What is a discourse community?

A discourse community is a group of communicators with a common goal or interest that adopts certain preferred ways of participating in public discussion. These preferred ways of discussion are called discursive practices. Generally, these discursive practices involve various genres (academic papers, books, lectures, debates, TV and radio programming, etc.) and require the mastery of certain special terminology or jargon. Generally, "membership" in a discourse community requires a certain level of expertise in the common goal; the more "expert" one is considered, the more influence one has over the preferred discursive practices. The boundaries of discourse communities are often hazy, and frequently overlap, and many broad discourse communities have smaller, more specialized sub-communities. Most people participate regularly in several different discourse communities.

Some examples of discourse communities:

Academia: College and post-graduate studies come with their own language conventions. If you doubt this, consider how the manner in which you write academic papers differs from the way you write e-mails to close friends. The academic discourse community is quite broad, and comprises many sub-communities of specific fields and disciplines (biology, history, literature, mathematics, etc.).

Politics: Think about the way in which politicians typically speak, and there is llittle doubt that they are members of a discourse community. Those who break from accepted norms of discourse (think Howard Dean's famous howling speech in New Hampshire) are often "demoted" from positions of power in the community.

Computer Programming: Anyone unclear on the concept of discourse communities simply needs to listen to a discussion among a group of computer programmers. Clearly, this is a community that requires highly specialized knowledge, expertise, and a grasp of a complicated lexicon of terminology and jargon.
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