OP Finally Delivers: A Proposal for a Case Study on Reddit as a Discourse COmmunity

Blog » OP Finally Delivers: A Proposal for a Case Study on Reddit as a Discourse COmmunity

Posted on 04 Apr 2013 04:37


When studying writing, one of the most important aspects to understand is genre. Genres are categories of literature that share similar compositional and stylistic criteria. The best way to understand genre is to consider groups of people who systematically use standard genres as modes of communication and identification: communities. More specifically, one should consider discourse communities, which, according to linguists James Paul Gee and John Swales, are communities of people who have similar values, goals, and ways of communicating about those goals. Swales helped develop the term “discourse community” by defining six qualities that characterize it. He contends that all discourse communities have an agreed upon set of common goals, have mechanisms of intercommunication between members, uses its mechanisms of communication to make statements and to give feedback, makes use of certain particular genres consistently, has a unique, common lexis, and have a threshold of members and a way to rank them. James Paul Gee made separate observations; these were regarding how one enters a discourse community and adopts “Discourses” of hat community. His overarching point was that people usually have to learn, or adjust to, transferring what they intend to say and do from their primary discourse into a secondary one.

For my midterm project, I propose to use these findings by Gee and Swales to discuss and, essentially, prove the Internet forum Reddit to be a discourse community by referencing specific instances from the forum, which reflect Swales’ characteristics and Gee’s observations of adaptation to secondary discourses.

The Current Situation:

At the present moment, I have a considerable amount of research from three sub-Reddit groups: r/Atheism, r/TodayILearned, and r/AdviceAnimals. From all three sub-Reddits, I’ve aggregated research on the rules for posting within the sub-Reddit, and several bits of information that I could gather about each of the sub-Reddit moderators, who play an important role in this community, as I intend to show. I have one extremely useful thread from r/Atheism that consists of a question from a religious original poster who is curious about why the denizens of r/Atheism have chosen to abscond from religion. My research from r/AdviceAnimals is an aggregate of threads of negative comments about the improper use of specific Internet fads, and also positive comments on the proper use of Internet fads. Proper use implies a higher standing amongst this community. Reddit as a whole has a provided set of guidelines for communicating with other Redditors; it is referred to as “Reddiquette”. There is also a lot of Internet jargon form various forums that has generally been adopted by Reddit and is often used when appropriate.

Project Plan:

After I gather all of the necessary research, I intend to go through with organizing the project as such:

(1) Description of Swales’ work
(2) Description of Gee’s work
(3) Explain why the two linguists’ works are credible
(4) Apply Swales’ six characteristics to Reddit and use specific instances to support each claim
(5) Use instances form the three sub-Reddits to discuss Gee’s concept of transferring from primary to secondary discourses
(6) Conclude
(7) Reflect on ways to improve and a new direction to take with the research


• I’m a Reddit lurker
• I’m subscribed to r/Atheism, r/AdviceAnimals, and r/TodayILearned
• Am an “agnostic atheist” as described by r/Atheism
• I am very picky about how memes should be used
• I have ways to contact sub-Reddit moderators
• I have unlimited access to any posts that have been made on any of the mentioned sub-Reddits, so long as they have been approved by moderators.
• Many of my friends are Redditors (this is not true; I don’t have many IRL friends)

Costs and Challenges:

Right now I have a lot of research piled up and I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of it. I’d like to be able to use most of it. I am also not too sure about whether the claim/goal of the project is sufficient. I intend to contact moderators of the sub-Reddits I’ve chosen for commentary, but I don’t know if they’d be willing to participate.

I suppose the end result should be an affirmation that all online communities are still discourse communities, even if not in the most traditional sense (as Swales initially thought about it). So, essentially, it’s a defense of Swales’ descriptions. I really think the breach from outsider to insider is an important aspect of discourse communities. I want my next version of this case study to grow out of this same research, and I’d like to be able to consider what Gee and Mary Bucholtz (another linguist who studied discourses and identity practices) studied and go into a thorough discussion of adopting to using specific genre in a community that one is about to enter.

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