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Discourse Communities!

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on 5 December 2013

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Transcript of Discourse Communities!

Discourse Communities!
Swales first characteristic is, “A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals” (471). This is the idea that the group of people all have a set of shared goals they all are hoping to reach! A discourse community is not filled with individuals with separate goals, it is filled with people all hoping to reach the same goal!
Out of all those members mentioned, who holds the most authority? The obvious answer would be the coaches, correct? Yes, of course, they hold the most authority overall, because of their position and knowledge of being around the sport for that long. How about when it comes to the meets and competition? Do the coaches or athletes wield the most authority, over the outcome of the race? Or did you even think that the judges may hold the most authority? In the end, when it comes to the competition, the outcome of the race really rests in the athlete’s hands or you might say feet. If there was something which the athlete didn’t like, which the coach made them do in practice, they have the authority to opt out of doing the undesired activity, in the actual race. The changes in authority are pretty mind-blowing in discourse communities. For example, who would hold the most authority in a football game? Not the coaches, but the refs.
Let’s take our first few steps through the basics of a discourse community. Thomas Kent, author of
On the Very Idea of a Discourse Community,
states that "the thick formulation understands a community to be a system of social conventions that may be isolated then codified" (425).

John Swales author of
The Concept of Discourse Community
explains that there are six characteristics that need to be identified for a group of people to be considered a discourse community. So let’s look at those six characteristics.
Do you ever feel like you don't belong? Feel like you want to be a part of a community? Feel the desire to be a part of something more? Well the good news is you probably are already a part of a community you just don't realize it!
We are all apart of a discourse community in some way! Ann M. Johns states in her piece
Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice
that "People are born, or taken involuntarily by their families and cultures, into some communities of practice" (501).

Now I'm sure you are asking yourself right now what in the world is a discourse community? Well, we are going to take a journey through a discourse community I am involved with and by the end of our journey, I hope that you all will have a better understanding of what a discourse community is and also discover the discourse communities you are involved with! So lets start walking!

The next of Swale’s six characteristics is the characteristic that “a discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members” (471). This is the idea that the group of people use different genres to communicate amongst each other. Don’t get too confused yet! We will talk further about this later on!

Another characteristic explained by Swales is the idea that discourse communities “[use] participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback” (472). A discourse community uses the feedback from outside sources, as well as other sources, to help gain feedback to determine things that need to be improved, or see if they are accomplishing what they originally had hoped to accoplish.
Number four of Swale’s six characteristics is the abundance of many types of genres. In a discourse community, there are many different genres spread throughout, all with a different purpose and job. In a discourse community these genres are created and used to further the number one characteristic of the community, to reach the common goal!
Swales then talks about the idea that “a discourse community [acquires] some specific lexis” (473). Now you may be thinking to yourself right now. . . “What in the world is a lexis?” It’s not as hard of a word to understand as you may think! A lexis is simply another word for jargon or way of speaking! A discourse community will have its own lexis, in the way community members’converse amongst each other.
The final characteristic that a group of individuals needs, to have in order to be a discourse community is “a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise” (Swales 473). Simply put this means, the individuals, in the group, need to have some sort of clue as to what they are talking about in regards to their common goal!
Now we have seen the six characteristics that a group of individuals must have in order to be considered a discourse community, so let’s continue on our journey and see these six characteristics in action using my discourse community as the example!
I am a part of the discourse community of my high school track team! Although I am obviously not in high school anymore, I was given the awesome opportunity of coaching the same team, I ran for last year and hope to continue coaching this year. We all are a part of some sort of discourse community, whether we are currently involved or were involved. We all have ,in some way, experienced a discourse community.
My track team has a common goal. We all want to win, become better athletes and become a better team. This is what our discourse community revolves around!
As for our mechanisms of intercommunication, as a team, we have to have good communication amongst our members. We cannot have one coach saying this, going against what another coach is saying and then having athletes give wrong information, to other athletes but still remain a successful discourse community. Our team works around good communication, We understand if something doesn’t seem right, or when we don’t understand something, we clarify with the coaches before we continue. Some specific examples of intercommunication would be: team speeches, bus rides to meets, locker room chats and team meetings. In all those situations, we are communicating amongst ourselves. If we, as a team, were to lack good communication amongst the members, we would never successfully be able to compete at meets, thus accomplish our ultimate goal of winning!
Another characteristic that defines a discourse community, is the idea of using participatory mechanisms primarily for feedback and information. The team demonstrates this characteristic by using things such as team and individual stats, along with coaches’ feedback, rankings, and awards/trophies. We then take that feedback and use it to change the areas of concern, and continue things that are being successfully completed. Feedback plays a very important role in discourse communities.
The characteristic of genre is next on our journey, This discoursal community characteristic is seen, in my track team, in the rulebook, the team emails, the team schedules and stat books. All of these things are different genres, we use as a track team.
Now it’s time to talk about that fun word lexis! What would lexis be in my discourse community? Well, lexis are the specific language we as a track team use. As a coach, there are technical terms used for different events, such as passing the baton, hurdling, running through the hurdle versus just jumping. Maybe the most modern way of putting it is, it's the lingo of the team!
Now we move on to the members of my discourse community. Erik Borg, author of
Discourse Community
, states ". . . membership of a discourse community is usually a matter of choice" (398). Now, not just everyone can be a part of our community. If you hate running, then track really isn’t the sport for you. My discourse community is comprised of coaches (the head guys), the regulars (athletes that have been involved for a while), and finally the newbies! Anna Duszak, author of
Culture and Styles of Academic Discourse
, considers "community membership [to be] a matter of degree [saying] there are experts and novices as well as aspiring experts and aspiring novices" (25).

Before we wrap up our journey through the discourse community world, there is one more thing we need to touch on. Do you all honestly think that all discourse communities have zero conflict amongst themselves and their members? That everything is always a cakewalk? Well, you are wrong if you have that mindset! Just like with everything in life, there is conflict! There are conflicts among the coaches with decisions that are made. There are conflicts amongst athletes, who maybe don’t agree with a decision made by the coach, or don’t like a teammate they were paired with for a relay or practice. But not only is there inside conflicts amongst members of my track team, there are also outside influences! That one rival team which we cannot stand competing against, always puts the team on the edge. Maybe it’s that one course that we all cannot stand to run on, it doesn’t matter how perfect our community tries to be, there is no point at which we will reach perfection! The list goes on and on, when it comes to conflicts in my discourse community. But really in the end, conflict is what shows that a discourse community is a real thing, with real problems and flaws filled with real people!

I was given the opportunity to complete some first hand research on my discourse community, it was quite an awesome experience for me. Dana Driscoll, author of
Introduction to Primary Research: Observations, Surveys and Interviews,
explains that the "ultimate goal in conducting primary research is to learn about something new that can be confirmed by others" (154). After looking over the results of my survey I was quite surprised by some of the responses from fellow members of the track team. 50% of the athletes felt that communication was "good" in our discourse community while 22% felt communication was poor, the final 29% said communication was "very good". I had expected there to be many more responses that communication was poor amongst our teammates. But I was proven wrong. I also was able to interview both a fellow coach and an athlete. It was very interesting to hear the feedback from two different perspectives. Coach Burnside was confident that the coaches communicated very well whereas Josh felt there was a lack in communication amongst the coaches. The controversial responses really showed how some things are seen differently from different perspectives!
I hope that now after our little journey, you all have a better understanding of what a discourse community is and maybe you've already found a community to which you belong to! Always remember no matter what level of authority you may hold in your community . . . Every person has a purpose and makes a difference!
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