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Ethnography Project

Ethnography Project

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Published by Matthew Vetter
English 3080j, Summer 1 2013
English 3080j, Summer 1 2013

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Matthew Vetter on Jun 11, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Project #3: Discourse Community Ethnography
For this assignment, I will ask you to choose a discourse community that interests youand conduct an ethnographic study to examine how language use is enabled andconstrained. Who has authority? How is that authority composed/demonstrated? Howis authority restricted? What genres are used? How are new memberswelcomed/excluded? What identities are enabled or excluded? Theories about discourse
communities, which you’ll be exposed to in Chapter 4 of
Writing About Writing,
 demonstrate how texts in various forms both govern and are governed by socio-materialand socio-cultural relationships and structures. Like the other assignments in thiscourse, becoming familiar with these theories should enable you to develop a complexview of what makes writing effective within particular communities. Your final essayshould be 2000-2200 words in length and incorporate 3-4 sources from the book as well
as the primary research you’ll do of your community (interviews and observ
I hope this project will help you learn that any writing task requires an understanding ofthe community in which the writing participates
. Because you’ll be expected to
understand, analyze, and develop an original idea about the functions of language in a
particular community, you’ll want to pay close attention to the conversation on
discourse communities in the textbook and how each author extends and or complicatesthe ideas and arguments of other authors.
You’ll also be di
recting your own writingtoward another discourse community: undergraduate, graduate, and professionalwriting scholars. You need to imagine this community as an audience and think about
how it effects what types of language you use and what you’re trying
to accomplish inthe essay.
Data Collection
Ethnographic research requires significant immersion into the community you’re
studying. Data collection methods for this project might include but are not limited tothe following processes
Observe members of the discourse community while they are engaged in a sharedactivity; take detailed notes. (What are they doing? What kinds of things do they
say? What do they write? How do you know who is ―in‖ and who is ―out‖?)
Collect anything people in that community read or write (their genres)
even veryshort things like forms, sketches, notes, IMs, and text messages.
Interview at least one member of the discourse community. Record and transcribe
the interview. You might ask things like, ―How long have you been here?
Why areyou involved?
What type of documents do you regularly produce? What ―rules‖ for
communication are members of your community expected to adhere to? What doyou consider most important in good writing or good communication? What do X,Y, and Z words
mean? How did you learn to write A, B, or C?‖
 Data Analysis
The data you collect for this project can’t stand on its own. You’ll need to analyze it andinterpret this data using various ―frames‖ and theories from the readings in Chapter 4.
A good st
arting point for this analysis is an application of Swales’ six characteristics of
discourse communities (WAW, 471
What are the shared goals of the community; why does this group exist and whatdoes it do?
What mechanisms do members use to communicate with each other (meetings,phone calls, e-mail, text messages, newsletters, reports, evaluation forms, and so on)?
What are the purposes of each of these mechanisms of communication ?
Which of the above mechanisms of communication can be considered
(textualresponses to recurring situations that all group members recognize andunderstand)?
What kinds of specialized language (
) do group members use in theirconversation and in their genres and what function does this lexis serve?
Who are the “ol
timers” with expertise? Who are the newcomers with less
experience? How do newcomers learn the appropriate language, genres, knowledgeof the group?
Applying these criteria can help you understand how language functions within thediscourse community, but
you’ll also want to move beyond these characteristics
tostudy a particular issue or problem, using the works of Gee, Wardle, or Mirabelli to helpyou zoom in on that issue. Possible research questions might include the following:
Are there conflicts within the community? If so, why?
Do some participants in the community have difficulty? Why?
Who has authority here, and where does that authority come from?
What are the “modes of belonging” that newcomers are attempting to use?
What sorts of “multiliteracies” do members of this community possess?
Are members of this community stereotyped in any way in regard to their literacyknowledge? If so, why?
How are members’ identities influenced by the writing or language use within the
What I’ll be lo
oking for
An interesting introduction that frames your ethnography within some ongoingconversation.
A brief review of the existing literature (published research) on the community.

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