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Posted on 11 Apr 2013 20:48

The Blue Collar Small Business World Defined as a Discourse Community
Daniel Griepp
April 11, 2013


This study shows readers the integral parts of the blue collar discourse community by using authors John Swales and Elizabeth Wardle to examine their characteristics. It begins by introducing the definition of a discourse community and then introduces the community of study: blue collar small businesses. This study then lists the forms research on which this paper is based which include personal experience from the author and interviews with small business managers. The author then discusses his findings in great detail as he examines the blue collar world in light of Swales and Wardle's descriptions of what a discourse community is. One by one, he considers these concepts and finds that this discourse community fits both Swales and Wardle's models of what a discourse community. In conclusion, the authors discusses possibilities of other studies which would only include the dimensions of strictly small businesses or blue collar workers.


A discourse community is a group of people who are associated with one another based on the characteristics that they share or have created. John Swales, a linguist best known for his work on genre analysis, has been helpful to understanding what a discourse community is. He states that it must be a body of individuals who share common goals, exhibit modes of intercommunication, uses these modes to provide feedback and information within the group, utilizes genres in attempt to further it's aims, develops unique lexis, and lastly only include members which have expertise relevant to the content discussed within the community. This generalized description is good for classifying a community as a discourse community while also acquiring a broad sense of what aspects make it one. Another linguist, Elizabeth Wardle, in known for her description of aspects of identity and authority within a workplace discourse community. She stresses the importance to learn the inner modes and genre's of a workplace when first confronted with differences.

In my study, I examined general, electrical, and plumbing small businesses which provide hands on service to business and residential customers. When considering this workplace community of people who work together to run small businesses in the blue collar workforce, I find no conclusive study which examines the characteristics of this community which make it a discourse community. Perhaps this is due to the fact that such a task requires analysis from an insider of such a community. It may be also because members of the blue collar workforce do not seem to be the type to set time aside and analyze their line of work in desire to find out what specifically makes it fit a discourse community's profile. As a former member of a similar community, I decided I would be well fit to examine this community and elaborate on the specific characteristics which categorize it as a discourse community and primarily what makes it unique. I became determined to produce a document that would give any reader from any background a fair understanding of how the blue collar discourse community functions.


My main forms of information and examples come from past work experience which I acquired while working in a small business as a project manager on the field. This is where I learned many of the concepts which I will be examining and showing. In addition to that, I decided to interview an acquaintance of mine, Steve from ** Electrical Installations, who runs a small business from the office and has dealt with many internal issues to resolve them. These two forms give the reader a sense of how situations are managed and the forms of communication used in strictly the office or out in the field. I examined this discourse community within the framework setup by John Swales and further elaborated on certain aspects of the community which writer Elizabeth Wardle discussed. All together, my research was unique perhaps because a lot of it was already completed and merely had to be recounted. However, I think we will find that this work experience acting as research will serve to give us a clear understanding of how small businesses operate as a discourse community.

Results and Discussion

First and foremost, according to Swales, a discourse community needs a clear set of common goals which they work together to strive towards. It requires no professional experience to conclude that blue collar small businesses members share the common goals of completing jobs and working efficiently so that they will benefit financially. Their primary reason for existence is to provide a service to a costumer for a return of financial gain. They work together to coordinate the men working in the field and materials that they need, manage logistical information/billing and market their business to attract new customers to attain additional profit.

Next, we may examine the mechanisms of communication which small businesses use daily with each other to accomplish their goals. Small businesses often use forms of communication familiar to all of us such as emails, texts, phone calls and sometimes meetings. Consider also that it is not uncommon to talk to certain individuals with certain distinct forms while only talking to other parties in strictly other forms. While managing materials and job-sites last year, I coordinated with the material suppliers, builders, demolition teams, architects, inspectors, and engineers involved on the job. With suppliers, builders, and demolition teams, the form of communication was almost always through phone, not texts or emails unless I was receiving an order list. With Architects, inspectors, and engineers, the people who you almost never see, It seemed that the form of email and telephone was almost strictly, though not always, used. In addition to communicating with these parties, I had to still communicate with the office in person, or through email, text, or phone. Small Business owner Steve, when asked about mechanisms of communication, noted the use of Post-It's and electronic calender reminders in addition to using emails, texts, and phone calls. Though perhaps the most informal type of genre, Stave claimed that Post-It's are the fastest way to write something important down and give it to the appropriate person or stick it someplace in the office where they will see it when they return. All these mechanisms of communication exist to optimize efficiency and make jobs go smoothly as planned.

My focus as project manager was to keep jobs moving and efficient. If I failed to order materials that the builder had requested for the next work day, the builder would be left without necessary materials and would not be able to work. I had to stay on top of things with not only with builders, but also with the office and material providers to keep track of orders, costs, and delivery times. Steve's focus as office manager and expediter was described as almost the same. Running jobs and keeping them moving is a common goal, as described before, which all members are aware of and strive towards. Furthermore, he describes running the field as, “A grueling task for a highly motivated efficient mind. You have to communicate with everyone and everyone else has to make their needs clear to you,” Steve says, “If nobody communicates, time and money is often lost as a result.” All methods of communication are used, both in the office and in the field, in order to keep all members informed so that work may progress smoothly.

In addition to the way in which the business communicates amongst itself, all members of the blue collar workforce including office workers and field workers share a deep array of lexis. As a project manager, I always had to communicate to material suppliers and builders in their language - meaning their lexis. I would never consider asking Ron, my materials supplier, for, “A ten foot piece of wood, two inches thick, by four inches wide.” That, although the correct dimensions, is not the proper term for that piece of lumber. The proper way to describe that to Ron is, “I need a two, by four, by ten.” Ron automatically knows that the first two dimensions are in inches and the last dimension is in feet. Other terminology I used when I piped out an entire house this summer included, for example, PVC tee-wyes, couplers, and bushings. These are simply just words to describe materials. PVC is polyvinyl chloride and tee-wye is simply a PVC joint which resembles a T and Y put together. Additionally, couplers and bushings are just materials which join or reduce lengths of PVC.

Deep knowledge and proficiency with lexis is how other blue collar workers gauge you and how much of a professional you really are. Furthermore, dishonest materials suppliers will understand when they are speaker with a green person who has no knowledge of lexis and are quick to charge higher prices or coerce you into purchasing more than you need. If they know you have no clue about the lexis of blue collar work, they also rightly conclude that you are not familiar with standard pricing and standard quantity. This concept, though applicable to all blue collar workers, applies equally to the community of small businesses because of the people who work in them.

The knowledge of lexis is not learned in books, rather, it is learned by working with professionals in their fields who understand this lexis and use it everyday. These professionals are often, though not always, the crusty old timers who know just about everything there is to know. It is nothing less than hard dedicated work and willing to learn and ask all the questions that they can think of. From the age of five, my dad always had me working with him or with other professionals in one of the fields in carpentry, mechanics, electricity, or plumbing and because of this, by the age of sixteen, I had gained the knowledge because of the intense learning that I did. This was gained through asking countless questions and working with my hands to accomplish the same tasks that the professionals were doing. Thats what members must do if they intend to become well versed to the community of blue collar small businesses.

Now that we have considered how blue collar small businesses are discourse communities, we may further look at how other authors describe other aspects of them. In “Identity, Authority, and learning to Write in New Workplaces,” Elizabeth Wardle, Chair for Writing Outreach, Department of Writing and Rhetoric at University of Central Florida, for example, describes the aspects of identity and authority within a workplace. Also stressed is the importance to adapt and learn the inner modes and genre's of a workplace when first confronted with differences. When considering a blue collar small business workplace we may consider some of the concepts introduced by Wardle in order to better understand their genres and roles of authority.

The role of authority within a workplace is very important to the success of the company in which they work. The boss gives orders to respective workers and has them accomplish tasks because he is responsible for making sure that the business makes profit and is successful. Based on my working experience in blue collar small businesses, the boss is generally a individual who has experience, not necessarily age, and a deep knowledge of his profession. Unlike corporations or other businesses, workers will not get jobs easier if they have higher education. Everything is based on practical knowledge which will help a company progress. The boss is someone who has the most knowledge and all the members of the community respect the boss because they are well aware of his knowledge. Once a boss is seen as someone who does not know what he is talking about, workers lose respect for them.

Among other things, main problems arise within a discourse community when the authority is questioned and or disobeyed. When asked to describe the importance of authority within the workplace, Steve recounted an experience he had with a worker that he was responsible for. This worker was unskilled in the work which Steve had him doing and was on a learning path to become a skilled worker. Although Steve gave him clear orders on how to stack the gang boxes in the storage garages and how to maintain them, the worker disregarded his command and did he best saw fit. This caused a problem in the workplace because gang boxes were not ready for workers and thus slowing down the workers when they needed to get them. To resolve this issue, Steve was compelled to fire this worker and find someone who would be willing to listen. One only belongs to the discourse community of a small business when they vest this characteristic of always being willing to learn in addition to learning the lexis and gaining a sense of how to function in the environment. Some people initially struggle with this concept because they refuse to accept that they are completely ignorant on the topic and fail to ask questions. This then debilitates their mind so that it does not progress and they do not learn. Believe it or not, this characteristic of arrogance is quite common with new comers in the field and is responsible for many short lived jobs.

Once a person overcomes this and gains a sense of how to belong to this community, it is essential that they next gain a sense from direction from authority of what role they play in the business. Wardle stresses this concept and states that clear job position separation is necessary to avoid confusion of authority. Different members of this community have different roles and with this comes different responsibility and authority. This is essential to making sure that everyone works in unison and everything gets done. When positions of members were unclear during my time as a project manager on the field, I often would ask two workers about something that had to be done and would get the similar response from both workers that the other worker was doing it. These issues were often resolved quickly by me telling one of the workers that it had just become their job and they were now responsible to do it. But when dealing with repetitive work such as paperwork within the office, these issues have much greater importance and sometime much greater consequences when considering a misunderstood duty may have involved payment to a materials supplier. I say all that to stress that authority and role definition is key to running a blue collar business small business efficiently and successfully.


To summarize, we first analyzed the characteristics found in blue collar small businesses in light of each of John Swales's six steps. In addition to concluding that this community fit the description fairly well, we found this evaluation to give us a better sense of how small businesses operate and most importantly communicate. Next, we reviewed concepts within a discourse community which were exemplified by author Elizabeth Wardle which included authority, occurring problems, and roles involved in blue collar small businesses. As we examined it, we found that one of the most important role within this community was indeed authority and great problems arise when it is disregarded. We ended on the importance of individuals gaining a sense of how they must belong to a community and how the role which they are given is important to the success of the business.

These findings and observations which I recounted and discovered seem to paint the picture of a closely knit group of individuals who would be distinctly either insiders and outsiders. Additionally, we may conclude that many of these concepts explained apply to many small businesses. It seems as though some of the concepts were mainly explained withing the context of small businesses. Perhaps if I were to redo this study, I would focus on the discourse community of strictly a small business office as a community without adding the dimension of it being blue collar. I now see that there is plenty to work with and examine when considering that a office is indeed a discourse community. It seemed throughout the project that I was trying to figure out if I was describing the blue collar world or the office world as many concept blend over but originate from different concepts. Overall, this study gave me a better understanding of how to view the office and field as two different discourse communities and how I would have been able to better explain them had a done them one at a time.

Work Cited

Swales, John. "The Concept of Discourse Community." Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP, 1990. 21-32. Print.

Wardle, Elizabeth. "Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces." Enculturation 5.2 (2004):

S. Griepp. personal communication, March 29, 2013

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