The Concept of Discourse Community: a Response to the Ethnography of Branick and Mirabelli

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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The concept of a discourse community was new to me when we started this unit, but I quickly caught on to what exactly one is. I was under the impression that the “texts,” “reading,” and “writing” that a discourse community puts to use or carries out referred to physical, written works. But as I realized during unit one, literacy can take many forms–meaning, it is an activity in communication, called “social literacy”–not only reading and writing. Along those lines, the texts and lexes used by discourse communities generally can take the forms of physical writing–such as a club’s newsletter or constitution–but can just as often not.

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Examples of this are found in Tony Mirabelli’s and Sean Branick’s ethnography. Branick argues that football coaches are a discourse community because they fit all of John Swales’s six characteristics. In his article, he argues that coaches have to “read” the players and “read” the game, an activity that accounts for the “texts” football coaches use when they’re on the field. Furthermore, he claims that coaches use lexis–terminology specific to a topic or subject–when instructing their teams. As in any sport, there are terms football players and coaches use when describing how the game is played, and sometimes, if they don’t want their plays to be leaked to the opposing team, they use secret terms (lexis) to avoid such a thing happening.

Mirabelli argues a similar point in his ethnography. Rather than a sports team, he did a case study on the food service industry, more specifically wait staff. He argues that similarly to how Branick makes a claim about coaches reading their players and the game, waiters and waitresses are forced to understand how to properly read their customers. Since much of their income is reliant on tips, having a good relationship with one’s patrons is understandable and a wise choice to make. Furthermore, knowledge of the menu–memorization of all the entrees and drinks and desserts found there–is imperative for any waitstaff member. Mirabelli, therefore, argues that the discourse community of the food service industry relies on the genre of menus as their primary text, and that the memorization of the menu items (the lexis) is equally as important.

These two forms of literacy–on the football field and in the restaurant–are not the typical image that pops into one’s mind when thinking of the concept of a discourse community. Through questioning and analysis, however, it becomes clear that literacy comes in many shapes and forms, and that “reading” can be loosely interpreted as studying one’s environment, the people around them, and the situation one finds oneself in. The study of discourse community and literacy as a whole can offer many new perspectives into the way we interpret life around us.

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The concept of discourse community: A Response to the Ethnography of Branick and Mirabelli. (2022, Nov 18). Retrieved from