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Discourse Community Ethnography

Paulina Gutierrez-Ramirez

The University of Texas at El Paso

RWS 1301

September 26, 2018



There is no abstract for this paper.


Discourse Community Ethnography

Utilizing Swales characteristics, this class is a discourse community.

Swales identified existing communities and groups of people who plan to achieve a

common goal. He recognized how these where a different type of communities, defining them

as discourse communities, rather than speech communities. As the context of discourse

communities is defined in a deeper matter, through characteristics and evidence, presented by

Swales, the understanding of how RWS 1301 is part of that community will remain evident.

Literature Review

John Swales (1990) presents the social nature of language and the relation of it with the

meaning of discourse community, which is the language among a group of people, who transmit

knowledge to one another through it, sharing a common public goal where through participatory

mechanisms, and also transmitting feedback. Also, it does not limit itself to one genre when

communicating the knowledge each possess. In addition, Swales argues how discourse community

cannot be used as a synonym of speech community (p.215). Contrarily, Swales defines speech

community is composed by a group of individuals who share “similar linguistic rules”, setting one

form of speech and following the patterns of it. Identifying how they both have clear characteristics

that makes them different from one another, helping readers understand the idea of discourse


On the text, Activity Theory, by Kain and Wardle (2004), it is inferred that the meaning of

how individuals behave is based on “activity theory” and how it is related to discourse

communities presented by Swales. According to both authorsthrough activity

theoryindividuals accomplish a better understanding of how tools work and why they look a

certain way, making them recognize their association as a discourse community. Therefore, in

order to help a person analytically decipher the entire story (about the discourse society Swales

established) behind a text and its components, an activity system is a helpful tool. It helps

individuals collaborate on seven factors: how systems function over time, the direction towards a

specific goal, how systems came to function in a particular way, how systems are mutually

dependent, meaning if one aspect changes, other aspects change in response, the types of tools to

accomplish these activities like computers, or mathematics, and in human interaction. In other

words, it is the complete system in understanding “how historical and social forces shape the way

people participate in activities and how change effects activities” (pg. 402).

Civil and actual forces shape build the way people engage in certain actions. Plagiarism is

an activity that people tend to participate in. Displaying another researcher, Porter (2017) claims

how there cannot be a text that does not draw on some ideas from some other texts, which takes

us into questioning the definition of what plagiarism really is. (p.542). The deeper meaning od

deciphering a text goes back to Kain and Wardle’s Activity Theory. Porter argues a text can never

be written by just one author; many of the texts have collaborative authors or are based on some

other primary and secondary sources, written by other authors. Therefore, he believes there is a

certain connection between intertextuality (defined by him as the claim aforementioned and

discourse community). Porter relates both terms through the idea that discourse community,

instituted by Swales, shares assumptions about subjects appropriate for discussion and

examination and these subjects come from prior authors who wrote claims to be discussed and

analyzed, setting another clear example of why his argument of people’s actions can be taken into


In an alternate literate research paper exposed by Eric Borg (2003), a different point of

view about the fact that Swales described discourse community as a set of common goals is shared,

but might rather be common interests (p. 296). An example the source used to support its argument

is based on ‘academic discourse community’, defined as when a person may not be seeking for the

same goals of hierarchy as others. It is mentioned how Swales focused on more on a community

of practice. For example, the common public goal of graduating and receiving a diploma to expand

their opportunities in the work field. This source agrees with the idea of the shared interests as a

community and the practices that make it up, but questions if all people seek an equalitarian goal;

which ties into how people in communities are first influenced by their surrounding forces, and it

is there where the idea of activity theory is put into place, making individuals think about what

they actually do. It is a four-fold process of the definite behavior of discourse communities.


Research methods used for this project included interviews, surveys, and observations.

This research paper interviewed secondary sources through their scholar’s literature

including Swales, Porter, Kain, Wardle, and, Borg. The research also surveyed artifacts by

organizing them according to Swales characteristics. Furthermore, observations included taking

pictures for representing the artifacts, and writing notes.


This classroom shares common goals. According to Swales, public common goals are

groups that have goals or purposes and use communication to achieve these goals. An example

of a common goal shared in this class would be doing all the assignments to pass the class and

later graduate. The high-level goal is to get a diploma in order to get better jobs and grow in our

professional field. Another example for this class would be college students applying for

internships to start professional practices and get experience from it. It will help us getting

prepared when the time to graduate, and start working, arrives.


The RWS 1301 classroom exhibits intercommunication. Swales claims

intercommunication is a participatory mechanism which may vary, depending on the group of

people (p. 221). It can be through meetings, telecommunication, correspondence, conversations,

and so on. In our class, we commonly use intercommunicate in technological manners. The

communication it exists between a student and a professor is through email and Blackboard.

Through the Blackboard App., a professor can intercommunicate with a student and the

assignments they have to do. Also, through OneDrive, a student can upload their assignments

and share those documents with their professor, letting him intercommunicate and share

feedback and editing. In addition, conversation and engagement during class is another way to

intercommunicate in class between classmates and professor.

Info and feedback is another characteristic set by Swales, shared in this classroom.

Swales emphasized info and feedback as the exchange of information. It will again, vary,

depending in which community or group is applied. In this classroom, when working on a team,

different mind-sets and believes may come up by actively participating out loud those ideas. As a

result, sharing information and giving feedback based on knowledge and believes can be

achieved. Moreover, body language is another mechanism where information can be transmitted.

For example, if a person is shy or confident, its posture and movements change.

Genre is another tool in which students engage in this classroom. Swales acknowledged a

constant continuation to develop discourse expectations (p. 221). In regards of the course RWS

1301, the use of a notebook where ideas are printed and transmitted, through notes taken in class

are a helpful tool when trying to achieve the common goal of succeeding the course. In addition,

the existence of the English book, Writing About Writing, is another alternate tool used for the

same purposes. Finally, another genre in which students interact in a daily basis is PowerPoint.

Through this software, the professor transmits the plan and objectives of everyday, where ideas

and goals are physically transmitted.

Specialized vocabulary is another present characteristic in the course RWS 1301. Swales

recognized the use of specific lexis among the groups and communities (p. 222). He explains

how certain abbreviations and terminologies are helpful when individuals exchange their

knowledge. An abbreviation used in the course is AESL, which stands for Academic English of a

Second Language and it is an abbreviation not used in a daily basis vocabulary. Also, endoxa,

which means common knowledge is another specialized vocabulary word learned in RWS 1301

and another place where students can find specific terminologies used in the class is in the

glossary of our book, Writing About Writing. They all present words never heard of before taking

the course, but they are a helpful tool when exchanging knowledge between the professor,

students, and authors who collaborated in writing the scholarly used book.

Hierarchy is the last but not last according to Swales characteristic shared between RWS

1301 individuals. Swales identified the existence of hierarchies between groups as they can

change memberships (p. 222). Individuals may enter as apprentices to a classroom, in this case,

students who will later become experts, like the professor, who is already a scholar, meaning that

he already studied and has a certain level of knowledge. Finally, another possible goal shared

among students is the setting of an educational degree of knowledge, where hierarchy is

presented once again. He first degree level is bachelor’s degree, followed by master’s degree,

and concluding with Ph.D. degree. They all have a certain order and they can metaphor like

climbing a ladder.

Secondary sources are a seventh characteristic that is separate from the six previous ones

but is part of the body which complements a discourse community. They are scholarly articles

extracted from primary sources with the purpose of providing information to review what

discourse communities are all about. Based on how Swales, Kain, Wardle, and Porter, define

secondary sources, it is conclusive how they are all commonly used by the students of RWS

1301. An example can be how, the professor assigns us to analyze and reflect on articles written

by the aforementioned authors, as they have done through primary sources, broad research on

what discourse communities are all about. Allowing us to later discuss the gained knowledge

from the articles that relate to one another, helping us comprehend by context what are discourse



The readings support the evidence and the RWS 1301 class is a discourse community, as

it is defined by Swales. What makes it dissimilar to speech communities is primarily, the

existence of common public goals between individuals who are part of the group or community.

The existence of this analysis gives anyone the capacity to examine other groups and their

abilities to communicate and exchange knowledge. These above-mentioned characteristics set by

Swales, are helpful when wanting to understand how individuals behave in group work applying

their communication skills.



Borg, E. (2003). Discourse community. ELT Journal, 57(4), 398-400. Retrieved from


Kain, D. & Wardle, E (2004). Activity Theory: An introduction for the Writing Classroom.

Writing About Writing: A college Reader, 395- 406 Boston, MA: Bedford Bks St Martin


Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings Cambridge

University Press. Retrieved from




Wardle, Elizabeth. Downs, Doug. (2011). Writing about writing: a college reader. Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martin’s.