Discourse and Discourse community

8 August 2016

The concept of Discourse and discourse community is very important in English reading and writing. Discourses are group members’ shared “ways of being in the world” (Gee 484). According to the authors we studied, Porter, Gee, Swales, Johns and Porter, we willingly or unwillingly are part of many different discourse communities or Discourses. Almost everything we do in our everyday life requires involvement in some discourse community. Discourse or discourse community is a very broad topic.

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The scholars we studied talk about their own points of views on Discourses and discourse communities which can be interpreted to get a more general definition. The word discourse community is first introduced by Porter while talking about intertextuality. Porter’s definition of a discourse community is very brief as he is only mentioning it to better explain his main focus of the writing, intertextuality. However, it is very useful in getting the general idea of a discourse community.

He says that discourse community is “a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels and whose discourse is regulated” (Porter 91). He says that each discourse community has a distinct history and rules of governing appropriateness to which the members are obliged to adhere. He also mentions that an individual may belong to several discourse community of the same genre. While Porter only briefly describes the discourse communities, Swales, on the other hand, goes on to better explain the topic. His viewpoint on discourse community is very similar to that of Porter’s.

Swales feels the need to clarify what is to be understood by discourse community. As a solution, Swales proposes six defining characteristics for identifying a discourse community. The characteristics are “A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals, a discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members, a discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback, a discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis in addition to owning genres, and a discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise” (Swales 471-73). These characteristics are especially important for our study on discourse community because they answer the indirect question asked by Porter in our earlier reading, which characteristics determine a discourse community? It is also notable here that Johns also mentions these characteristics in her writing. Compared to other authors we studied, Gee takes a little different approach to this topic.

His main objective is to get the reader understand what he calls “Discourse”. He uses a capital D on purpose to make a distinction between the term discourse and his definition of Discourse. Gee believes Discourse as an “identity kit”, which has guidelines on how to behave and respond to be identified by those others who are a part of the same community (Gee 484). Gee makes it clear that discourse also includes your outlook and beliefs. Gee explains further on the topic by distinguishing between primary and secondary Discourses.

He says that family can be considered as a primary Discourse because one’s family is usually what influences them when they first begin socialization. Secondary Discourse is the socialization outside one’s family like School, work, teams, etc. Involvement in secondary Discourses is often voluntarily. This similarity of ideas can be seen in Johns work. While the previous authors we studied have significantly different ideas about Discourse and discourse community, Ann M Johns seems to take many of their ideas into account to develop her own point of view.

She includes Swales’ six defining characteristics of a discourse community in her writing. Like James Gee, she too distinguishes between different types of discourse communities. She uses a wheel of chart to further break down the different types of communities. She mentions that a family or household can be considered as a discourse community and when people are born, they are involuntarily taken into this discourse community consists of the family members. It is important to note that this idea follows Gee’s idea about primary Discourse but conflicts with Swales’ idea that a discourse community has a set of common public goals.

As seen in our study, the topic of Discourse and discourse community is broad and very important in our everyday life and we are part of many different discourse communities. Everything from interactions with your family or roommates to interaction with your teammates or collogues includes involvement in some sort of discourse community. Involvement in some communities is involuntarily and comes automatic while some are voluntarily and might require acceptance by the current members. These communities greatly influence your behavior and identity.

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