Swales and the Food Service Industry

Blog » Swales and the Food Service Industry

Posted on 13 Mar 2013 00:41

Created by Nelsyda PerezNelsyda Perez


In John Swales’ piece “The Concept of Discourse Community”, Swales tries to look at discourse communities in a more general way. He attempts to formulate a set list of characteristics that he feels are exhibited in all discourse communities. The characteristics are as follows:

  1. A discourse community has a common goal shared by the members associated with it,
  2. A discourse community has some form of intercommunication amongst members of the community,
  3. A discourse community uses “participatory mechanisms” to give information and feedback to other members,
  4. A discourse community uses one or more genres for communicative purposes,
  5. A discourse community uses a type of vocabulary or way of speaking unique to the community, and
  6. A discourse community has both novices and experts.

Besides having these guidelines, Swales claims that discourse communities do not just exist in the academic setting as assumed by people in general. He argues that a discourse community can be a discourse community without being mainstream. He also claims that the community does not need to have face-to-face communication to become a discourse community.

The group he chose to prove his point was the Hong Kong Study Circle (HKSC), a group focused around an interest in the stamps found in Hong Kong. For one thing, this group that he has decided to label as a discourse community is not a mainstream community. This is a group that not a lot of people are aware of and therefore it is obviously not as well known or as popular as an academic discourse community. It also does not employ face-to-face communication due to the large distances that separate the members of the group. Despite this, the HKSC meets the criteria that Swales himself set up. The members of the group have an interest in learning more about the stamps in Hong Kong. There is a newsletter and bi-monthly journal used for intercommunication. The community uses different terms and descriptive conventions when talking about stamps. There are members who know more than others as shown by Swales’ earlier series of events with the community.

The research was very easy for Swales because he was part of the discourse community he was researching. Being an insider himself he can evaluate what outsiders might not be able to see as well as what everyone, including the outsiders, can see. He also utilized the guidelines that he came up with as a means of evaluating the group. This not only made his research easier, but it also helped him focus enough on each guideline during his research resulting in an understanding between Swales and the reader.

Tony Mirabelli, in his piece “Learning to Serve: The Language and Literacy of Food Service Workers”, takes a similar approach to observing a discourse community by choosing a community that he is familiar with, just as Swales did with his own research. Mirabelli wrote about food service workers and the literacy that is used within the workplace. Specifically, he focused on the discourse community of food service worker at “Lou’s Restaurant”. When describing how literacy among food service workers is used, Mirabelli focuses on the menu and how it is read and interpreted by food service workers and how food service workers communicate with outsiders, the customers.

This particular discourse community does meet the guidelines set by Swales, but Mirabelli did not intend to prove that food service workers are considered part of a discourse community. He just wanted to raise awareness of the seriousness of this particular group of people that most other people do not take seriously. His research focused on highlighting the most significant aspects of working as a food service worker and building upon that. He doesn’t highlight the parts of the job that make being a group of food service workers a discourse community. By doing this, Mirabelli leaves some room for evaluating whether or not the group he focuses on qualifies as a discourse community. Swales did the qualifying for us already, which allows us to question his guidelines rather than the community itself.

When using these pieces for our own research we could automatically try to adapt to working on an already familiar discourse community, just as Swales and Mirabelli did in their research. While it is tempting to look at other discourse communities, there is a sense of security associated with studying a well-known discourse community. Both pieces overlap when it comes to their process in choosing a discourse community. Where they differ is in the approach taken during the research process. One way both approaches could be applied to our own projects is to take Mirabelli’s approach of listing the main defining aspects of the community. Afterwards, Swales’ approach of meeting the guidelines he set would be useful in further discussing the discourse community regardless of whether or not the community follows Swales’ definition of a discourse community. This way, both methods could be used to the advantage of the researcher.

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