Is a profession also a discursive community?

Discourse analysis (DA) is about the study of “language in use” (Nunan 1993, p7) operating at a number of levels (Fairclough 2003; Alvesson & Skoldberg 2009). Heracleous (2006) identifies two over-lapping levels of discourse: communicative action based on interactions between individuals to, for example, share experiences or build relations, and deeper discursive structures that ‘guide’ and regulate communicative actions. Mäkitalo (2012) argues that professional discursive practices are indivisible from professional practices themselves. Furthermore, Fenwick et al (2012) suggest that discursive practices seek to stablise as, what are termed, discursive resources that constitute the legitimised discourses of professional practice. Professional learning and development is concerned with the re-production of those deeper discursive structures.

Bragd et al (2008) argue a discursive community is constituted through common meanings through discursive interaction. So each utterance can be treated as being created through interactions within an identifiable group of actors and texts rather than as the isolated acts of individuals (Dennen 2008). Thus, discourse is a mechanism that generates a ‘feeling’ of being part of a community through contributing to a particular discourse with particular uses and particular terms that are commonly understood as discursive repertoires (Eriksson & Kovalainen 2008) or resources (Rigg 2005). So a community is generated around some level of discursive structure that decentres the individual person to focus on networks of activity and influence (Fenwick et al 2012). Furthermore, discursive communities not only reinforce common understandings among members but also identify perspectives that differentiate members from ‘others’ outside the community (Bragd et al 2008). Hence discursive communities emerge through both collective meaning-making and processes of marginalisation and exclusion that ‘delegitimise’ ‘other’ discursive practices.

Discursive communities can then be seen as central to Mäkitalo’s (2012) processes of identifying what constitutes legitimate professional knowledge resources including vocabularies and dominant metaphors (Francis 2007). Rigg (2005) discusses collective meanings within discourses becoming institutionalised as a common language and meaning-making enterprise within an organisation. Such processes of institutionalisation could also occur through networks of interaction permeating organisational boundaries (Jorgensen & Henriksen 2011) including, for example, professional communities identified through their common discursive practices (Wenger 1998). Hence, a professional ‘field’, in Bourdieu’s sense of the term, can be negotiated, refined and revised through ongoing social interaction made identifiable by its’ repertoires and genres (Czarniawska 1997, 180).

So in conclusion, a professional domain is constituted by discourse and so a ‘profession’ is a discursive community [?]


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