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ENGL 1010: English Composition 1010

What is a discourse community?

Collection of people or groups that work towards a common goal through communication. This group develops a process for communication, a unique vocabulary of jargon, and a power structure tied to the source of their community. John Swales maintains that genres both “belong” to discourse communities and help to define them (Borg, 2003).  He outlined six characteristics of discourse communities: 1) common public goals; 2) methods of communicating among members; 3) participatory communication methods; 4) genres that define the group; 5) a lexis; and 6) a standard of knowledge needed for membership (Swales, 471-473). 

What people are in discourse communities?

Any group that works meets Swales's criteria share a discourse community. Basketball teams, Taco Bell employees, librarians, urban planners, teachers, runners, superfans of Beyonce - all share unique vocabulary and create individual discourse communities.

You can be in more than one discourse community simultaneously.

For example, a teacher who is an avid kickball player in a kickball league and is also involved in grassroots voter-turnout organization is part of (at least) three discourse communities:

  • the community of teachers that shares the discourse of learning and pedagogy (grading rubrics, classroom engagement)
  • the kickball league, which shares the discourse of the sport (the rules of the game, kicking strategy)
  • the voter outreach community, which shares the discourse of grassroots activism (canvassing, polling, lobbying)

How to Explore Discourse Communities

You don't need academic articles to explore discourse communities. You just need to be a little creative.

Ways to Find Communication Among Discourse Communities

  • Observe and record discourse communities while they communicate. 
    • For example, attend a meeting of your community. 
  • Interview a member or group of members of a particular community to ask about their lexicon, shared goals, and power structure. 
  • Use Google to see if you can find examples of written communication. 
    • Message boards
    • Official communication, such as media releases
    • Publicly available listservs
    • Social media such as Facebook or Twitter conversations
    • Community publications like newsletters, magazines, or trade publications