In this talk, I propose to look at the discursive depoliticisation (Burnham 2001, Muntigl 2002, Hay 2007) through the lens of the justification-explanation distinction (Hamblin 1970, Govier 1987, Houtlosser 1995, Snoeck Henkemans 2001): Argumentation – the exchange of reasons aimed at managing disagreement – is contrasted with explanation – the reason-giving aimed at managing asymmetry of knowledge. The difference captures a central feature of depoliticisation: that depoliticisation removes the political character of decision-making by closing down space for legitimate disagreement. Eventually, discursive depoliticisation amounts to removing the argumentative aspect and turning the reason-giving into explanation (e.g. by experts and technocrats). It is by acting as if there is no legitimate disagreement (but rather a lack of understanding) about the question of what needs to be done, that depoliticisation places the question outside the scope of argumentation and consequently politics.
In addition to the discussion of the proposal, I will also present a case study: the discursive depoliticisation of Austerity during the euro debt crisis in Portugal. I discuss the analysis of a corpus of speeches by the Portuguese Prime Ministers delivered in Parliament prior to, during and post the crisis (2009-2017). The analysis employs a coding scheme designed to analyse the discursive legitimation of policies and fine-tuned to capture discursive depoliticization, based on the practical argument model (Fairclough & Fairclough 2012, Lewinski 2014) and guided by the distinction between explanation and justification.