James's Midterm Proposal

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Posted on 21 Mar 2013 22:40


For this project I will be examining the online community of RealGM.com and analyzing it in terms of John Swales criteria for what constitutes a discourse community. RealGM.com is an online sports forum that focuses on the major North American sports (hockey, basketball, baseball, football). I am going to focus on one of these sections: basketball. In general a discourse community is a group of individuals who share some common goal and values, and use communication as their means of achieving this goal. From my experience as a member of RealGM.com, I am confident it displays all the characteristics Swales requires for a discourse community. What I am hoping to prove through showing RealGM.com constitutes a discourse community is that online communities can be and deserve to be recognized as discourse communities. The remainder of this proposal will clarify the concept of discourse communities, present my research methodology for the project, as well as discuss my qualifications for performing this study as well as the challenges I expect to encounter.

Description of current situation

From the writings of John Swales, James Gee, Joseph Harris, and Mary Bucholtz, I have read many professional accounts of discourse communities. The range of communities these writers describe run the gamut; from Hong Kong stamp collectors to nerd girls in a California high school. Each writer attempts to define and refine the concept of a discourse community, and prove that a niche group (stamp collectors, nerds in a high school) many would not consider to constitute a discourse community do in fact actually form one.

There are a few reasons that people who study discourse communities choose to do so. The most obvious is that some, like Gee and Bucholtz, are sociolinguists who are naturally drawn to study communities like these; it is not only their job, but their passion. Others, like Swales and Mirabelli, are emotional tied to the communities they chose to study and have a point to prove. In Swales’ case he wanted to prove discourse communities do not have to be academic or their members geographically tied, while Mirabelli was fed up with the lack of respect given to waiters and wished to prove they are no different than any other discourse community. What these studies reveal is that every discourse community, no matter how small or unimportant it may seem on the outside, serves a purpose for its members. They help people appreciate their value and perhaps become more open-minded towards other communities in the future.

Since my reason for choosing RealGM.com as a discourse community was a result of my personal involvement with the community, the approaches of John Swales and Tony Mirabelli appeal the most to me. Like those writers, I am attempting to prove a popular misconception false. My plan is to follow their strategy of providing specific and thorough examples of how the community they studied fit the definition of a discourse community. Since the audience most likely comes into the paper with an opposite mindset, I must provide a multitude of evidence that is clear and convincing.

Description of project plan

To carry out my research, I will be diving straight into the discourse community. Having been a member since 2010, I will have access to all resources and have an excellent idea of how to navigate them. Thus almost all of my research will be empirical, although the line between electronic and empirical is hazy in this case. However since my research will be based on my observations of the community and its members, I am inclined to believe my methods are empirical. Since my goal is to prove RealGM.com is a discourse community according to Swales criteria, my process will be to break the criteria into parts and prove the existence of each one at RealGM.com using specific examples. Thus each major step will consist of explaining the criteria and declaring it present in the RealGM community. For each of these major steps the minor steps will consist of presenting examples and data that show the presence of this criterion. By the conclusion of the paper, every one of Swales criteria for a discourse community will have been proven to exist in the RealGM community and I can conclude that it is in fact a discourse community. Additionally, because RealGM is an online community, I will have achieved my initial goal of showing that online communities can share this title.

Review of qualifications

The most important qualification I have to carry out this research is that I am a member of the RealGM community, and can be considered an insider. Navigating the community and using its available resources will be a breeze since I am so accustomed to it. Most importantly, I will be able to communicate with members as well as get into contact with members in positions of power (moderators, administrators). This is a tremendous benefit because securing an interview with a member of the community is, in my opinion, the most difficult task in this project. I am confident given my standing in the community that I will have no problem interviewing a moderator or administrator.

Discussion of costs/challenges

The most major challenge I foresee in this research project is securing the most ideal examples to prove each of Swales criteria. This is not because there is a lack of material and sources, but rather because there is a glut of it. It could be very time-consuming to sift through the data that is insufficient and unnecessary in order to find the data I need. It will also be difficult to fight the temptation of using an adequate or mediocre example instead of searching harder for a better example that I know exists, but may take time to find. Another possible but less imposing difficulty will be proving that an online community like RealGM consists mainly of experts, which is one of the criteria Swales imposes for discourse communities.
Benefits and conclusion

The end result of my study will hopefully be that my opinion that online communities deserve to be labeled as discourse communities is validated. I am already extremely confident I can convince others that RealGM and online communities like it do in fact fit the definition of a discourse community. On a personal level I am hoping this study will allow me to discover more about a community I am interested and involved in. By the end of the study I want to be able to view RealGM.com in a different light: as a community no different than or inferior to others I’ve been a part of. Lastly, I hope it will prove to the class that the online communities they are a part of are also equally important and valuable. Many view online communities as inferior to “real-world” communities, and I want to show they are on equal ground.`

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