In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intertextuality and Interdiscursivity

  • Introduction
  • Key Works
  • Current Discussions
  • Monographs, Edited Volumes, Special Issues

Anthropology Intertextuality and Interdiscursivity
Michael Prentice, Meghanne Barker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0171


Intertextuality, along with its kin term, interdiscursivity, has been one of the most widely circulating theoretical concepts of the late 20th century. In a broad sense, intertextuality represents scholarly interest in the grounding of words and texts in other words and texts. It emerged in a period when scholars challenged Aristotelian assumptions about the relationship between words and the world. In an intertextual perspective, meaning is not an inherent property of words, signifieds, or isolated texts, but emerges from relationships with other signs and texts from other contexts. There are roots of this idea in a number of philosophical and literary movements in the 20th century, such as pragmatism and structuralism, yet its impact flourished across disciplines following the introduction of the term intertextuality in 1966, by the Bulgarian literary scholar Julia Kristeva, writing in French. Derived from the then little-known work of Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, the concept of intertextuality spread in part through the popularity and influence of French Tel Quel critical theorists, such as Roland Barthes. It influenced a wide range of academic disciplines in Europe and North America in the 1980s and 1990s. Like the phenomenon it describes, intertextuality has defied clear definitions or final explanations; its history and usage are splintered and diverse. Scholars differ over what comprises a unit of text, how the mechanics of intertextuality work, and what intertextual linking accomplishes pragmatically. This bibliography focuses on the usage of the term and its pair, interdiscursivity, within anthropology where the terms and related ideas have long had resonance. Special attention is paid to research in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics, where the ideas have been most productive in the social analysis of language use, albeit in different ways. A common thread across fields has been to argue against situating linguistic meaning within a clause or isolated interaction, emphasizing instead the contextual basis of meaning, both in terms of the influence of prior speech as well as the social influences of genre, discourse, and ideology. Scholars in sociolinguistics, media and communications, and related fields who employ critical discourse analysis (CDA) have tended to use intertextuality for analyzing mass media, medical encounters, political discourse, advertising, and education practices. Scholars in linguistic anthropology have attuned to its varied pragmatic functions in ethnographic analysis, continuing to expand theoretical discussion and sites of application, including ritual, the law, economy, academic discourse, and media, among others. Scholars wishing to engage the primary sources common to contemporary traditions should refer to the works listed below in Key Works. Scholars new to the topic or interested in the most recent applications should see Current Discussions and Monographs, Edited Volumes, Special Issues.

Key Works

A number of works serve as important touchstones for current applications and discussions and remain frequently cited. Anthropology’s engagement with the idea of intertextuality has largely been through uptake of Bakhtin, especially Bakhtin 1981. Hill 1985 and Hanks 1986 were among the first to draw on Bakhtinian ideas as a method of social discourse analysis. Hanks 1989 offers an early review article on textuality, synthesizing a number of approaches to text, discourse, and genre. The major citations for intertextuality are Bauman and Briggs 1990 and Briggs and Bauman 1992 (see Genre for further discussion). In these twin articles, the authors introduce a number of terms—entextualization, decontextualization, recontextualization, as well as intertextual gap—that have remained enduring theoretical resources for ethnographic analysis. For sociolinguistic approaches, Fairclough 1992 provides a useful introduction to intertextuality within critical discourse analysis, contextualizing Kristeva’s theories in their application to media discourse. Scholars should refer to Kristeva 1980 for the author’s major translation in English.

  • Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1981. Discourse in the novel. In The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, 259–422. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

    Instrumental in its arguments and insights surrounding the study of language as a social phenomenon, of voices and voicing, and of the ways words and texts are in constant conversation with one another.

  • Bauman, Richard, and Charles Briggs. 1990. Poetics and performance as critical perspectives on language and social life. Annual Review of Anthropology 19:59–88.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Argues for the centrality of processes of entextualization and recontextualization in studying performance and its role in social life. Divided into two parts: the first, a literature review of poetics and performance (pp. 59–72), and the second, laying out the new approach (pp. 72–80).

  • Briggs, Charles, and Richard Bauman. 1992. Genre, intertextuality, and social power. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2.2: 131–172.

    DOI: 10.1525/jlin.1992.2.2.131

    Problematizes the way that genres were imagined as ideal-types in the field of folklore. Shows how genres can be invoked at various degrees of similarity or contrast to create pragmatic contrasts, such as establishing authority. First introduction of the term “intertextual gap” to describe minimal versus maximal proximities between texts and genres, which anthropologists have continued to find productive.

  • Fairclough, Norman. 1992. Intertextuality in critical discourse analysis. Linguistics and Education 4.3: 269–293.

    DOI: 10.1016/0898-5898(92)90004-G

    Fairclough’s earliest elaboration of intertextuality and interdiscursivity, which he defines along Kristeva’s notion of horizontal intertextuality (a speech-chain connection) and vertical intertextuality (cultural background, genre, register, etc). For more lengthy outline of Fairclough’s approach, see Fairclough 1989 in Political Discourse.

  • Hanks, William F. 1986. Authenticity and ambivalence in the text: A colonial Maya case. American Ethnologist 13.4: 721–744.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1986.13.4.02a00080

    One of the first works in linguistic anthropology to integrate Bakhtinian and Kristevan approaches to intertextuality. Uniquely combines historical analysis of noble Mayans’ ambivalence toward Spanish colonizers and the monarchy by reconstructing letters from the period.

  • Hanks, William F. 1989. Text and textuality. Annual Review of Anthropology 18:95–127.

    Extensive overview of linguistic, anthropological, sociological, and critical approaches to textuality. Includes discussion of the Prague school, Bakhtin and related theorists, and contemporaneous developments in linguistic anthropological theories around meta-language.

  • Hill, Jane H. 1985. The grammar of consciousness and the consciousness of grammar. American Ethnologist 12.4: 725–737.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1985.12.4.02a00080

    Innovative article that shows the co-articulation of a Mexican indigenous language, Mexicano, with dominant Spanish. Spanish infiltrates lexical choice and even grammatical particles of Mexicano, but at other moments, speakers exercise creative “resistance” through evaluative stances through reported speech and typification of Spanish. Exemplifies the ways that utterances are sites of ideological conflict, re-interpretation, and evaluation.

  • Kristeva, Julia. 1980. Desire in language: A semiotic approach to literature and art, European perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell.

    The first collection of Kristeva’s works published in English, including the author’s two most commonly cited essays on the topic of intertextuality, “The Bounded Text” (pp. 36–63) and “Word, Dialogue, Novel” (pp. 64–91).

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