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Understanding Discourse Community and Its Types
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Defining Discourse Community

Task:

Over the years, many scholars have defined discourse community. The well-known linguist James Gee, for example, defined discourse as follows:

a socially accepted association among ways of using language, of thinking, and of acting that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or “social network.” Think of a discourse as an “identity kit” which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act and talk so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize.[ Gee, J. (1989). What is literacy? Journal of Education. 171(1), 18-25. Retrieved from http://jamespaulgee.com/pdfs/Gee%20What%20is%20Literacy.pdf]

A discourse community, then, can be thought of as a social network. Although Gee isn’t referring here to digital social networks like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn (they became popular about a decade after this scholarship was written), digital spaces can be considered discourse communities. In its most basic sense, a discourse community can be a physical space: the neighborhood in which you currently reside or in which you grew up. These neighborhoods include identity kits that residents choose (or choose not to) adopt. Another way to talk about an identify kit is to think in terms of culture. Culture refers to the language, beliefs, and traditions of a group of people. Every community, no matter how big or small, embraces a particular culture or way of thinking and being; this culture is reflected in nearly everything they do. We will return to this concept again below.

If you conduct a Google search for discourse community, you will likely stumble upon this definition provided in a syllabus for a writing class at the University of Central Florida:

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.[ University of Central Florida. (2013). What is a discourse community? Retrieved from https://webcourses.ucf.edu/courses/984277/pages/what-is-a-discourse-community]

Community can be something as large as Fort Wayne, Indiana, or the city in which you grew up. Community can also be much smaller. For example, within Fort Wayne there are a myriad faith-based organizations, including Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic; multiple Veteran of Foreign War (VFW) posts and organizations that support military veterans; sports teams, including the Tin Caps and Komets; and schools/school districts, including North Side, South Side, Northrup, Snider, Wayne; and lastly, Indiana Tech (go Warriors!) and this course, ENG 2322 (we are a community of writers).

Lastly, it may also be helpful to think of discourse communities as belonging to one of four types.[ Gaillet, L. L. & Eble, M. F. (2016). Primary research and writing: People, places, and spaces. New York: Routledge.

] It is true that some communities may fall under more than one type, but take a look at the definitions below and think about the communities to which you belong. Note: the examples are not exhaustive!

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