This course will change the way you look at verbal behaviour - the conversation, speech and writing of consumers and brands. Just below the surface of everyday talk are surprising and fresh insights that give a new view of society and culture.

Over the last two decades, ethnography and semiotics have become prominent methods in qualitative research because they offer new insights that were hard to achieve using more traditional disciplines. These two methods have a lot in common – a different way of looking at consumers and consumer culture. They have ushered in an understanding that there are two paradigms in market research methods. The older, more familiar, paradigm is the inside-out approach. It is based on a model of human psychology. It uses psychological tools such as survey questionnaires, discussion guides and projective tests to infer internal, psychological structures such as attitudes, motivations and brand preferences. The newer paradigm, prominently including ethnography and semiotics, is the outside-in approach. It is based on a model that combines linguistics and anthropology. It uses conceptual tools such as rituals, signs, codes and binary oppositions to infer sociological and cultural structures such as the British class system, political systems, social problems and social trends.

This new paradigm has proved enlightening to researchers and marketers, who have discovered a fresh point of view and who often combine semiotics and ethnography on projects which attempt to understand social matters such as demographics, cohorts, social groups emerging from identity politics, special interest groups and of course, national and regional differences around the world.

Discourse analysis is the third pillar of the outside-in approach. It shares the focus of semiotics and ethnography on culture – but while ethnographers specialise in physical actions such as the performance of habits and routines and while semiologists are famous for their attention to visual images, discourse analysis is the study of language: speech and writing. Together, these three methods make up a complete set of outside-in, ‘culture’ methods which equip researchers to say how the performance of brands and the behaviour of consumers arise from something more than individual differences and internal psychology.

The course is taught by Dr Rachel Lawes, a social psychologist with a specialism in discourse analysis and semiotics.


Who will find it useful

This masterclass benefits qualitative researchers and buyers of research – agency and client-side. Anyone who regularly comes into contact with verbatim quotes from consumers, naturally-occurring speech and writing by customers or the commercial communications of brands will find that this course equips them with new tools for analysis and a new way to discover surprising insights verbal data.



The objective of this focused, one-day masterclass is to provide an intensive, immersion experience in the research method of Discourse Analysis. Six hours of tuition equips participants to begin an adventure in qualitative research that can last a lifetime. This new course is provided by the MRS in response to demand arising from the MRS Advanced Thinking in Qual Masterclass, which includes a discourse analysis component.


Learning outcomes

At the end of the session, delegates have:

  • gained first-hand experience with analysing speech and writing, including naturally-occurring conversation among consumers, interview and focus group transcripts and brand communications;
  • cultivated a ‘culture method’ point of view, which helps researchers to discover the social and cultural origins of the things people say;
  • learned how to connect observations of everyday linguistic behaviour to social trends;
  • learned to recognise a dozen discrete linguistic mechanisms which are commonly employed in everyday speech and writing;
  • developed a clear picture of how to apply discourse analysis and integrate into market research projects that include qualitative research;
  • received guidance and instruction in planning continuing self-education in discourse analysis.



Rachel Lawes


The Old Trading House, 15 Northburgh Street,London,EC1V 0JR

Rachel Lawes is a semiotician and social psychologist. Her academic career started with a PhD from Loughborough’s renowned Discourse & Rhetoric Group and she is currently Principal Lecturer in Marketing at Regent’s University London. Alongside academic activity, Rachel has supplied brand strategy and consumer insight, principally using semiotics and discourse analysis, to brands in 20 countries, via Lawes Consulting Ltd (est. 2002) and Lawes Gadsby Semiotics LLP (2010-2016). She is the author of numerous conference papers on semiotics and related methods, including Demystifying Semiotics (2002), Futurology Through Semiotics (2009) and Rebranding Charmin (2001).

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