Coaches, Waiters, and Kickstarter

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Posted on 12 Mar 2013 20:41

Discuss, compare, and contrast the discourse community analysis of two authors and relate the authors’ works to my own discourse community project.

Read and annotate the pieces by Sean Branick and Tony Mirabelli, summarize their main points, and compare/contrast the methods of research each author used and their results.

Sean Branick chose to study the football coaches discourse community because he was a former high school football player and was interested in studying football as a college student. Branick wanted to show people what goes on in a coach’s mind before and during games.

He studied two coaches and a coaching graduate assistant by recording pregame speeches and conducting interviews and analyzing his data using John Swales’ six characteristics of a discourse community. Overall, he seemed to be less concerned about giving an overview on the football coaching job and more concerned about showing how coaches must be literate in more than one way.

It is interesting to note that Branick relates his results to not only the criteria Swales outlined in his work but Branick’s own introductory section, where he detailed the job of a coach and qualities of a good coach. For example, Branick shows that not only are words such as “Y corner” are part of football lexicon but that they also show the considerable time coaches dedicate to their jobs and focusing on achieving their goals.

Branick spends most of his piece (the latter half) arguing how coaches must be literate in three senses: textually, situational-ly, and interpersonally. Textual literacy is being able to read literature such as playbooks, situational literacy is knowing how to respond to game-time and spontaneous incidents quickly and effectively, and interpersonal literacy is being able to connect with players, other coaches, and fans. Branick includes this section because he wants to show that different types of literacy exist for football coaches.

Mirabelli sought to study literacy skills and language ability in the realm of waiters and waitresses. Mirabelli claims those areas of the discourse community have not been studied in detail. He seeks to prove misleading or inconclusive the statements that say how service work is very low skill and does not require a high level of literacy and grasp of language.

Mirabelli begins by differentiating between the definitions of literacy as seen by the National Skills Standards Board (NSSB) and people studying the social sciences. The NSSB sees literacy as the minimum educational/competency level a person must attain to understand all of the language used in that job. In contrast, social scientists tend to believe that literacy is embedded and defined by the social groups a person is part of or working for.

Like Branick, Mirabelli chose to analyze his research subjects – one private and one corporately owned – firsthand. His methods involved various forms of direct observation, including interviews, recordings, and notes, which are similar to the methods Branick used.

However, instead of giving some sort of overview of his research, Mirabelli jumps directly into his analysis. Unlike Branick, who specifically mentions that he will be focusing on the different types of literacy involved in his discourse community, Mirabelli gives one header – “Menus” – and manages to relate the rest of his piece to menus.

Mirabelli’s analysis was similar to that of Branick in the sense that they both sought to dismiss common misconceptions of literacy in their respective discourse communities. Mirabelli wanted to show that the ninth-grade-level-literacy level suggested by the NSSB was incorrect. Waiting a table, in fact, involves much more than being able to read menus and take orders.

While Branick clearly labeled the types of literacy football coaches must develop, Mirabelli transitions from different types of literacy without clearly stating what the actual literacy is. It appears that Mirabelli also laid out three types of literacy a waiter/waitress requires: Technical literacy (understanding a menu and how food is prepared), Communication literacy (being able to control the customer-waiter interaction) and Pretense literacy (being able to put on false attitudes).

Unlike Branick, Mirabelli gave much more detail in his analysis. For example, Mirabelli inserted many conversation/interview snippets directly into his piece and explained their significance and meaning in order to develop an idea. Branick, on the other hand, used far fewer specific examples in his work. He relied mostly on presenting interpretations of his data and observations.

Two plausible reasons for the discrepancy in analysis presentation are that: 1) Branick was talking about football coaches in general and thus would get less out of specific examples, and 2) Mirabelli was more of an expert in his discourse community than Branick was (having been a waiter at one of his research diners) and chose to talk about a specific privately owned diner, giving him more of an opportunity to use specific evidence.

Both Branick and Mirabelli are basically trying to show readers that literacy in their respective discourse communities is much more complicated than many people make it out to be.

I would like to incorporate into my research two aspects of Branick’s and Mirabelli’s work: 1) Perform firsthand research on my discourse community and include methods such as interviews and specific observations, and 2) Focus on one particular aspect of my discourse that is either interesting or has misconceptions (or both!).

While it would be difficult for me to physically observe how members of my discourse community - Kickstarter - go about their daily live within the community, what I can do is perform e-mail interviews as well as follow a few new project ideas from their inception to possibly success. Since my discourse community is so broad, I would not be able to perform an in-depth analysis like Mirabelli did. Instead, I may, as Andrew suggested, focus on something such as what it means to be an expert or novice in my community. However, classmates who are focusing on a specific discourse community may choose to follow a route closer to one Mirabelli followed.

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