A Discourse Community of Discourse Communities

I have been cast adrift in a community of communities where rules are designed to examine rules and procedures are designed to establish procedures. After reading Walter Fisher’s “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument” and James Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” I feel that the entirety of my college education has been spent in a discourse community that studies discourse communities and narration styles within them.

The larger academic discourse community of which I have mainly been a part can be viewed as the English Department. Porter defines a discourse community as “a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels and whose discourse is regulated” (38-39). It seems clear that the English Department is a rather large and generalized discourse community bound by its members’ interest in writing and literature. Relationships within the department are formalized as professors act as instructors who must be treated with respect. Forms of communication that link professors to students and students to students are formalized and found in nearly every course’s syllabus. Many of us are also bound by a widely accepted belief that writing is storytelling in the manner that Fisher describes; we create and study texts based on a large number of inputs while seeking to present good reasons for our thinking (383).

Within the English Department community, however, a large number of other discourse communities exist. For students in the writing option, a number of starkly contrasting courses are offered which differ vastly in the nature of their assignments and their expectations for writers. Each course expects students to communicate in a manner designed for a different, less generalized discourse community; stories are told in different ways and must adhere to different rules. The following sections note the qualities of writing within a few of the different discourse communities I have been involved in within the scope of the English Department in an attempt to illustrate the vastly different expectations of each community.

The Literature Studies Discourse Community:
This writing community is most varied in its expectation; it would be easy to make the argument that each literature professor creates a different discourse community. However, common traits are often shared amongst literature classes. Professors tend to expect academic writing that is relatively concise and backed by citations from texts. Some freedom of form is often allowed, but writing is still usually expected to be formal. Papers are to be written in MLA style and should feature a citations page.

The Journalism Discourse Community:
The journalism community favors a form of writing that other discourse communities would consider painfully concise; a great deal of time is spent eliminating unnecessary adjectives from articles. The most valuable sources in the journalism community are not texts but living, breathing human beings. Any source materials from text are usually considered to be of secondary importance. Each news story is expected to conform to one of a small number of templates which limit organizational experimentation. AP style should be used for all stylistic and grammatical configurations.

The Technical Writing Discourse Community:
This community is also highly variable and hard to generalize. However, writing is generally expected to be concise and visually attractive to maintain reader interest. Form is often regulated by organizational patterns which have proven to be effective in the past. More research and data is expected to be accumulated for research projects in this discourse community than in any other community in which I have been a part. Citations styles can fluctuate based on the content of each writing project.

The Blogging Discourse Community:
Although I am new to blogging, I already see a large difference between this writing community and others. Blogging allows writers to be verbose and does not require a great deal of academic research. There is little regulation as to the form writing takes and the need for citations is very limited.

All of these different discourse communities and more are nestled close to the bosom of their parent discourse community known as the English Department. My immersion in a number of these communities has always left me feeling unsettled, as though my education is not concrete or grounded. I now believe that this feeling is notable for its accuracy; I am not being groomed for a concrete career. Instead, I am being taught how to communicate in a number of different discourse communities. I am being taught how to create narratives tailored to a wide range of audiences and intentions. Hopefully, this will prove to be useful in the years to come.


2 thoughts on “A Discourse Community of Discourse Communities

  1. meghanoneal says:

    When I first learned about discourse and began studying discourse communities, I never realized how many discourse communities there were. It would make sense that the English department would practice different discourse than the Chemistry department–after all, these are two vastly different fields of study, However, it never occurred to me how many smaller discourse communities exist inside the larger communities. Even within different offices, the discourse changes. In my internship over the summer, the way I interacted with my supervisors was much different than the way I interacted with any other company. It became important to understand certain discourses in order to communicate with different people, especially considering my position as an intern. It was interesting, because the editor of the publication was able to communicate in whatever discourse he fancied in most situations, because of his standing. He has the say for the publication, He understands that, for the most part, when someone approaches the magazine wanting to gain awareness for their cause with an article, or even when the publication approached others wanting to write articles about them, he was doing them a favor by providing free media attention. Because of this, he could use whatever discourse he wanted because he held the position of power.

    So it would seem that discourse not only depends on your sub community within a larger community (or even the smaller communities among the sub-communities) but also the power you hold within those communities.

    And we continue the trend that language is the most complicated, undefinable thing ever.

  2. Levi says:

    Your ideas about discourse communities and their rules have brought me to an interesting question. If you can identify a discourse community, identify and master (respectively) the rules that govern the community and place yourself into that community, is it possible to the bend the rules of that community to your favor? My first thought on this subject came via the idea of world domination. The world is a discourse community too and it seems like some jerk is trying to take it over. However, it has yet to happen (depending on your opinion anyway). So maybe we should focus on a different kind of takeover: politics. Politics has its own discourse community and its own set of rules. It seems, though, that every politician bends the rules of their discourse community in some fashion. The Republican party may use gerrymandering in this district to gain more votes, where as the Democrats make every illegal alien eligible to vote… for them. It is a fascinating subject if you are into totally power and control and how to obtain it.

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