What is a discourse community?
What is a Discourse Community?
Many of you who took ENC 1101 at UCF will already have an understanding of Discourse community, but just to refresh your memories and make sure that everyone has an idea, I’ll summarize.
A discourse community is a group of people involved in and communicating about a particular topic, issue, or in a particular field. According to “The Concept of Discourse Community,” by educator and researcher John Swales, a discourse community is defined by six characteristics:
1. A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals. This is pretty easy to explain because it’s easy to conceptualize. A group of teachers has goals—to teach students and help them move forward in life. A group of cheerleaders has goals—to entertain spectators and encourage them to support the team for which they cheer. A group of pilots has goals—to fly planes safely from one place to the next and get passengers safely from one destination to the next. A group of vacationers has common goals—to get away from everyday responsibilities, to have fun, experience new things, and/or to relax.
2. A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among their members. Again, this is pretty easy to define because the concept of “intercommunication” is something we do. We talk on the phone (phone being the mechanism of intercommunication), we text, we write blogs or papers, we send and reply to emails for everyone in a community, we have meetings and gatherings—in short, every form of communication that facilitates the “inter” part of intercommunication fits the bill here.
3. A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback. Most of the things that are listed in “mechanisms” above are also part of this aspect of a discourse community. For example, a blog is often used for feedback, as is email, meetings, etc. Other writings, like a newsletter or FAQs webpage, would also be used for information.
4. A discourse community utilizes and possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims. “Genre” is the word that might cause confusion here, but it simply refers to a text—any text. Thus, it is possible that the genre of a discourse community might be chalk drawings on a sidewalk or graffiti. More commonly, though, discourse communities, like the ones you’ll be researching, possess and employ more traditional genres in the communication of their aims—websites, magazine articles, journal articles, blogs, etc.
5. In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis. This simply refers to the jargon specific and often unique to a community but also required by the members of that community for intercommunication. Artists, for example, have a specific lexis used to explain tools, techniques, and mediums. Cyclists have a specific lexis that refers to riding techniques, bicycle parts, and equipment. Biologists have a different lexis from Marine Biologists, but each community has its own lexis.
6. A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise. In a discourse community, members often come into the community as novices and “leave by death or other less involuntary ways” (Swales 27). I’m not sure of Swales limited methods for leaving a community, but it is true that they change and evolve. It is also true that a community takes in beginners; thus, there has to be a ratio of beginners to experts for the community to exist and continue. When there are no longer enough experts to inform novices or not enough novices to carry on, the community will cease to exist What that ratio is depends on the community—though functionality is reduced, a community like our class can exist with two members; a football team, on the other hand, can’t survive with fewer than eleven members.
With these characteristics in mind, it is obvious that all major fields of study offered on this campus are discourse communities. Our class also forms a discourse community. The people at your place of employment, your circle of friends, your family, and many other groups to which you belong constitute a discourse community.
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