Discourse Community – Community of Practice

A Discourse Community or a Community of Practitioners is a group of people, an audience, who share common purposes/goals or interests and methods of communication (e.g., genres, jargon or professional terms of art, media/channels communication, citation styles).

Members of discourse communities share expectations regarding how to

  1. compose texts
    Discourse communities share assumptions regarding the best ways to develop and test knowledge claims, research methods, research methodologies. They share expectations regarding the styles of writing that should be employed when they communicate with one another (other subject matter experts) or members of the public. Consider, e.g., how the texts of engineers differ from the texts of lawyers.
  2. interpret texts
    Discourse communities share epistemological assumptions about the world and those assumptions, those epistemological positions, inform interpretive practices. For instance, in American politics, the republicans and the democrats have unique and contrasting ideas about how to manage the economy, social programs, taxes, government regulation–and so on.

A Discourse Community, a Community of Practitioners, shares values, beliefs, habits. They share information, data, knowledge, knowledge claims, information literacy perspectives, research methods.

Members of a Methodological Communities share research methods for developing and testing knowledge claims. They have common canonical texts (e.g., the community agrees certain texts are foundational. For instance, the Constitution of United States of America.

Just as people with similar religious beliefs, political loyalties, or cultural practices can be said to make up a community—even though they have never met—those who share similar assumptions about how to develop and test knowledge claims can be said to represent a Discourse Community or Community of Practice.

Source: Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Communities of Practice Mindmap of Trayner https://blog.learnlets.com/2011/11/etienne-wenger-trayner-keynote-mindmap/, Accessed 3/15/20

The terms Discourse Community and Community of Practice are fairly equivalent:

  • The term Discourse Community was defined by John Sales in 1990 as “groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals.”
  • The term Community of Practice was initially coined in anthropology to describe how a group of people learn from one another (Jean and Etienne Wenger (1991).

Both terms are used to describe the language practices, purposes, ideologies, learning practices, and rituals of groups of people.

Both terms are fairly elastic:

  • Discourse communities may be used, e.g., to describe Republicans or Democrats in the U.S. People who inhabit such broad communities may disagree on some things (e.g., fiscal policy), yet they still vote as a block because.


Works Cited

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre Analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge University Press.