Discourse theory is based on the assumption that the perception of the world depends on the language with which this world is referred to. Even more radically, discourse theory assumes that the world is not only contingent on, but in fact created by language, namely as the specific world as which it is perceived by the individual human being.
At the same time, discourse theory assumes that the language with which the individual refers to the world, i.e. the language which determines how the individual perceives the world, cannot be controlled by the individual. Instead, discourse is determined and controlled by decentralised and anonymous power structures. Very generally, discourse theory holds that no individual can make just any statement at any place at any point in time.
When defining the term discourse, one must distinguish between a broad and a narrow meaning of discourse. However, the broad meaning of discourse, as the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault employed it, is extremely hazy. Roughly speaking, it may be understood as an umbrella term encompassing ‚anything that has been enunciated, by anyone, at any time, at any place‘.
Discourse, in this broad sense, is characterised as being disorderly, discontinuous, proliferating, violent, unpredictable and omnipresent – in short, it is threatening. Therefore, strategies are required to help control the perils, the chance, and the disorder inherent in discourse.