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Discourse Community Ethnography

Wendy Perez

The University of Texas at El Paso

RWS 1301

Dr. Vierra

September 30, 2018



This paper has no abstract.


Discourse Community Ethnography

Using Swale’s, this RWS 1301 class is a discourse community

Swales recognized the existence of specialized communities or groups within society.

But these discourse communities, which differ to speech communities, had never been defined.

Until it is understood how his definition works, there will be no difference between the

communities. Which would make the RWS 1301 class no different than a Friday night bridge

club. Applying Swales’s characteristics to the RWS 1301 class, it proves that it is a discourse


Literature Review

Swales (1990) defines discourse community as a group of people that use communication

to achieve goals and purposes (p. 217). According to Swales, the term discourse community

refers to a body of people working towards a common goal while sharing a set of ideas and rules.

But unlike speech communities you may be initiated into a discourse community. This will allow

people to participate in their own community discourses, to bring their own reflection on the

choices of an individual (p. 218). It will allow a student to the draw the line of the kind of

language they use in school and the slang language with friends. People have not learned this

form yet, people can analyze more in depth the ways humans' bunch up to be stronger and


According to Porter (2017), instead of romanticizing the idea of originality in writing, the

students should be taught to write for a discourse community (p. 551). Porter’s claim outlines

that plagiarism, is not wrong but that we cannot prevent it from doing it, it is inevitable.

Intertextuality suggest that our goal should be to help students learn to write for the discourse

communities they choose to join. Only once they learn this skill can they begin to alter the way

their specific community thinks (p. 548). Once the author learns how to write for this audience,

they will be a successful writer.

According to Donna Kain and Elizabeth Wardle (2004), activity theory was often a

helpful lens for thinking about writing, it helps us analyze how texts, language and discourse

help mediate the activities and meaning that people try to create together in groups (p. 397). The

human activities or the problems cannot be understood or analyze without the system of activity

theory. This was a problem addressed or poised by Kain and Wardle. This theory states that we

should not analyze people in the activities they engaged but also, who engages, what their goals

are and how they communicate with each other. The activity theory is a model that which is used

to describe the relationship between elements, this model is used by students, teachers or anyone

(p. 400). They used it to analyze the labor and how people communicate and their goals.

Vai Ramanathan (2002) talks about how the genres have a connection towards the goals,

how the genres help achieves these goals. In the article it mentions that one goal in the discourse

community is to make competent and self-reproductive teachers for English (p. 6). These

teachers will help students on how to write for a discourse community. According to Vai

Ramanathan, selective genres have over time proved relatively successful in achieving this

discourse community’s goals as much as they partially contribute to producing critical teachers.

This article is a discourse community because it is explaining that they used genres to help the

teachers teach the students achieve at writing a discourse community.


The research paper was done by using the writing methods which include; observation,

survey and interview. A class observation was conducted, and various artifacts were collected for

evidence to use in this ethnography paper. In the RWS 1301 classroom is very easily to see that

it is considered a discourse community due to the relationship of the teacher and student. For

example, how they answer each other’s question and the teacher gives back feedback to student

by OneDrive when working together on an assignment. A way that we interview Swales was by

reading a book where he stated about discourse community and the six important characteristics

that make up a discourse community. The book was selected because he talks about his findings

and the importance of a discourse community.


The RWS 1301 class exhibits common public goals. According to Swales (1990), these

goals may be formally inscribed in documents. They are public because people may join this

clubs or discourse communities and have goals, private hopes, or romantic advancement and

these people shared goals (p. 220). Therefore, a classroom is seen as a discourse community

because the students share goals, such as, graduation, secure jobs and been able to participate

politically by voting.

The RWS 1301 class demonstrates intercommunication. Swales (1990) claimed that, the

participatory mechanisms will vary according to the community: meetings, telecommunications,

conversations and correspondence. They interact with writing and speech, they originate,

receive, respond, to the message (p. 221). There are many ways that communication can be

achieve. In a classroom, a good artifact can be email, OneDrive and face to face conversation

with students. The teacher and student will be able to communicate with these artifacts. The

students interact and participate in the professor’s lecture by answering simple questions.

The RWS 1301 class presents feedback and information through participatory mechanics.

Swales (1990) acknowledge that this characteristic implies uptake of the informational

opportunities. It may be also to improve certain things and give feedback in how to do better next

time. (p. 221). The classroom is seen as a discourse community because it involves the students

answering questions from the teacher, the teacher helping a student through OneDrive and giving

feedback to student. The feedback may also be given through emails and personal

communication. Another artifact that can be considered a feedback is an exam the teacher can

see where the student stands in understanding the course, it will give the professor where the

students stand.

The RWS class displays genres. Swales (1990) stated that genres are how things get done

and what do you do or use to comply the expectations of the discourse community (p. 222).

What makes a classroom a discourse community is that student uses a book, textbook and E-

portfolio as genres to meet the standards of the classroom. Those artifacts will help the student

achieve the expectations of the classroom and of the teacher. There are many types of genres but

they each have a different meaning according to the discourse community, they each have a

different use. Vai Ramanathan (2002) also states and makes a connection with genres by

claiming that genres have a connection with the goals you want to achieve, you need genres in

order to comply with the classroom standards and expectations.

The RWS 1301 class unveils specialized language. According to Swales (1990), this

characteristic may involve using higher terminology, such as, information discourse communities

or using highly technical terminology as in medical communities (p. 222). They used a more

formal and professional language, it is not something that you can commonly see. In the

classroom, the artifacts that make it a discourse community are; academic English, constraints

and discourse community. The specialized language is mostly made up of academic English.

The RWS 1301 exposes threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant

content and discoursal expertise. According to Swales (1990), this characteristic is a survival of

the community that depends on a reasonable ratio between novices and experts, for example,

teacher and students. This can be seen as a hierarchy, which means is separated by departments.

In a classroom the relationship between student and teacher can be seen as hierarchy. Another

example of hierarchy is, the student status within the class is can be mostly determined based on

their academic work or on their grade. Therefore, the higher the grade and the better they do in

their class, the higher they are placed in the hierarchy.


Overall in the end, a classroom can be a discourse community because it contains all six of

Swales characteristics. In college you will find many classes that can be identified as a discourse

community. The classroom can contain the same goals, a use specialized language, such as,

academic language, have many different types of genres that are used to achieve in class, have

very easy access of communication towards the members of the discourse community, which in

this case are the students and finally it has trained members from a hierarchy. Discourses

communities are all around us and almost everyone we know in some way or another belong to

one. The classroom does satisfy all of the six requirements of a discourse community, the RWS

1301 classroom can be classified as a true discourse community, by Swales’ based on his



Ramanathan, V. (2002). The politics of TESOL education: Writing, knowledge, critical

pedagogy. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Swales, John. (1990) “The Concept of Discourse Community.” Genre Analysis: English in

Academic and Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP. 21–32. Print.

Wardle, E. (2017). Writing about writing: A college reader. Boston, MA: Bedford Bks St Martin

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