Discourse tracing as qualitative practice

Marianne LeGreco, Sarah Tracy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


This article introduces a qualitative research method called discourse tracing. Discourse tracing draws from contributions made by ethnographers, discourse critics, case study scholars, and process tracers. The approach offers new insights and an attendant language about how we engage in research designed specifically for the critical-interpretive and applied analysis of discourse. More specifically, discourse tracing analyzes the formation, interpretation, and appropriation of discursive practices across micro, meso, and macro levels. In doing so, the method provides a language for studying social processes, including the facilitation of change and the institution of new routines. The article describes the current theoretical and political landscape of qualitative methods and how discourse tracing can provide a particularly helpful methodological tool at this time. Then, drawing from a qualitative study on of school lunch policy, the authors explain how to practice discourse tracing in a step-by-step manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1516-1543
Number of pages28
JournalQualitative Inquiry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Applied
  • Critical
  • Discourse analysis
  • Interpretive
  • Research methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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