Besides focusing on the meaning of a given discourse, the distinguishing characteristic of this approach is its stress on power relationships. These are expressed through language and behavior, and the relationship between language and power. This form of analysis developed out of Foucault's genealogical work, where power was linked to the formation of discourse within specific historical periods. Some versions of this method stress the genealogical application of discourse analysis to illustrate how discourse is produced to govern social groups. The method analyzes how the social world, expressed through language, is affected by various sources of power. As such, this approach is close to social constructivism, as the researcher tries to understand how our society is being shaped (or constructed) by language, which in turn reflects existing power relationships. The analysis attempts to understand how individuals view the world, and studies categorizations, personal and institutional relationships, ideology, and politics.
Foucauldian discourse analysis, like much of critical theory, is often used in politically oriented studies. It is preferred by scholars who criticize more traditional forms of discourse analysis as failing to account for the political implications of discourse.
Kendall and Wickham outline five steps in using "Foucauldian discourse analysis". The first step is a simple recognition that discourse is a body of statements that are organized in a regular and systematic way. The subsequent four steps are based on the identification of rules on:
Studies employing the Foucauldian discourse analysis may for example look at how figures in authority use language to express their dominance, and request obedience and respect from those subordinate to them. In a specific example, a study may look at the language used by teachers towards students, or military officers towards conscripts. This approach could also be used to study how language is used as a form of resistance to those in power.