Conflict and collaboration in the 1998 Melbourne port labour dispute: the role of discourses in domain evolution

In this paper we examine how discourses are mobilised and deployed by actors in a domain during a critical incident. In particular we examine the changes and the continuities in the way that the major parties in the Melbourne port dispute of 1997-98 related to each other. We focus on the discourses used to structure the ways that these organisations related. We adopt perspectives from critical domain theory and discourse theory, and derive our main concept and unit of analysis, what we call the discursive domain. The main process that occurs in a discursive domain is actors' 'mapping' discourses onto concepts, and concepts onto objects, in order to make certain courses of action rational and sensible. We propose that different mapping processes occur in differently organised domains. We employ case study method. Data was gathered from an analysis of media reports about the port of Melbourne during 1997-98. These texts are used to examine the kinds (number and diversity) of discourses used by each of two main networks of organisations in the domain during that period. The main finding is an unexpected association between the 'organised' domain and the 'complex' mapping performed by actors. Our contribution is to build on previous understandings of the role of discourses in domains by examining the complexity of 'mapping' by domain actors during critical incidents such as a major industrial dispute. We conclude by drawing implications of the discursive domain approach for domain theory and discourse theory.

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