Essay Assignment

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GWRTC 103: Fall 2011
Susan Ghiaciuc

Discourse Community Assignment
GWRTC 103/Final project
Due dates: last week of class
Workshop: Monday

Purpose:  The purpose of the assignment is to determine how language helps you establish and maintain collective identities, amplify the harmonies and dissonances among those identities, and to clarify the ways we use language to negotiate different affiliations and solidarities in our daily lives.

Description: For this assignment you will analyze one discourse community to which you currently belong or belonged to in the past. You will observe and record (through written language, or perhaps virtual communication) the language practices of the group, examine how those practices facilitate interaction within and outside the group, and eventually discuss/use this same group in your auto-ethnography (which will be part 2 of the assignment). You should consider the texts we read by Offutt, Tan, and Sedaris to be examples of auto-ethnographies (more on this below).

Wide varieties of discourse communities might be analyzed for this project. You may examine the conventions of your school, community, family, friends, work, social organization, and/or church—just to name a few. Once you have selected the group, you must use the following procedures for your observation:

• Create a focused description of your group. You are encouraged to use various forms of media to do this. For example, you may choose to describe the group in words and/or you may provide a photo or some other visual cue.
• Aim to interview at least one experienced member of the group. If the interviewee will agree to a taping, you should record the interview to facilitate analysis later on. Likewise you can do this over email.
• You might also use photos if you are unable to record conversations. In this case, you would include a description of the photos themselves, along with explanations of those groups.

As you examine the interviews, visuals, and/or descriptions, you should try to pinpoint the following:

1) values represented by the language practices of the group,
2) the kinds of language that empower and/or disempower particular speakers,
3) frequently discussed issues,
4) tensions/disagreements and how they’re resolved in the group,
5) language that signifies belonging.

Although I expect you to write about these five categories in your final analysis, it is likely that other important categories and questions will arise during your study. Please feel free to explore them. Try to observe my criteria, but don’t feel limited by them.

As your research progresses outside class, we will continue reading about communal identity. Once you have composed this brief “essay”/ collected “data” about the discourse conventions of your group, you will have a case study or mini-ethnography.

Part II

Next, you should use the information you have gathered about your discourse community to create an auto-ethnography. You can do this in whichever genre you see fit so long as you are presenting a text (which can be visuals, audio, stories, etc.) that presents your discourse community back to us in a manner we can fully comprehend. Last week we looked at work by Chris Offutt and Amy Tan as representative of textual auto-ethnographies and you were asked to consider if they used any tactics you might borrow. Both of those authors used their texts to display their discourse communities while also subtly and blatantly critiquing the larger discourse community they reside within. For example, Offutt pokes fun at sociologists who study where he’s from while Tan reflects on the ways first-language English speakers interact with or ignore her mother. These are the tactics that make their work auto-ethnographic. They are using a standard English form to describe themselves, illustrating how they are constructed by others, and critiquing our gaze of them or refusal to see the “true” essence of who they are.

As always you should proofread for clarity and provide ample explanation of your main points.  Since you are presenting these communities to us, don’t assume we know anything about them. Be sure to explain terms and/or behavior specific to the group.

An “A” level paper will demonstrate all of the points described above with minimal surface errors

  • Well organized and coherently developed
  • Explains/ demonstrates key points or ideas
  • Demonstrates variety in sentence structure
  • Clearly displays facility in the use of language

A “B” level paper will demonstrate most of the points described above

  • Is generally well organized and coherently developed
  • Explains some key ideas or points
  • Displays facility in the use of language
  • Is generally free from errors in mechanics or grammar

A “C” level paper will demonstrate a limited number of the points initially described above

  • Is adequately organized and developed
  • Explains or illustrates minimal key ideas
  • Demonstrates some facility in the use of language
  • May display some errors in mechanics or grammar

Anything below a C will be poorly developed or supported, have limited word choice, and an accumulation of errors throughout.


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