendered behaviours and making them part of the self that an individual presents to others. Repeated over time, these behaviours may be internalized as ‘me’ – that is, gender does not feel like a performance or an accomplishment to the actor, it just feels like her or his ‘natural’ way of behaving”.  Feminist theorists have attempted to recover the subject and 'subjectivity'. Chris Weedon, one of the best known scholars working in the feminist poststructuralist tradition, has sought to integrate individual experience and social power in a theory of subjectivity.  Weedon defines subjectivity as 'the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of herself, and her ways of understanding her relation to the world.  Judith Butler, also another well known post structuralist feminist scholar, explains that the performativity of gender offers an important contribution to the conceptual understanding of processes of subversion. Judith Butler (born February 24, 1956) is an American Post-structuralist philosopher who has contributed to the fields of Feminism She argues that subversion occurs through the enactment of an identity that is repeated in directions that go back and forth which then results in the displacement of the original goals of dominant forms of power.