Swales, Wardle, and Discourse Communities

Blog » Swales, Wardle, and Discourse Communities

Posted on 12 Mar 2013 14:49

So with all the time that we’ve spent talking and researching discourse communities, you would think we would be able to come to some sort of definitive understanding of discourse communities; a nirvana in comprehension if you will. After reading through John Swales “The Concept of Discourse Communities” and Elizabeth Wardle’s “Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces”, I think I’ve definitely gotten a better grasp as to what one is, but I suppose I am still at the point where I want to know more.

I’ll be honest, at a glance; Swales’ piece can be difficult to read at a glance, especially if the reader has no prior knowledge on discourse communities. His argument is basically defining what he believes is a discourse community through six points and then giving an extended example (The Hong Kong Study Circle). Swales uses this example not only because he feels that it is a good example of what a discourse community is, but also because he himself is an insider in this group. As an insider, Swales is able to analyze the inner-workings in ways that an outsider would be unable to. I feel that Swales’ piece is an extremely good jumping off point in a discussion of discourse communities. It sets up a clear-cut model of what a discourse community should be and then gives a reasonable amount of evidence to back it up.

Wardle’s piece was quite interesting; it emphasized on the written part of a discourse community. Wardle’s argument is crafted similarly to Swales; she “outlines the theories of identity and authority” and then proceeds to share an example. Wardle’s piece has a heavy focus on how one becomes a part of a discourse community through the use of writing. She argues that one must go beyond comprehension of text and cognitive ability in order to fully become integrated in a discourse community. Her example vividly portrays the consequences if one does not come to understand the written side of a discourse community.

I feel like Wardle’s argument is a lot stronger mainly because I felt that Wardle’s example of a discourse community is simply better. Instead of showing an example of what a discourse community is, she shows how an individual fails to become part of a discourse community. Although Swales argument is relatively strong, one can argue he simply chose a random group he was a part of and built his definition around that group. Wardle’s discussion seems to focus more on the hierarchal nature of a discourse community while Swales discussion makes a discourse community sound more like an interconnected blob. Of course, they both agreed that discourse communities must have communication and specific lexis.

I really like how both authors developed their discussions on discourse communities. To me, both are highly useful and informative. Swales model can be used as the skeleton for any argument regarding discourse communities. One can simply make a case for each of the six criteria in Swales model. Wardle’s effective use of what does NOT make a successful integration into a discourse community is especially effective in arguing the case for any particular group.

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