Literary discourse and discourse communities have become vastly analyzed subjects as evident through numerous scholarly articles and research studies during the last few decades. Though covering a wide variety of factors associated with discourses and discourse communities, there has only been a small focus placed on temporary group discourse communities that form when working on short-term project teams that dissolve after a set amount of time within these works. As businesses and organizations continue to expand their products and services, there has become a growing need for effective project teams to develop complex solutions to product development and other business-related issues. This places great emphasis on the necessity of understanding group discourse and how to form the ideal temporary group discourse community that is right for its specific purpose. The overall purpose of this article is to delve into this particular aspect of discourse communities and to discuss the formation of temporary group discourses and influential discourse factors.
Prior to delving into the topic of temporary group discourse, it is important to understand exactly what discourse communities and discourses are and how they they come to fruition. James Paul Gee describes discourse most accurately as an “identity kit” that constitutes how individuals act, talk and write (484). Branching from Gee’s definition, Ann M. Johns defines the term as values and practices that hold communities together or separates them (500). It is plausible to conclude from these definitions that discourse communities most simply can be defined as the housing units for individuals with the same types of discourses. This community formation is directly driven from the innate human desire for acceptance and social involvement with others that are similar in ideology, beliefs and habits. Though each individual is never exactly the same as others in a particular discourse community, this is overcome from the individuals association with multiple discourse communities that cover each discourse that the individual possesses. A more simple representation of the concept of involvement in multiple discourse communities can be given through an imaginary man named Bob. Bob is an avid snowboarder, chess player, father and Democrat. Because of his vastly different hobbies, Bob becomes part of the local snowboarding organization, coaches the high school chess team, attends weekly father-parenting seminars and works as a campaign worker for local Democratic candidate elections when they spring up each year. Though focused on simply furthering his hobbies and meeting similar individuals, Bob is actually attempting to find discourse communities where he “fits in” and that relate to his ideologies or ways of being.
To discuss temporary group discourses, we will be utilizing two groups of individuals that were assigned the same group project of making a business plan and pitch presentation over a two month period in a class I took during the Spring 2014 semester called “Entrepreneurial Spirit”. Each group was comprised of three individuals that were randomly assigned together and were given a set of deadlines to meet for particular aspects of the business concept that would be handed in and graded. Though the projects were the same for each group, both worked very differently and produced vastly different business concepts similar to how the case studies performed by Ann M. Penrose and Cheryl Geisler in their article “Reading and Writing without Authority” were when they evaluated the differences in the formation of and final results of two papers on the same subject produced by different students (506).
Before analyzing the group discourses, we must first endeavor to understand the
backgrounds of the individuals who made up each of the two groups. The first group was comprised of Brandy, Yashoda and Dave, all of whom were freshman and had not previously met prior to being assigned to work together. Dave and Brandy both grew up in similar, middle-class neighborhoods in the United States though attending private and public schooling respectively, while Yashoda moved from country to country over the course of her life in varying degrees of economic, educational and social communities. The second group consisted of Liz, Adebowale and Ryan, all of whom were also freshman and had not been acquainted prior to class. Liz and Ryan both were raised in middle-class communities in the United States and attended public schools. Adebowale, however, grew up in a well-off country in Africa and is residing in the United States for the first time while attending college. Though further differences can be cited such as hometown locations in the United States and individual interests, this information will be expounded upon further into the case study when those details become significant.
When given a prompt without any type of restriction on subject or work processes, it can be difficult for individuals to decide on one, central process for work allocation. Group one utilized a “meet-together” method where each group member would have some say in the work that was being done and one individual would record the information and compile it into useable data. Group two, however, took a different approach in that they simply split the workload into multiple pieces and distributed it evenly among one another to be strung together at a later time. This difference, though seeming to lack importance, is quite remarkable when evaluating the formation of each group’s temporary discourse. Group one takes on the trait of each individual holding responsibility for the work produced and research performed, brought about by the instillment of the importance of responsibility and teamwork at a young age, while group two’s members only held responsibility for their specific section of work, the divide and conquer philosophy. It is important to note that there is no ideal or single-way of doing this kind of project that is better than another; each group simply took a different approach to the work that directly affected their groups discourse.
In addition to work allocation, another important factor of the group project was creating a pitch presentation for each business concept. The only restriction placed on the presentation was a maximum time length of seven minutes. Though difficult to encompass all of the information each group produced during the two month work period, the resulting presentations were strikingly different in their approach at information conveyance. Group one’s presentation consisted of fourteen slides with minimal text to decrease confusion while group two’s presentation consisted of twenty slides with large amounts of text to display all of the information collected regarding their business concept.
Let’s begin by dissecting group one’s presentation method. With two of the group members having previously taken courses on “proper” presentation layouts, their skills and knowledge were directly linked to the number of slides, amount of text and clean layout that was their presentation. This knowledge became part of their group’s discourse and was something group two did not have the luxury of having. Additionally, group one had higher levels of interest in making the presentation then group two and so the work became less stressful and more enjoyable. The members in group two in contrast to group one felt that the presentation needed to be information-rich with large amounts of text and images. This ideology impacted their group’s discourse by claiming there was a need for more information, more text, more everything, which became the “norm” for that group.
In “Reading and Writing without Authority”, Penrose and Geisler concluded that a principle factor that differentiated the two pieces was the level of authority taken by the writers when presenting arguments and information to their audience (514-518). This theory held true in these case studies quite well. Though both groups were not realistically making the companies they conceptualized, group one took a much more authoritative approach to their project than group two. This sense of authority in group one’s discourse was in part due to the strong level of interest in entrepreneurship, a commonality in the group, and allowed for more in-depth analysis of business functions and financial reporting. Group two felt that they did not have enough knowledge to make the same conclusions or plans, which resulted in their group’s philosophy of sticking to hard facts and statistics without deviation to more abstract subjects like mass marketing or future revenue trends. These differences further emphasize how unique the discourse in each group is and how simple beliefs or backgrounds can have significant impacts on the formation of temporary group discourses.
Though there are numerous ways individuals are able to communicate with the technologically-savvy society that exists today, it is interesting to draw attention to how each group took a different approach to establishing communication to get work done. Similar to how different discourse groups communicate through magazines and newsletters, each group established a direct line of communication through cell phones and texting, a form of digitally-written communication for modern times. Other modern technologies such as Facebook and email were also utilized for communication purposes. This factor may be directly linked to the individual upbringings of the group members who all had access to advanced technology since their births in the late 90s’, when modern technology began to boom, and affected their group discourses as such.
As previously mentioned, group one performed their projects in person using one computer to record information. This type of communication can be explained based on the principles of dominant discourses or ways of being that are more valued or used by the individual and society because of the gain they offer to individuals (Gee 485). The members of group one, though having ample access to technology, felt that physical interaction would result in better outcomes. This ideology had been ingrained into their personal discourses through their parents during childhood and adamantly stepped in during the temporary group discourse formation process when determining how to work together.
Unlike group one, group two took a much more modern approach to the project and worked together using Google Drive, a free-to-use web service provide by Google that allows individuals to work side-by-side with collaborators online and have instant updating of information available to all participants. This “virtual” interaction is becoming a norm throughout the business world, and was one defining factor that separated the discourses of both groups. Here, group two focused on maximizing efficiency of work and keeping things convenient, both valued attributes of these individuals when working on projects.
Though containing similar information such as finances and product information, the business plans produced by the groups had some striking differences. The most important being the flow and level of information each contained. Following alongside the authority each group took with regard to what can and shouldn’t be included in the business plan, dominant “academic” discourses became relevant in this particular section of the project. Drawing off of past academic education, the individuals chose to follow the rules and guidelines or discourse rules set forth by their former teachers and professors; each individual was taught differently with emphasis being placed on different aspects of academic and professional writing. This resulted in group one having more flow to their information because one individual compiled the information into formal script to eliminate gaps in writing styles. Group two, however, had more exact information because multiple individuals wrote the final product, but lacked the cohesiveness of group one.
In conjunction with methods of communication and work processes, both groups were affected by the same driving factors, but to different extents. These factors can be broken down into two categories: academic and professional.
Though each group’s goal when working on the project was to complete the course and receive college credit, the desired grade level was determined by the individuals in each group. Group one had the mindset of doing exceptionally well and receiving an A as a final grade, while group two accepted receiving anything higher than a B. These desired grade levels are linked to the expectations each group member held when going through elementary and high school as well as the emphasis placed on grades in each individual’s life. Additionally, these mindsets were reflected in the amount of time each group spent on assignments and practicing their pitch presentations, where group one spent nearly twice as long to complete the same amount of work.
In her article “Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict, and Diversity,” Ann M. Johns claims that the juxtaposing of values and language with larger communities allows for similar individuals to work together and communicate (502-505). This was especially true within each group in a few ways.
The members of group one, though focused on obtaining different degrees in business, each had a different goal for their future. Being able to set aside differences and take similar vantage points when working together, allowed for the individuals to effectively collaborate with one another because of the similarities in their larger field: business. This commonality allowed for certain types of language and information conveyance to be centralized, resulting in a much clearer and effective mode of communication for the group’s discourse.
Group two, however, did not have individuals from the same field as two were not sure of their future career paths. Having no defined common discourse community aside from the college atmosphere, the individuals were more separated from one another, especially Adebowale due to being from another country. This cultural gap combined with limited similarities among members resulted in the individual discourses being more dominant than the group discourse that was formulated during the two month period.
Though focused on only two temporary groups and their unique discourses, there are a few plausible conclusions regarding temporary group discourses and group discourse formation. These conclusions may be broken down into the following:
- Temporary group discourses are affected largely by dominant individual discourses.
- Professional and Academic goals are major influences to temporary group discourse formation and ideology.
- Personal backgrounds impact group discourse because of the individual differences in upbringing and access to different levels of technology and education.
- No two temporary group discourses are exactly the same because the members of each group are not exactly the same.
As is evidenced, the importance of temporary group discourse formation extends far beyond the realm of the classroom. Businesses, organizations and governments all must face the difficulties of working in groups and manipulating the group’s philosophy or discourse to be successful and achieve its purpose. Researching and evaluating the ways individuals write, act and even talk will become major factors in the future of society as mass communication becomes even more ingrained into daily life and the world slowly develops some form of universal, standard discourse.