Discourse Communities I Identity And Communities Of Practice

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A N N M. J O H N SDiscourse Communities Iand Communities o fPractice:Membership, Conflict, andDiversityA N N M. J O H N SJohns Ann M. "Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict,and IDiversity." Text, Role, and Context: Developing Academic Literacies. Cambridge, New YoricCambridge UP, 1997.51-70. Print. Discourse Communities and CommunitiesofPractice4 9 ithin conventions o f communities, t h e relationship o f identity t o discourse comunity membership, and t h e problems o f authority and control over acceptablemmunity discourse. As always, t h e reading will be easier for you if you can try0 relate what t h e author describes t o your own experiences or t o things you haveitnessed or read about elsewhere.etting Ready t o Readeforeyou read, d o a t least o n e o f t h e following activities: If you've read ot her articles in this chapter already, make a list o f t h e difficul ties or problems you've had with t h e concept o f discourse communities so far.What have you not understood, what has not made sense, o r what questionshave you been left with? Write a note t o yourself on this question: What does t h e idea o f merribershipmean t o you? When you hear t h a t word, what do you associate it with? Whatmemories o f it do you have? Do you often use it or hear it?As you read, consider t h e following questions:Framing the ReadingAnn Johns, like t h e other scholars whose work you have read so far in this chapter.nwhT"coedited a journal with John Swales from 198501993. While she was a t San Diego State University, Johns directed t h e AmericanLanguage Institute, t h e Writing across t h e Curriculum Program, t h e Freshman Suc cess Program, and the Center for Teaching and Learning, and she still found timet o research and write twenty-three articles, twenty-two book chapters, and four W h a t does it mean t o have authority in relation t o texts a n d discoursecommunities? How does trying t o become a member o f a discourse community impactyour sense o f self—do you feel your "self" being compressed or pressured, orexpanding?' How are discourse communities related to identity?h h he aassroom [2001] and Text, Role, and Context, fromwhich t h e following reading is taken). Since retiring from San Diego State. Johnscontinues t o write articles and consult around t h e world.extension o f an ongoing conversation in this chapter.When John Swales defined discourse community, he noted in passing t h a t partici pating m a discourse community did not necessarily require joining it. but he didnot pursue t h e idea o f conflict within communities any further. James Gee does nothelp much with this problem because he argues that people from nondominant homeiscourses can only join dominant Discourses through mushfake. This is where AnnJohns steps in. She published well after both Swales and Gee. s oshe had time t o think through some o f t h e issues they were con Text. Role,sidering and then extend the conversation by really delving intoiind ('onfextthe problem o f conflict within discourse communities.When talking about conflicts related t o discourse communi ties. Johns focuses primarily on academic discourse communi ties. She talks about some o f t h e "expected" conventions ofdiscourse in t h e academy (what she calls "uniting forces") andthen describes sources of contention. Johns brings up issues ofrebellion against discourse community conventions, change[498I f there is one thing that most o f [the discourse community definitions] have incommon, it is an idea o f language [and genres] as a basis for sharing and hold ing in common: shared expectations, shared participation, commonly (or communicably) held ways o f expressing. Like audience, discourse community entailsassumptions about conformity and convention (Rafoth, 1990, p. 140).What is needed for descriptive adequacy may not be so much a search for theconventions o f language use in a particular group, but a search for the varietieso f language use that work both with and against conformity, and accuratelyreflect the interplay o f identity and power relationships (Rafoth, 1990, p. 144).Asecond irnportant concept in the discussion o f socioliteracies is discourse icommunity. Because this term is abstract, complex, and contested, I willapprodch it by attempting t o answer a few o f the questions that are raised in' he literature, those that seem most appropriate t o teaching and learning inacademic contexts.Some o f the contested issues and questions are; "How are communities defined?" (Rufoth, 1990); "Dodiscourse communities even exist?" (Prior, 1994); "Are they global or local? Or both?" (Killingsworth,1992); "What is the relationship between discourse communities and genres?" (Swales, 1988b, 1990).

F b O OChapter 4A N N M. J O H N S5oTlCommunities and Membership1. W h y do individuals join social a n d professional communities? Whatappear t o be the relationships between communities and their genres?2. Are there levels of community? In particular, can we hypothesize a gen eral academic community o r language?3. W h a t are some o f the forces that make communities complex and var ied? W h a t forces w o r k against "shared participation and shared ways ofexpressing?" (Rafoth, 1990, p. 140).I have used the term discourse communities because this appears t o be themost common term in the literature. However, communities o f practice, arelated concept, is becoming increasingly popular, particularly for academiccontexts (see Brown & Duguid, 1995; Lave & Wenger, 1991). I n the term dis course communities, the focus is o n texts a n d language, the genres a n d lexis thatenable members throughout the world t o maintain their goals, regulate theirmembership, and communicate efficiently with one another. Swales (1990, pp.24-27) lists six defining characteristics o f a discourse community:1 D i s c o u r s e C o m m u n i t i e s a n d C o m m u n i t i e s o f PracticeSocial, Political, and Recreational Communities21. [It has] a broadly agreed set o f common public goals.2. [It has] mechanisms o f intercommunication among its members (such asnewsletters o r journals).3. [It] utilizes and hence possesses one o r more genres in the communicativefurtherance o f its aims.4. [It] uses its participatory mechanisms primarily t o provide informationa n d feedback.5. In addition t o owning genres, [it] has acquired some specific lexis.6. [It has] a threshold level o f members with a suitable degree o f relevantcontent a n d discoursal expertise.The term communities o f practice refers t o genres and lexis, but especially 3t o m a n y practices and values that hold communities together o r separate themfrom one another. Lave and Wenger, in discussing students' enculturation intoacademic communities, have this t o say about communities o f practice:As students begin to engage with the discipline, as they move from exposure toexperience, they begin to understand that the different communities on campus arequite distinct, that apparently common terms have different meanings, apparentlyshared tools have different uses, apparently related objects have different interpre tationsAs they work in a particular community, they start to understand bothits particularities and what joining takes, how these involve language, practice,culture and a conceptual universe, not just mountains of facts (1991, p. 13).Thus, communities o f practice are seen as complex collections o f individualsw h o share genres, language, values, concepts, and "ways o f being" (Geertz,1983), often distinct from those held by other communities.In order t o introduce students t o these'visions o f community, it is useful to 4take the m outside the academic realm t o something more familiar, the recre ational and avocational communities t o which they, o r their families, belong.Thus I begin with a discussion o f nonacademic communities before proceedingt o issues o f academic communities and membership.People are born, o r taken involuntarily by their families and cultures, into somecommunities o f practice. These first culture communities may be religious,tribal, social, o r economic, and they may be central t o an individual's daily lifeexperiences. Academic communities, o n the other hand, are selected a n d volun tary, a t least after compulsory education. Therefore, this chapter will concen trate o n communities that are chosen, the groups with which people maintainties because o f their interests, their politics, o r their professions. Individualsare often members of a variety o f communities outside academic life: socialand interest groups with which they have chosen t o affiliate. These communityaffiliations vary in terms o f individual depth o f interest, behef, and commitment.Individual involvement may become stronger o r weaker over time as circum stances and interests change.Nonacademic communities of interest, like "homely" genres, can providea useful starting point for student discussion. In presenting communities ofthis type. Swales uses the example of{ Mlthe H o n g Kong Study Circle (HKSC), o f which he is a paying member, whose I Why do individuals join socialpurposes are t o "foster interest in a n dand professional communities?knowledge o f the stamps o f H o n gAre there levels o f community?Kong" (1990, p. 27). H e was once quiteWhatare s o m e o f the forces thatactive in this community, dialoging fre quently with other members throughmake communities complex andHKSC publications. However, a t thisvaried?point in his life, he has other interests(birds and butterflies), and so he is n o wan inactive member of HKSC. His commitments o f time and energy have beendiverted elsewhere.Members o f m y family are also affiliated with several types o f communities.We are members o f cultural organizations, such as the local art museum and thetheater companies. We receive these communities' publications, and w e attendsome o f their functions, but we d o n o t consider ourselves t o be active. We alsobelong t o a variety o f conununities with political aims. M y mother, for exam ple, is a member o f the powerful lobbying group, the American Association ofRetired Persons (AARP). The several million members pay their dues because oftheir interests in maintaining government-sponsored retirement (Social Security)and health benefits (Medicare), both o f which are promoted by" AARP lobby ists in the U.S. Congress. The AARP magazine, Modern Maturity, is a powerfulorgan o f the association, carefully crafted t o forward the group's aims. Throughthis publication, members are urged t o write t o their elected representatives Note that most communities use abbreviations for their names and often for their publications. Ailcommunity members recognize these abbreviations, o f course.' These written interactions are impossible for the noninitiated t o understand, I might point out.

r502Chapter 4about legislation, and they are also informed about which members o f Congressare "friends o f the retired." However, members are offered more than politics:Articles in the magazine discuss keeping healthy while aging, remaining beauti ful, traveling cheaply, and using the Internet. AARP members also receive dis counts on prescription drugs, tours, a n d other benefits.'*Recently, m y husband has become very active in a recreationa} discourse gcommunity, the international community o f cyclists. H e reads publicationssuch as Bicycling ("World's No. 1 R o a d a n d Mpuntain Bike Magazine") eachmonth for advice about better cyclist health ("Instead o f Pasta, Eat This!"), equipment t o buy, and international cycling tours. Like most other communi ties, cycling has experts, some o f w h o m write articles for the magazines t owhich he subscribes, using a register that is mysterious t o the uninitiated:unified gear triangle ; metal matrix composite." Cyclists share values (goodhealth, travel interests), special knowledge, vocabulary, and genres, but they d on o t necessarily share political o r social views, as m y husband discovered whenconversing with other cyclists o n a group trip. In publications for cyclists, w ecan find genres that we recognize by name but with community-related con tent: editorials, letters t o the editor, short articles o n new products, articles ofinterest t o readers (on health and safety, for example), advertisements appeal ing to readers, and essay/commentaries. If we examine magazines published forother interest groups, we can find texts from many o f the same genres.As this discussion indicates, individuals often affiliate with several commu- 9nities a t the same time, with varying levels o f involvement and interest. Peoplemay join a group because they agree politically, because they w a n t t o socialize,o r because they are interested in a particular sport o r pastime. The depth o f anindividual s commitment can, a n d often does, change over time. As memberscome a n d go, the genres and practices continue t o evolve, reflecting a n d pro moting the active members' aims, interests, and controversies.Studying the genres o f nonacadenuc communities, particularly those with lovvhich students are familiar, helps them t o grasp the complexity o f text produc tion and processing and the importance o f understanding the group practices,lexis, values, and. controversies t h a t influence the construction o f t xts.Professional CommunitiesDiscourse communities can also be professional; every major profession has its i iorganizations, its practices, its textual conventions, and its genres. Active com munity members also carry o n inforjnal exchanges: a t conferences, throughe-mail interest groups, in memos in hallway discussions a t the office, in labo ratories a n d elsewhere, the results o f which may be woven intertextually intoWhen I asked my mother t o drop her AARP membership because o f a political stand the organizationtook, she said, "I can't, Ann. I get t o o good a deal on my medicines through my membership."' Those o f us w h o are outsiders call them "gearheads." Often, terms are applied t o insiders by com munity outsiders. Brill, D. (1994, November). What's free o f fat and cholesterol, costs 4 cents per serving, and has morecarbo than pasta? Rice! Bicycling, pp. 86-87.A N N M. J O H N S I D i s c o u r s e C o m m u n i t i e s and C o m m u n i t i e s o f Practice5 0 public, published texts. However, it is the written genres o f communities thatare accessible t o outsiders for analysis. We need only t o ask professionalsabout their texts in order t o collect a n array of interesting examples. O n e o f themost thoroughly studied professional communities is the law. In his AnalysingGenre: Language Use in Professional Settings (1993), Bhatia discusses a t somelength his continuing research into legal communities that use English andother languages (pp. 101-143). H e identifies the various genres o f the legalprofession: their purposes, contexts, and the form and content that appear t obe conventional. H e also contrasts these genres as they are realized in textsfrom various cultures.However, there are many other professional discourse communities whosegenres can be investigated, particularly when students are interested in enculturation. For example, students might study musicians w h o devote their livest o pursuing their art but w h o also use written texts t o dialogue with othersin their profession. To learn more a b o u t these communities, I interviewed abassoonist in our city orchestra. Along with those w h o play oboe, Englishhorn, and contrabassoon, this musician subscribes t o the major publicationo f the double-reed community, The International Double Reed Society Jour nal. Though he has specialized, double-reed interests, he reports that he andmany other musicians also have general professional aims and values t h a t linkthem t o musicians in a much broader community. He argues that all practicingrhusicians within the Western tradition share knowledge; there is a commoncore o f language and values within this larger community. Whether they areguitarists, pianists, rock musicians, o r bassoonists, musicians in the West seemto agree, for example, that the strongest and most basic musical intervals are5 - 1 a n d 4 - 1 , and that other chord intervals are weaker. They share a basiclinguistic register and an understanding o f chords and notation. Without thissharing, considerable negotiation would have t o take place before they couldplay music together. As in other professions, these musicians have a base ofexpertise, values, and expectations t h a t they use t o facilitate communication.Thus, though a musician's first allegiance may be to his o r her o w n musicaltradition (jazz) o r instrument (the bassoon), he o r she will still share a greatdeal with other expert musicians—and much o f this sharing is accomplishedthrough specialized texts.W h a t can we conclude from this section about individual affiliations withdiscourse communities.' First, many people have chosen t o be members of oneo r a variety o f communities, groups with w h o m they share social, political, pro fessional, o r recreational interests. These communities use written discoursesthat enable members t o keep in touch with each other, carry o n discussions,explore controversies, and advance their aims; the genres are their vehicles forcommunication. These genres are not, in all cases, sophisticated o r intellectual,literary o r high-browed. They are, instead, representative o f the values, needs.' I would like to thank Arlan Fast o f the San Diego Symphony for these community insights. Knowledge is also shared with musicians from other parts o f the world, o f course. However, some ofthe specific examples used here apply t o the Western musical tradition.

r504Chapter4A N N M. J O H N S I D i s c o u r s e C o m m u n i t i e s and C o m m u n i t i e s o f Practice(see Bartholomae, 1985; Belcher & Braine, 1995; Berkenkotter & Huckin,1995; Carson et al., 1992; Lave & Wenger, 1991, among others), many facultybelieve t h a t there is a general academic English as well as a general set o f criti cal thinking skills and strategies for approaching texts.Because this belief in a general, shared academic language is strong and uni versal, the next section of this chapter is devoted t o this topic.Academic Communitiesa n d practices o f the community t h a t produces them. Community membershipmay be concentrated o r diluted; it m a y be central t o a person's life o r periph eral. Important for the discussion that follows is the juxtaposition o f general ized a n d specialized languages a n d practices among these groups. Musicians,lawyers, athletes, and physicians, for example, may share certain values, lan guage, a n d texts with others within their larger community, though their firstallegiance is t o their specializations. Figure 1 illustrates this general/specificrelationship in communities.In the case o f physicians, for example, there is a general community and a I4set o f values and concepts with which most m a y identify because they haveall had a shared basic education before beginning their specializations. Thereare publications, documents, concepts, language, and values t h a t all physicianscan, a n d often do, share. The same c a n be said o f academics, as is shown inthe figure. There may be some general academic discourses, language, values,and concepts that most academics share. Thus faculty often identify themselveswith a college o r university a n d its language and values, as well as with themore specialized areas of interest for which they have been prepared.This broad academic identification presents major problems for scholars 1-5and literacy practitioners, for although it is argued that disciplines are different' For example, The Chronicle o f Higher Education and several pedagogical publications are directed t o ageneral academic aud

Communities and Membership . Social, Political, and Recreational Communities . People are born, or taken involuntarily by their families and cultures, into some communities of practice. These first culture communities may be religious, tribal, social, or economic, and they

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