Malachowski 1 Emily Malachowski Ms. Martinez ENC 1101 3 April 2013 The Key to a Successful Discourse Community Background: A discourse community is defined by Swales as having, “common goals, participatory mechanisms, information exchange, community specific genres, a highly specialized terminology and a high general level of expertise” (475). RUKUS Entertainment is the perfect example of a discourse community. The crew strives to get their name out there, they have leaders, they communicate through text, Internet, and other genres, they have specific terms, and all members have some sort of prior experience. They are striving to accomplish general goals, while still having personal goals. Whether the personal goal is to make friends, to have a fun extracurricular activity, to improve on technique, or whatever else may be on a member’s own agenda, a common goal is shared: to become a well-known dance crew. Methods: When starting the analysis four weeks ago, I thought of all the discourse communities accessible to me and narrowed it down to which ones fit the six criteria identified by Swales. It wasn’t hard to choose which community to evaluate – my friend’s dance crew, RUKUS. This community stood out by strongly fitting all six of the criteria. To start the initial research on this community, I googled the crew. A Facebook page and a Twitter page came up. I look around on those for a while, and then decided that I was 100% sure with my decision to analyze them. I talked to my friend, Jacqueline, and immediately set up some times to observe her practices the
Malachowski 2 following week. I observed two practices, for two hours each at night. Practices are generally three to three and a half hours long, so the first practice I went for the beginning two hours and the second practice I went for the last two hours. This way, I got a feel for how they start practice, conduct practice, and end practice. In Appendix A, you will find a list of my observations over this time period. A week after my observations, I interviewed Jacqueline. She joined the crew pretty recently, so I figured it would be interesting to get the point of view of someone almost as new as me to the community. Deciding the argument for my analysis was easy – from the first observation, I knew that I wanted to go in-depth on the authority and levels of membership among this community. It seems to be the most prominent and consistent characteristic of RUKUS, and it appears to be what keeps this discourse community in order. Evidence and Analysis: After doing my observations, I discovered a lot of things about this discourse community. First of all, it would be considered a secondary discourse. A “primary discourse is the one we first use to make sense of the world and interact with others,” while a secondary discourse is a “non-home-based social institution…beyond the family and immediate kin and peer group” (Gee 485). RUKUS is a discourse you choose to be a part of, and they some-what choose you. In an interview with my friend, Jacqueline, she described the audition process (See Appendix B for full interview). If you choose that you want to be a part of this discourse community, you go through an audition with can range from one to two days. From there, the crew decides if you possess the skills to fit into the community, and if you do, you are offered a spot. Another, more important, thing I learned is that authority and level of membership play a huge role in keeping the crew together. Through my observations and interview with Jacqueline, I determined this. This is identifying with Swales’ characteristic of “A discourse community has
Malachowski 3 a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise” (473). The levels of membership in RUKUS can be paralleled to Tony Mirabelli’s Learning to Serve: The Language and Literacy of Food Service Workers. This article is about Tony’s findings and experience when he joins a new discourse community, Lou’s Restaurant. While his article is a completely different discourse community, the community generally works the same way that RUKUS does. John, Harvey, and Tony, three of the main people talked about, can be compared to members of the RUKUS dance crew. John is described as having worked at Lou’s for a total of ten years and being the most experienced. “Although the restaurant does not have an official ‘head’ waiter, John is considered by his peers to be the expert” (543). John has achieved the highest level of membership at Lou’s and is looked up to by all of his peers. This is similar to people like Desiree, Zenny, and Sharom on RUKUS. All of them have been there for a couple years (typically members stay on the crew for three or four years), and people look up to them. Appendix A (my observations) shows how these three people run the crew. Desiree and Sharom keep people in their places and make sure memo gets around, and Zenny leads the practice and teaches the choreography. They, like John, have been around for a few years and know how things are run. People listen to them and think of them as the “head” of RUKUS. Without these people at the head of the dance crew, this community would be absolute chaos and eventually fall apart from lack of guidance. The same would happen if Lou’s Restaurant no longer had John working with them. Every discourse community needs someone as the “head honcho” to keep everyone on track. Harvey is another character in Mirabelli’s article. He can be compared to my friend Jacqueline. Harvey had over thirty years of experience as a waiter, but “said he lacked
Malachowski 4 experience at this restaurant” (543) since he had only been working there two weeks. This is similar to Jacqueline because she has been dancing for fifteen years. However, she’s only been on RUKUS for a few months, so she is still learning the ropes and how this discourse community functions. Although Harvey “may also be considered a master waiter” (543), like John, he still has a lot to learn about this particular community (Lou’s Restaurant). This shows that no matter how experienced you are when going into a new community, it takes awhile to work your way up to the top and gain authority. There is always something new to learn. Last but not least, there’s Tony. He is completely new to the restaurant game and has a lot to learn. He is unfamiliar with the lexis, the menu, and customer service. An example of this is when Tony is serving Al, a frequent customer. Tony was unsure how to treat the customer since he was around his family, and he was also unsure of what the customer wanted to order. “Being able to take a customer’s order without him or her reading the menu are important ways of expressing friendliness and family at Lou’s” (551). This is something commonly known to people who have worked at Lou’s for a while, but may be a foreign concept to a newcomer. Tony can be compared to anyone on RUKUS with minimal dance experience. While they get the gist of how to dance and how things should be done, they are still very unfamiliar with the terminology and common etiquette of dancers on a crew. In order to learn these things, they must respect their peers and listen and learn from those members with more authority. You can find people similar to Tony in any discourse community. Conclusion: Learning about discourse communities is beneficial regardless of if you ever intend on actually joining the community. Closely analyzing their mechanics is key to understanding how any discourse community works. This analysis will help me from here on out when I want to join
Malachowski 5 new discourse communities. I now recognize that there will be specific terminology I must learn, I have to know my place, and I need to respect authority. Following these things will not only help me to fully become part of my future communities, but also to keep these communities together. While all six characteristics of a discourse community are equally important, they are not equally affective. Clearly, some are more affective at keeping the community together more than others. Authority is what is ultimately going to make the community thrive and get closer to achieving their goals. Lexis, goals, communication, and the other characteristics cause the community to function and be legitimate, but communities everywhere are always going to need guidance and someone to keep them in line.
Malachowski 6 Appendix A List of Observations from RUKUS Practice • Pull into a sketchy parking lot with lots of warehouses • Walk up to what looks like a store front, and I am waited to be let in since it’s locked • Go inside to what looks like a normal room with an office to the left • Walk through glass door to the warehouse area • Reminds me of a gymnastics gym, without the equipment • Mirror lines the right wall, stage lines the left, couches and cubbies on the wall where you walk in. Farthest wall is covered with banners • Everyone is fooling around, the new members stick out a little • Greet each other with hugs, very happy to see each other despite having practice 3 times a week • Zenny starts the practice and everyone listens, he must be important • Sharom tells everyone to pay attention and stop fooling around, but playfully • They are all pretty silly • Zenny leads practice and says a few announcements • New people to the front so that they can be watched extra carefully • Older members lead the practice and take care of other business such as music, attendance, etc. They don’t have to follow directions • Everyone is friendly and warm and smiles a lot • Desiree gets to practice on her own because she already knows what she’s doing • Members who are new or need practice pay more attention • Everyone dresses trendy • They use tons of body language when talking to each other (pointing, hand movements, facial expressions) • Zenny grunts to count steps and beats “hoo” “hoo” “ha” “ha” “woosh” to describe movement • Better, more experienced dancers get to goof off • Descriptive language to describe dance moves being taught (ex: shrink) • 5,6,7,8… etc “from the top” • Sharom doesn’t participate in the practice because she’s book keeping • Raise hand and shout out to ask questions, don’t have to be called on • Everyone is outgoing • Happy when they do the combo correctly • Good people guide their own practice for the most part and go at their own pace • People that are good friends high five each other when they do well • New members aren’t as close and don’t really interact with others • Bodies describe the words in the dances • They are very comfortable with each other “who farted?” • Very accepting of different people • They help each other out and encourage each other • While others get reinforcement from Zenny, people fool around • Some people buddy up to discuss the dance and help each other out • Talk to themselves when dancing, repeating moves or lyrics • Encouraged by leaders such as Zenny, Desiree, Sharom
Malachowski 7 • Everyone watch Zenny do the dance and then they try to do it all together. Older members follow along when Zenny does it • Clap when successful • Two minutes to review the dance before movin on • Desiree tells people what to do and keeps it in place • Everyone is really polite • Desiree leads the count and is very silly • New people walk around trying to find someone to converse with but don’t • Sign up sheet is posted on mirror • Announcements are made by Sharom • Alexandra comes in late to practice with her dog but no one seems to mind, she’s a leader • “Recruits” are people who want to audition for the showcase coming up • Zenny taps on shoulders to make groups • Cheer each other on • People not in the group dancing sit out and hang out • The go over the dance many times • Zenny leads all the dances and gives others pointers • Cheer when they get it right • Close practice with some more announcements • People leave, but some stick around and hang out and talk to each other Appendix B Interview with Jacqueline, Member since January 2013 Me: How long have you been a part of RUKUS? Jacqueline: Since the start of the Spring 2013 semester. Me: Do you currently hold a position or are you just a member? Jacqueline: I’m currently a member, but I’m also an executive board nominee at this time. Me: Can you describe the process to earn membership in your community? Jacqueline: You must audition at either the beginning of the fall or spring semester. You learn two routines and have to perform them in groups of three or four. From there they may either request a callback audition the next day to perform them again, or release the results that night. Me: Who’s in charge? How long have they been a member? Jacqueline: On our executive side, our president Alexandra Thompson is in charge. We also have Samantha Frahn who is the vice president, Alex Ramirez who is the historian, and Ashley Cothron who is the secretary. On our artistic board, Zenni Corbin is the artistic director who is in charge. Desiree Salgado and Sharom Quintero are choreographers. I don't know how long they've been on the team, but I would assume at least a year. Me: How do people gain power in your community, whether it be as a leader, or just as someone a lot of members look up to? Is it easy? Jacqueline: In order to become on executive or artistic board, you must become a nominee at the end of the Rukus year (end of spring semester) and you are asked to do multiple tasks in order to see if you're prepared to take on responsibility. Then the whole team will vote after the tasks are completed. For the most part, these are the people that are looked up to since there are so many in charge. Me: Would you say that how long someone has been a member has something to do with how much power they have in your group?
Malachowski 8 Jacqueline: No, I don't think it has to do with how long you've been on it. I just currently made the team, and I already am a nominee for executive board next year. A lot of it has to do with how much effort you put into the team and how much you truly care. Me: What are some general observations that you've made about your group in the past few months having to do with their actions towards each other, their attitudes, and just overall how your group functions as a whole? Jacqueline: Rukus is a huge family, we all come together as one when we walk into the doors of the studio. Whether we see some of the teammates only at practice or we hang out with them on a daily basis, everyone is for the most part extremely close. We all try to help each other out with questions we have or even give each other moral support through hard times. When something big is happening to one of us, whether itâ€™s good or bad, we always can go to our Rukus family and they'll be there to show support.
Malachowski 9 Works Cited Gee, James P. "Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction." Writing about Writing: A College Reader. By Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 481-97. Print. Mirabelli, Tony. "Learning to Serve: The Language and Literacy of Food Service Workers." Writing about Writing: A College Reader. By Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 538-56. Print. Swales, John. "The Concept of Discourse Community." Writing about Writing: A College Reader. By Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 46680. Print. Woods, Jacqueline. Personal interview. 28 March. 2013.