Ethogragy of an online discourse community

Your Task: Research an Online Discourse Community with special attention to how they form their identity through language. Present your research in a fun and thought-provoking article.

Background: In this course, we’ve been looking about how arguments are made and how research can inform our opinions. Now, it’s time to do some of our own fieldwork to see how arguments are made and valued in the wild.

How To Do It: Requirements for the DC: Start with Gee’s definition of a Discourse Community, but for practicalities sake your community will need to have at least 100 participants and an online forum that you can access without endangering yourself. You are welcome to research and analyze a group that meets entirely or partly online.

James Paul Gee defines a Discourse a sort of ‘identity kit’ which comes complete with appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, believe (or at least appear to believe), and often write, so as to take on a particular social role that others will recognize.

Ethnography means, literally, a portrait (graph) of a group of people (ethnos). An ethnography is a social, political, and/or historical portrait of a particular group of people at a particular period in time and within a particular context or space. As an ethnographer, your job is to attempt to understand a group of people, and then, to help your reader also understand them. This often means drawing connections between a group’s actions or language and their values (see the examples we’ll be reading in class).

Research: For this paper you will need to be able to observe your Discourse Community in their natural habitat without taking a personal risk. Make sure that you find a group that posts somewhere public with some frequency. Look to Gee’s definition of a Discourse, found both in the Gee reading and in this prompt, and make sure that you are able to describe how your Discourse dresses, acts, talks, appears to believe, and writes, at least online.

Writing: You will have the choice between imitating the styles of the ethnographies we’ve read for class or using an even more creative format.

Regardless of which format you choose make sure you fully describe your Discourse, linking their outward behavior, their dress, actions, speech, writing, to their values and beliefs.

In writing your ethnography, remember that “evidence” is not something that exists on its own. A fact or observation becomes evidence when it clearly connects to and supports an argument. It is your job to help your reader understand the connection you are making: you must clearly explain why statements x, y, and z are evidence for a particular claim as well as why they are important to your overall claim or position.

(Pro-Tip: Spend considerable time selecting a Discourse that you will be able to research. Many Discourses haven’t had much written about them nor have they creatcixed much of a paper trail.)