Blog Post 3: Mirabelli and Johns

Blog » Blog Post 3: Mirabelli and Johns

Posted on 13 Mar 2013 02:17

The term “discourse community” can be broadly defined as being a collection of individuals who share a common interest, works towards a single, unified goal, as well as sharing a particular set and method of communications through unique genres and words. After John Swales coined the term in his paper, “The Concept of a Discourse Community,” it has since been referred upon by a variety of authors who use it to explain the different ways that people intercommunicate as well as give a sense of how communities, either professional or non-professional, function on a clearer, more understandable level. Two such writers, Ann M. Johns and Tony Mirabelli, use this term to define their own observations as well as to give some insight into how it relates to their field or point of view.

In Tony Mirabelli’s “Learning to Serve: The Language and Literacy of Food Service Workers,” the concept of a discourse community Is used to describe the working environment of those who cater to tables as a waiter, highlighting each individual characteristic of how food service workers perform their job and relating it back to the whole idea of a discourse community. Primary emphasis is not put on relations between food service workers as outlined in Swale’s piece, but rather how workers deal and interact with customers on a professional level. In order to gain information about this community, Mirabelli observed a variety of those working within the industry, paying keen attention to the way they addressed their customer's needs. Then, using Swale’s six characteristics as a guideline, Mirabelli describes the various ways waiters communicate with customers, such as writing down orders in a specific notation and communicating in certain ways with customers, and uses these methods to show how a food service job isn’t simply about taking orders but rather about how to effectively enter and become an active member of a “food service discourse community.”

In Ann M. Johns’ “Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict, and Diversity,” the concept of a discourse community is further elaborated upon by breaking up the term into professional and non-professional categories, as well as offering further explanation of what Swales means in his explanation of the term. She goes deeper into the various reasons behind why members would decide to enter a specific community or how some communities can be antithetical to others, shedding light on the term and giving more insight upon the missing details that Swales failed to address when he first created the term. Thus, extensive research was placed upon Swales' discourse community piece, as there were many times where she would quote examples and explanations from him, such as the full list of characteristics defined by Swales and his own personal example of his relation to the HKSC discourse community. Furthermore, she also subdivides the word of discourse communities into various groups in which people fall under, illustrating how she perceives certain groups to relate to one another. By giving this in-depth explanation as to what a discourse community truly means, she allows readers who would otherwise be confused by the simple examples made my Swales to gain a better picture as to what the term means in a more general sense.

Although both Mirabelli and Johns took the basis of their ideas from Swales, who originally came up with the term, the method as well as the format they used to describe it differed based upon their own personal views and/or observations. In Mirabelli's piece, focusing on the specific discourse community of the food service industry offers insight as to how the term can be applied in a more professional sense, showing that one does not simply have to voluntarily join a discourse community based upon their own personal interests but rather as a way to address the tasks of their line of work. By using a more personal and story-based approach to the topic, Mirabelli is able to convey his ideas thoroughly by painting a clear picture of what this particular discourse community would be like. On the other hand, Johns looks at the term in the broadest sense and then narrows down the term into specific subcategories and sections, giving a more scholarly, academically-focused viewpoint as to what the term discourse community truly means. Unlike Mirabelli, who uses stories and hypothetical situations in order to convey his point, Johns cites specific examples as well as shows plain and clear information detailing discourse communities and its various components. Thus, although the two authors may have started from the same place, the way they approached the task of explaining what each term means varied greatly.

Based upon the two pieces of writing, one can conclude that although the methods as well as the overall intentions of both Mirabelli and Johns differed in terms of their structure and purpose, they both used their own expertise and knowledge of the field to construct a clearer explanation as to what the term discourse community means beyond Swales' insightful yet incomplete definition of the word. By expanding or elaborating the various characteristics that make discourse communities what they are, they are able to construct a more efficient means of explaining discourse communities and their functions.

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