Examining a Communist Discourse Community

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Posted on 07 Mar 2013 03:40

For this assignment, I decided upon investigating a subsection of the social media website, Reddit. So to completely understand the implications of my “research” I first think it’s necessary to understand what Reddit is (if you don’t already know).

Reddit, for all intents and purposes is the fresh, Web 2.0 version of the forum or bulletin board: users submit content in the form of links, pictures, videos, text—and vote on the significance of that content. But what delineates Reddit from these older means of communication, however, is that the website serves more or less as a platform. Users with a wide variety of interests gather on the site and carve out individual niches—sections of the site termed subreddits. What results is a community that is moderated on three levels: primarily, by the subreddit creators—there must be a vested interest in any topic to kick off a subreddit before anyone can post to it; secondarily, by the moderators of a given subreddit—they dictate the rules governing the subreddit and set the tone; tertiarily, the normal user has the ability to influence what content frequents a subreddit by posting content, voting on content, and generally setting the status quo.

The subreddit I’ve chosen to investigate as to wether or not it is a discourse community is the r/Communism community (from www.reddit.com/r/communism). As one might expect the community revolves around the discussion of communist ideology. (Communist ideology of the Marxist variety, specifically.) The primary “document” I considered during my investigation was a moderator’s post regarding an update to the subreddit rules (http://www.reddit.com/r/communism/comments/qwqhw/stalin_clause/). In summary, the post details the background and motivation in the following rule: “If you say Stalin or stalinists aren't communist, you get instantly banned!”

The goal of the post it can be said is to remind insiders of the rules governing the subreddit, inform fringe members as to how the moderation team conducts business, and ward off outsiders who would otherwise disrespect the rules and disrupt otherwise constructive conversation.

In terms of the typical subreddit, r/communism is a bit more heavily policed—even compared to similar communities on the website such as r/DebateaCommunist and r/Socialism. What is the cause for this? As the post explains r/Communism seeks for people to “discuss things, rather than keep denouncing them without presenting good arguments.” Hence, it can be said that the primary goal of the community is to promote constructive debate and discussion of communist ideology within the communist community. It must be underlined that the community exists to promote discussion between communists, and NOT to “convert people”.

In this respect—that the goal of the community is to promote discussion within a larger community—r/Communism to be an atypical discourse community. Whereas a typical discourse community according to Swales might openly recruit outsiders, r/Communism is vehemently opposed to accepting complete outsiders in discussion—actively removing them from the community. To be accepted as an insider, one must already be on the fringes of the community by having read the rules governing the subreddit and by being either respectful to Marxist ideology in discussion or some variation of a Marxist.

The document does have somewhat unique lexis, although perhaps not too unique across communist discussion as a whole. The post refers to the audience of the subreddit as “comrades” a genderless term to signify fraternity with fellow members of the movement. “Sectarianism” is also referred to in the post, referring to disagreement and friction within the larger communist community. In relation to sectarianism, the post mentions Stalinism, Maoism, and Trotskyism as “opposing” Marxist ideologies.

So, is r/Communism a discourse community? It bears the significant trappings of one: lexis, a defined goal, and a community based around that goal…but at the same time, the community actively exiles outsiders, instead recruiting members who are already on the fringes. It seems to exist a a guarded sub-community of the larger community of Marxists. Only after acquainting themselves with typical communist ideology may members be equipped to converse within the inner walls.

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