A Grand Proposal

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Posted on 21 Mar 2013 23:50


A discourse community is defined by John Swales as a community “where the communicative needs of the goals tend to predominate in the development and maintenance of its discoursal characteristics.” To underline this definition, Swales makes use of “six defining characteristics” each discourse community should posses: 1. an agreed upon and public set of goals, 2. methods of communication between its members, 3. the community uses its communication means to provide feedback and information to members, 4. the community uses at least one genre to further its goals, 5. a lexis specific to the community, and 6. a “reasonable ratio between novices and experts”.
The community I will be analyzing through Swale’s theory is the online community, r/Communism. r/Communism is a sub-forum, part of the larger website, Reddit.com. I will be investigating whether or not their specific hierarchies and methods of barring novices from the community are in harmony with or disharmony with Swales’ ideas.

The Situation

So far I have read Swales, Gee’s and Mirabelli’s thoughts on the discourse communities. The point—as I understand it—of investigating a discourse community is to better understand the inner workings of a given community. Looking at any community through the lense of a discourse community provides insight in the the intricate intercommunications between members and how these communications serve to push forth the goals of a community. Mainly, Swales and Mirabelli (especially) have been essential in developing this idea: Swales for the clarification of what makes a discourse community and for the ability to analyze the features of a discourse community, and Mirabelli for how he uses his first hand experience to get a closer look at the complexities of communication within a restaurant setting.

The Plan

My initial research has in part already begun. At this point, I have a collection of discussions collected from posts to r/Communism—and even a discussion that sheds light on r/Communism which was found within a tangential community. I also have at my disposal the various rules and regulations, which govern conduct in the community. These should provide me enough insight for the time being.
In addition to this, I will—to a limited extent—participate within the community by asking meta-questions within discussions. However, since the community is based around discussion of communist subject matter and not meta-discussion, I will most likely rarely do this, to refrain from disrupting the community.
Also, since it is a requirement for this project to conduct some sort of interview, I will most likely interview a few of the moderators of the community. This will hopefully provide information on the conduct of the community from the point of view of an expert—the core of the community. Then, perhaps if I’m feeling ambitious, I will contact a moderator to see if I can post a survey to garner information efficiently from the community.


What makes me think I can pull this off? I suppose I have to pull this off to some extent…in fact, I think it would be difficult to not pull this off at all. Even just the day-to-day discussions on the subreddit would be sufficient (I feel) to piece together a well-rounded analysis. If I am able to garner additional information through interviewing and surveying the community, then I’ll have more than enough information to develop a thesis on the community and enough evidence to back my thoughts.
For the most part, I’ll be using my research skills to sift through discussions, finding the ones that are relevant to the task at hand. For interviewing and surveying, I’ll have to aptly communicate my goals and the basis of the project in order to hopefully convince the moderation staff to help me out.


There are only two challenges I can see in my methods. The first is the inability to convince the moderation staff to let me follow through with an interview or survey. The second is the inability to reconcile the amounts of information I have into a cohesive, coherent piece of writing. This is really what I am worried about—it could get rough on the frontlines of the keyboard.


Hopefully, this study will provide insight into the workings and goals of the r/Communist community. If done correctly, it should shed some light on Communist beliefs as a whole and how they relate to the r/Communism community. Perhaps revealing whether or not the stigma against this particular breed of left-wing politics is deserved.
I think I’ll discover (as I already have to some extent) that the extreme measures taken by the community in isolating novices is in fact justified, and useful in maintaining the threshold necessary for any discourse community.

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