DARG was inaugurated in Mick Billig’s office on a Wednesday afternoon late November 1987. The people present included Derek Edwards, Mike Gane, Jonathan Potter, Dave Middleton, Nigel Edley and Ros Gill. We spent some time discussing the name and its acronymic connotations (LIAR – the Loughborough Ideology and Rhetoric group was a popular alternative). However, Discourse and Rhetoric seemed to pull together some core interests.
It was never intended as a formal research centre, with a head, membership, a budget and so on. It was primarily a vehicle for generating discussion at the intersection of a number of interests in discourse, rhetoric, activity and conversation. There was no common agenda or statement of beliefs. Indeed, in line with the rhetorical position we saw it as a creative arena for argument. Our aim was to create a research culture that would be informal, entertaining but also challenging.
At first it was just meetings in Mick’s office, every Wednesday at 1.00, to look at some interview extracts (we were very fond of interviews then) or discuss some big issue (realism, discourse and ideology, interpretative repertoires vs. discourses). After an hour or so of that we would go for coffee somewhere and carry on arguing, (and gossiping, complaining, plotting and all the usual stuff).
Throughout the 90s the group expanded. It wasn’t long before we couldn’t fit in Mick’s office, and we tried a range of venues before moving into a large dedicated room. The University supported DARG with space and equipment money and we moved into some splendid accommodation (Hut P1) which provided research space for postgraduates, for transcription equipment, and for a seminar area. From an original complement of two postgraduates we started to get people wanting to do research at DARG from all round the world (DARG has had postgraduates from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, Holland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and the US).
Over time, new staff arrived who added their own ingredients to DARG. Most notable were (are) Malcolm Ashmore; Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger (now both at the University of York); Charles Antaki; Steve Brown and John Cromby, (now both at the University of Leicester); Alexa Hepburn; Liz Stokoe; Abi Locke (now at Huddersfield University); John E. Richardson; Cristian Tileaga; Carly Butler; Susan Condor (now retired), Paul Drew, Laura Thompson (now at Birkbeck), Marc Scully (now at Limerick) and most recently, Marco Pino and Saul Albert. Each has reinvigorated DARG and pushed it in new directions. Derek Edwards retired in 2013, and Jonathan Potter and Alexa Hepburn took up positions at Rutgers (New Jersey) in 2015. The group has been lucky to have been enriched over the years by an illustrious and exciting set of visitors, some passing through, some staying a few weeks or months.
Towards the end of the 90s DARG grew out of its old facilities. Some lunchtimes more than 30 people were cramming into the seminar room. So we split things up. The technical equipment was moved to a new dedicated laboratory. In 2009 the DARG meetings moved into a large, airy seminar room with excellent video and audio facilities, making our lunchtime discussions still more enjoyable.
DARG members, both staff and postgraduate, always have a range of projects on the go. Just to give a sample of what we’re looking into:
- police ‘talking down’ potential suicides
- how doctors’ receptionists manage requests for appointments
- how clinicians and patients negoatiate their way through dementia screening
- what mockery does among friends
- Chinese primary care in a hospital setting
- the discursive construction of “Romanies”
- the conversational management of offers and requests
As well as writing them up for publication, we talk about these things at conferences, meetings, and sometimes on air and on Youtube. But our core scholarly home is round the table – we still meet every Wednesday at 1pm in term time. More importantly, we still keep to the original vision of nurturing a research culture that is led by ideas – rather than money or ambition. Do come and visit – you’ll be warmly welcomed.