The term discourse can be understood as a certain way of talking about and understanding the world. ‘Certain’ in this case does not refer to a legally regulated way, but rather to a way that is formed and evolves through social interaction. Thus, discourses define the boundaries for what can be thought and said, but how and by whom are discourses regulated? This question suggests that unequal power dimensions affect which discussions and perceptions of reality are made possible and true. One way to understand this regulation is to think of language as not only descriptive but also as a practice. That is, when something is said, something is also done, with concrete consequences on people’s lives. Each society/location tends to have one dominating discourse at a certain point in time, yet this central discourse is usually accompanied by multiple parallel discourses, discourses that vary depending on location and historical era.

One example of this is the current Swedish migration policy discourse. Until the autumn of 2015, the dominating discourse was that all people have a right to apply for asylum and have their applications assessed. Sweden was to be a nation that stands up for basic human rights and a humane refugee policy. Although this discourse has never been shared by all of the country’s inhabitants, it was indeed the dominating discourse in large parts of society and certainly in the political arena (see also hegemony). It was based on a certain perception of reality and on what was perceived to be true and possible in that reality. In connection with an unprecedented influx of refugees from war-torn countries around the world in autumn 2015, the discourse changed and Sweden ‘closed’ its borders. At that point, the dominating discourse adopted a stronger focus on the need of Swedish citizens and institutions for respite from the growing pressure on Swedish society. Although this new discourse also lacks support from many inhabitants, it has become the dominating discourse in large parts of society and at the political level. The change in discourse is very noticeable when analysing the overall political rhetoric, the content of newspaper articles and the questions asked in news broadcasts and debate programmes. The political rhetoric, too, is based on a certain perception of reality and on what is true and possible in that reality.