discourse community (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

discourse community
The practices of a discourse community, says Patricia Bizzell, "regulate social interactions both within the group and its dealings with outsiders" (Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness, 1992). (Ezra Bailey/Getty Images)


Discourse community is a term used in composition studies and sociolinguistics for a group of people who share certain language-using practices.

In Grammar and Context, Ann Hewings and Martin Hewings define discourse communities as "groups of people who share particular registers and use the kinds of text (both spoken and written) in which these registers occur" (Routledge, 2005). 

In A Geopolitics of Academic Writing, A.

Suresh Canagarajah makes the point that the "discourse community cuts across speech communities. . . . Physicists from France, Korea, and Sri Lanka could belong to the same discourse community, though they may belong to three different speech communities" (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Use of the term 'discourse community' testifies to the increasingly common assumption that discourse operates within conventions defined by communities, be they academic disciplines or social groups. The pedagogies associated with writing across the curriculum and academic English now use the notion of 'discourse community' to signify a cluster of ideas: that language use in a group is a form of social behavior, that discourse is a means of maintaining and extending the group's knowledge and of initiating new members into the group, and that discourse is epistemic or constitutive of the group's knowledge."
    (Bruce Herzberg, "The Politics of Discourse Communities." CCC Convention, New Orleans, March 1986)
  • "I would argue that we must acknowledge conflict as a frequent and perhaps inevitable concomitant of discourse community interactions, whether we focus on undergraduate students' entry into the academic discourse community or graduate students' entry into the subcommunity of our field--which in turn has different theoretical orientations nested within it . . .."
    (Patricia Bizzell, Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992)
  • "A discourse community is a group of people who have texts and practices in common, whether it is a group of academics or the readers of teenage magazines. In fact, discourse community can refer to several overlapping groups of people: It can refer to the people a text is aimed at; it can be the people who read a text; or it can refer to the people who participate in a set of discourse practices both by reading and writing."
    (David Barton, Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Blackwell, 1994)
  • Discourse Communities and Speech Communities
    "[John] Swales [in Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings, 1990: 24] develops the idea of 'discourse community' by comparison with 'speech community.' He mentions several reasons for separating the two concepts: The first is that a discourse community requires a network of communication and common goals while there may be considerable distance between the members both ethnically and geographically. In contrast a speech community requires physical proximity. A second reason that Swales mentions is that a discourse community is a socio-rhetorical unit that consists of a group of people who link up in order to pursue objectives that are established prior to those of socialization and solidarity, both of which are characteristic of a speech community (i.e. a socio-linguistic unit). A final point is that discourse communities are centrifugal (they tend to separate people into occupational or specialty-interest groups), whereas speech communities are centripetal (they tend to absorb people into the general fabric of society)."
    (Pedro Martín-Martín, The Rhetoric of the Abstract in English and Spanish Scientific Discourse. Peter Lang, 2005)
  • Changing Conceptions of the Discourse Community
    "[T]he notion of the discourse community has rapidly evolved from that of a static group of experts with clearly defined roles. The discourse community is now perceived as a diffuse group of individuals with different levels of expertise and changing social relations, whose communicative needs more or less coincide at different points in time."
    (Jacob Mey, Concise Encyclopedia of Pragmatics. Elsevier, 1998)
  • "Our intentionality, our consciousness, comes into existence by being a part of society, a member of a discourse community. We develop thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs, and attitudes in collaboration with others. Our intentionality is part of the collective intentionality of the discourse community to which we belong. Our mind is part of a collective mind."
    (Wolfgang Teubert, Meaning, Discourse and Society. Cambridge University Press, 2010)