A Meta-Analysis of the Research Methods of Swales and Branick

Blog » A Meta-Analysis of the Research Methods of Swales and Branick

Posted on 12 Mar 2013 23:57

In the chapter “The Concept of Discourse Community” from the book Genre Analysis, John Swales defines his interpretation of a discourse community, a term often debated in the field of sociolinguistics, and then describes the Hong Kong Study Circle, which he feels exemplifies his definition of a discourse community in every respect. Swales has gained considerable recognition for his explanation of what is required for a group to be identified as a discourse community, and therefore his chapter has been referenced in many other texts as a widely accepted definition of discourse community. One such text is an essay by University of Dayton student, Sean Branick, titled “Coaches Can Read, Too: An Ethnographic Study of a Football Coaching Discourse Community.” Branick argues that football coaching demands the practice of literacy by using Swales’ description of a discourse community as a lens. In addition, Branick tries to prove that football coaches make up a discourse community.

Branick reveals his purpose for examining the football coach discourse community at the end of his paper—to better understand the thought process and rational behind the decisions made by football coaches, which many football fans may wonder about when watching a game. In the background information provided before the essay, it mentioned that Branick was a football player in high school and was a college football coach when it was published later on. He wanted to expose the complexity behind coaching, which requires literacy in reading people as well as situations. He considers these two as forms of literacy by Tony Mirabelli’s definition, which includes “various modes of communication and situations of any socially meaningful group,” not just text. Branick based his research on data gathered by recording football coaches’ pregame speeches and personal interviews from coaches at the University of Dayton and one from the University of Cincinnati. Looking at his interview questions, I saw that Branick was exploring each coach’s interactivity with his athletes and with situations in a game to see how they assess and respond to these forms of what he tries to prove as literature.

Branick tries to assert that football coaches are a discourse community, which I thought was stretching Swales’ definition a little bit in that the discourse community seems to lack a means of intercommunication among its members, the coaches. The means of discourse researched by Branick are mostly between the coach and his athletes. If the coaches did have a central mode of discourse, would they “use its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback” and risk revealing their game plans or strategies to opposing teams (Swales 472)? Unless each team’s coaching staff is its own discourse community, which requires there to be more than one coach (as is the case in Branick’s research), I don’t think football coaches form a discourse community according to Swales’ due to “The Café Owner Problem.” This issue of café owners not being a discourse community because they don’t communicate directly with one another toward a shared goal (they compete against each other, so their goals are in opposition), I feel, is analogous to the issue of football coaches as a discourse community, even though it has its own lexis and genres.

The approach that Branick takes differs from Swales in that Branick is trying to prove that coaching is a literacy practice and discourse community while Swales wants to provide an example of a typical discourse community through his eyes. Swales takes a more didactic approach, educating the reader on what makes a discourse community. Branick is trying to prove a connection between literacy and coaching by employing a more persuasive tone. They do, however, share the way in which they match up the characteristics of their proposed discourse communities with the six criteria that comprise a Swales-style discourse community by going through each component and explaining how it exists in the Hong Kong Study Circle and in the community of football coaches. The data collected and examined by Branick is very different from that of Swales. Swales studies a text, the bi-monthly Journal and Newsletter, that is a direct product of the HKSC. Keeping in mind that Branick argues that the data he studied (interactions between the coach and the athletes in practice and during games) is in fact a piece of literacy, he studies data indirectly—by interview, not by observation. It is also important that his data is more abstract than Swales’ documents of study.

Swales chose a very fitting group of people to apply his definition of discourse community on. It is so fitting, that I considered the idea that he might have initially thought that the HKSC was a discourse community and subsequently obtained the six characteristics that he wrote about in “The Concept of Discourse Community.” Branick had an interesting twist to his explanation of football coaches as a discourse community because he was trying to prove, additionally, that many of the activities coaches partake in are a form of literacy. It was an interesting argument, but I feel like if I did something similar for the midterm project, I would stray too far off topic. As I have not yet chosen the discourse community I will research, I hope that it will be an easily accessible community as it was for Branick, as shown by his direct contact with the coaches. In my midterm project, I do not want to redefine what a discourse community is or challenge Swales’ definition because I do not feel qualified to make such a bold endeavor in the field of sociolinguistics, a field that I am hardly educated in compared to Swales. Therefore, I will probably just compare my findings with the six characteristics that he listed using intercommunicative texts and any available background information from a group that I feel can be justifiably categorized as a discourse community.

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