Building and Maintaining Discourse Communities

Throughout the readings for today, I found myself reflecting on my own academic career thus far and the various discourse communities I have endeavored to enter and write for. What struck me most, are two discussions that, to me, seem invaluable. Those are the discussions of building new discourse communities and how international discourse communities may change the theories we have read for today. I would like to tackle these in reverse order.

It is true that Johns mentions (really, glosses over) some international communities of practice in relation to professional communities (pg. 503). Further, on pg. 512 she highlights how international students of American classrooms with examples of a student of Mexican descent and a grad student who came to America from Japan. These examples are used primarily because Johns is talking about communities of practice surrounding English (literacy) classrooms in America. However, these examples are a bit different than what I’m talking about. I’m talking about discourse communities outside of (or tangential to) English classrooms, discourse communities that by their very nature attract members from many different countries and various cultural backgrounds. Specifically, my thoughts are drawn to discourse communities surrounding globalized forms of popular culture (due to my research interests). These discourse communities are harder to negotiate due to their multicultural nature. Remaining in one of these discourse communities requires the privilege of fluency in multiple languages or access to accurate translations. At times, interesting and meaningful essays can be lost to the larger discourse community due to a lack of reliable translations of that particular work.

Question 1: How can we work to make international discourse communities more accessible? Is it even possible?

Question 2: How can we work to better maintain and disseminate the works of international discourse communities?

My ideas about building new discourse communities are less fleshed out, but I think exploring how these discourse communities originate is worth discussing. Mainly, I have a couple of questions to pose about the building of new discourse communities:

Question 3: What does it take to build a new discourse community? At what point does it stop being just a collection of people talking about something and become a full-blown discourse community (or community of practice)?

Question 4: Is a central figure/theorist needed to begin a discourse community, on whose shoulders and work the community must build its ideas and arguments?

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2 thoughts on “Building and Maintaining Discourse Communities

  1. Amber you have raised important questions but I am particularly interested in your second question. “How can we work to better maintain and disseminate the works of international discourse communities?” This somehow reminds me of Shaughnessy’s stages of teacher’s development in “Diving In: An introduction to Basic Writing.” However, the situation you are referring to might call for, not only the teacher’s “dive in” but also the entire discourse community’s “dive in” to understand other discourse communities. This might not be as simple as it appears. It is always the “dominant discourse” (Gee “Literacy” 6) in this situation, an academic discourse or a “native” discourse that is privileged, so those who already have entered the dominant discourse or are struggling to do so, might not want to “dive in” a new, less relevant and “non dominant discourse.” So the responsibility of “maintaining and disseminating” still falls on the shoulders of international discourse communities. If I want to be heard as a member of international discourse community, I will have to “convert.” I will have to “appropriate” so much so that the members of the dominant discourse can make sense of what I mean.

    There have to be some common grounds that the dominant and non-dominant discourse communities share. English language, does provide that common ground but one is still to think what Royster points out: “I speak but I cannot be heard. Worse, I am heard but Im not believed…(“When the First Voice” 562).

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  2. Fascinating perspective, Amber. I’d like to address your third question by sharing an observation about the institutions and systems that regulate academic discourse communities. A few years ago, in response to government mandates about college graduation rates, many schools (perhaps this is only the case in the for-profit sector, though I think a similar movement happened in state schools as well) changed entrance requirements. I noticed this shift when the college where I work eliminated its foundations level courses, essentially baring certain demographics from enrolling. I also noticed, at about the same time, a decrease in new American enrollments, particularly refugees from African countries, because they could no longer meet the minimum standard requirements for entry. Beneath the surface of this action is a very real perception and attitude that certain people, from certain walks of life (international students among them), are not “college ready” and that their presence is a threat to the success of an institution. The entrance exam genre, comprised of and composed by the dominant discourse by the ruling discourse community, acts as a gate that swings shut rather quickly on those who deviate too far from the rules that determine acceptance and acceptability within the community. I realize now that my response sort of melds concepts presented in Gee, Royster, and Johns rather clumsily (“dominant Discourses” p. 8, “systems of insolation” p. 560, and “affiliation”), but I think the point I’m trying to make is that discourse communities in positions of power don’t like to share. For such dominant groups to acknowledge a discourse community, it seems to me, requires first rendering it submissive to or apart from the dominant community. As such, the danger also exists, as well, of “cultural co-opts” as Royster suggests. As an extension of your question, then, I wonder what it takes to preserve a discourse community once it has been recognized, analyzed, categorized and, in some sense, dismantled by more powerful discourse communities. Thanks for the great post!

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