Stephanie's Midterm Project

Blog » Stephanie's Midterm Project

Posted on 13 Apr 2013 00:16

Evaluating a Discourse Community from an Outsider’s Perspective

Stephanie Bodre
April 12, 2013

The following report is an account of an ethnographic study on the non-profit organization Make the Road New York , their mission is to service immigrant New Yorkers by providing justice in areas such as education, labor, and housing. The report goes through the method of analyzing documents and interviewing members. The results indicate how the data collected can be used to evaluate this community as a discourse community based on Swales' definition. The report ends with how you can become involved in this community.


A discourse community is a group of people who share common interests, goals and ways of communicating. We know which standards a discourse community must have from linguist John Swales. He has determined that a discourse community must meet the following six qualifications: have a broadly agreed set of common goals, hierarchy of members, means of communication between members, uses one or more genres, communicate in order to provide information, and a specific lexis. People study discourse communities for various reasons, to study methods of communication, to compare and contrast different communities, or in order to become an “insider”. The community I have observed is the non-profit organization Make the Road New York, which is a group of volunteers who provide justice to the underprivileged citizens of New York City. I discovered Make the Road New York’s Brooklyn division while out for a drive and I became interested in learning more about it. My goal is to prove this community is a discourse community from an outsiders’ perspective and after reading this you will know how you can become a member of this community.


I modeled my method of research after Sean Branick’s article “An Ethnographic Study of a Football Coaching Discourse Community”. Hus main source of information came from interviewing, so he interviewed the coaching graduate assistant by e-mail. The interview questions Branick chose were based on Swales’ characteristics. For instance, by asking, “What are your goals?” he is inquiring about the common goals aspect of the community. The benefit of using an interview method is receiving information from a primary source. Information given in an interview is in their own words and is easier to understand than more formal writing found in publications or reports.



I have observed the Make the Road New York community on site of one of their events, a rally at City Hall. I attended a rally held in celebration of the proposed law made by Make the Road New York that was passed. The law requires employers in New York City to allow workers to take paid sick days. At the rally, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was answering questions for the press while members of the Make the Road New York community stood behind her. The members were chanting their slogan “Dignidad, Comunidad, y Poder”, which translates to “Dignity, Community and Power”. After other reporters were finished interviewing, I was able to interview a member.

I interviewed Julissa Bisono the community workplace justice organizer. Workplace justice is one of the five categories of Make the Road New York’s projects, the others being education justice, civil rights and immigrant power, environmental and housing justice and LGBTQ justice. She provides a voice to immigrant families when they are faced with unfair working conditions. Immigration law reform and the paid sick leave bill are the greatest events Bisono has been involved with as a part of the workplace justice project.

I was able to do another interview by phone with a higher member of the Make the Road New York community, Theo Oshiro, the deputy director. He states that his clients are low-income immigrant families but he works as the director of three services departments, the legal department, the adult education department, and the health department. Besides, the paid sick leave bill, Oshiro believes the most successful law that has been passed from the support of Make the Road New York was the law for pharmacies to require translations on drug prescriptions. Oshiro must frequently use writing skills in his position as deputy director. Since Make the Road New York is a non-profit organization, the job of the deputy director is to write grant proposals to ask for funding for various projects. Funding usually comes from the government, other foundations or caring individuals. The process of writing a grant proposal starts by reading a proposal writing guidebook called request for proposals from the company. Along with the guidebook, Oshiro uses his literary skills he has mastered from receiving a master's degree in Latin American Studies/Anthropology.


Make the Road New York is indeed an organized community that follows Swales' six qualifications. First, it has a broadly agreed set of public goals to assist low-income immigrant families through services such as education and through providing justice by amending laws. This is evident from the community's website, on the home page are articles of their most recent victories. The article "Raising the Wage for All - A message from MRNY Member Santos Garcia." is about the legislation in Albany passing a proposed budget to increase the minimum wage to $9. She finishes the article by writing that the campaign for minimum wage is not over and she leaves a link to sign a petition to Governor Cuomo asking to increase the minimum wage for food service workers. Thus, no matter how many victories they have, they are always trying to achieve their goal.

Members of Make the Road New York have methods of intercommunication through various means. E-newsletters are sent two to four times a week regarding news releases which show members who have made a large-scale impact such as traveling to Washington D.C. Members are reminded about upcoming meetings by phone, e-mail, and social media. Documents that are used provide information and feedback are found on the Make the Road New York archive page. Found on the archive page are a record of four types of articles, media coverage, press advisories, events and reports. Media coverage includes references of the community in newspapers and news channels such as CBS, the New York Times and the Daily News. Press advisories are invitations for members to attend press conferences. Event articles are accounts of victories written from the point of view of Make the Road New York staff. Reports are publications and research articles that feature an ongoing problem that needs to be solved such as the articles “Back Home, Back to Work: Eradicating Dandy Mold Infestation Once and for all” and “Double Fault: The Negative Impact of the US Tennis Association on Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Surrounding Communities”. These four article types show the variety of genres that are used to communicate and accomplish goals further. The specific lexis that is used are words related to their ongoing projects and trying to reach their goals: social justice, impact, struggle, power, democracy, immigration, civil rights, organize. Members of the community are ranked by importance. The list of the board of directors and staff are able to be viewed on their website.


Do you want to become involved in making a difference in the lives of your fellow New Yorkers? To become a member of Make the Road New York you can start by attending one of their weekly meetings. You can also inquire about a job, internship, or volunteer work on their site Jobs and Volunteer Work

Back Matter

Interview with Julissa Bisono who is part of the Queens division:
1. What is your educational background?
Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
2. How long have you been a part of this organization?
12 years
3. What is your role in this organization? What kind of clients do you serve to and what do you do? In what areas do you work in?
I am the community workplace justice organizer. My clients are [Hispanic] immigrant families and I help to improve working conditions.
4. What made you want to be involved?
I am interested in improving conditions for immigrants because my parents are immigrants.
5. What are the biggest events that you have been a part of?
Passing an immigration reform law and the paid sick days law that was passed today.
6. What writing/literary skills do you use in your role?
Writing agendas for meetings, producing flyers for events.
7. What kind of documents do you reference?
Reading newspapers to stay up to date with current events.
8. What kinds of documents are used to communicate between members?
Newsletter every 3 months, also media by phone, e-mail, Facebook, twitter
9. What vocabulary do you use as a part of this community?
Organizing, immigration, civil rights

Interview with Theo Oshiro who is part of the Brooklyn and Queens division:
1. What is your educational background?
Bachelor’s Degree in Latin American Studies/English Literature and Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies/Anthropology
2. How long have you been a part of this organization?
Since 2005 [which approximates to about 8 years]
3. What is your role in this organization? What kind of clients do you serve to and what do you do?
I am the deputy director. [He is not on the board of directors; he is directly underneath the co-executive directors.] My clients are low – income immigrant families. I do not work directly with the clients, but I direct the three services departments. The legal department, which is made up of twenty attorneys and advocates, that help defend those who are treated unfairly (not being paid their wage, not receiving benefits, etc.). The adult education department that provides ESL classes to those who want it and the health department to help provide low cost service options for health related issues (insurance, purchasing medication).
4. What made you want to be involved?
Foremost, I wanted to help immigrants. I became involved with Make the Road New York to help people one on one and to help pass laws [help many New Yorkers as a whole.]
5. What are the biggest events that you have been a part of?
The biggest laws that were passed because of Make the Road New York were the most recent one providing paid sick days to New Yorkers so they are able to take days off without being afraid of losing their job. The other New York State law that was passed was to provide translations in other [9] languages when purchasing prescription medication in pharmacies.
6. What writing/literary skills do you use in your role?
My main job is to write grant proposals. Since this is a non-profit organization we need to obtain funding from the government, foundations, and/or individuals.
7. What kind of documents do you reference?
I have to read a document called a request for proposals that states how the proposal is written, before writing the proposal. Other than that, I read policy documents, news articles, and journal articles.
8. What kind of documents are used to communicate between members?
Members are sent information through e-mail and newsletters. [ You can sign up for their e-mails in English or Spanish on their website General Interest (1-2 emails per month) , Action Alerts (2-4 emails per month) , MRNY In The News (Quarterly updates on our impact) , Walk for Immigrant NY (Seasonal) ,Press Advisories & Releases - 2-4 emails per week ] Annual reports to politicians [can be found on website archive from 2000 – 2011. Other documents such as media coverage and events can be found on the website.]
9. What specific vocabulary do you use as a part of Make the Road New York ?
Social justice, impact, struggle, power, democracy

Works Cited

undefined. (Make the Road New York). Who We Are. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from

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

Leave a comment

Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License