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Examining Discourse Communities: El Paso Police Department

Sol Padilla

The University of Texas at El Paso

RWS 1301

Examining Discourse Communities: El Paso Police Department

Discourse community-a group of people who share a common goal, communicate and

write in a specific manner, have specialized language, have a hierarchy or membership, and must

be literate in the fields of lexis and genres. Throughout my ethnography I will use the

perspectives of analysts John Swales and James Gee. to determine whether the El Paso Police

Department is a discourse community. We have so many groups around us that the actual

understanding of what a discourse community is can be quite confusing.

Law enforcement is a very vague term to describe a discourse community not to mention

you have different force groups that fall under that category. The El Paso Police Department is a

small local force community here in my city that I decided to study to prove they do fall under

the “discourse community” title.

Literature Review

John Swales is a linguist best known for his work on genre analysis, particularly in the

fields of rhetoric and discourse analysis. In his article “The Concept of Discourse Community”, -

simply defined as a group of people who with a common goal. Now, not just any kind of people

and Swales explains why that is so. Six key components. That’s it. In order to be classified as a

discourse community the group must meet all six characteristics. One, the group must share an

agreed set of common goals. Two, have a mechanism of intercommunication among its

members. Three, uses its mechanisms to provide information and feedback. Four, utilizes one or

more genres. Five, it has acquired some specific lexis. Lastly six, has a threshold level of

members with a ladder of success.

American researcher, James Gee. writer of “Literacy, Discourse, and linguistics”,

explains what a discourse community is and how linguistics is a social practice versus a

language. Using his powerful example of two women applying for the same job and not one got

hired, show that it is the certain language you must use in the different types of communities.

James also talks about the levels that are acquired within the group and how they can be born

into or learned from. He explains what his understanding of “Literacy” is why it is only

beneficial to those who are on the same page. Otherwise its pointless because they won’t change.

Gee. ends the article with speaking about “Filtering and Transferring” , giving the example of a

boy who reads a book and ends up using what he learns to change his views on his own

discourse community.

Both articles covered the same concept just in different ways. Swales said with only six

solid characteristics a community is titled discourse. James Gee. went into depth as to what

discourse was and the various types there is and how tricky they can be to fit in. However, both

explained the importance of understanding discourse before defining a community. The El Paso

Police Department was proven a discourse community thanks to Swales and James articles.


For this assignment I was tasked to understand the meaning of a discourse community,

and with that use my knowledge to look into communities around me that I think fit the title. So I

did, and it came to me at my job noticing the streets and the many police cars passing. That is

when I then decided The El Paso Police Department was my target. To make sure it was a

community that would fit I used Swales six characteristics.

I first before anything asked a few police officers if they knew what a discourse

community was if they did not know I educated them and then asked the question one more time.

My responses were yes, they would consider themselves as a discourse community. I then did

some research on their webpage to find out more about their culture. I got some pretty interesting

information from there and used that for interview questions that I was lucky enough to get and

was pretty confident in their responses. Though with that extra help it made my decision easier

and more supported.


The El Paso Police Department is a group of individuals that serve and protect our city.

The EPPD is one of the first responders in any situation and do their best to make the issue(s)

resolved. Not many people can fit into this group because it takes certain qualities to cooperate

as one, that is why I will explain in all six of Swales characteristics why The EPPD defines a

discourse community.

First characteristic- independently of one’s own personal goals, the group must have one

or more goals that they all consent to. Therefore, the EPPD follow six core values in their

community. One, they respect life. Two, they revere the truth. Three, they enforce the law. Four,

they seek community partnership. Five, they honor their police power. Lastly six, they conduct

themselves with dignity.

Second characteristic-modes of communication used. The EPPD uses various ways of

communication for example, in their car they can use voice commands on their mobile phones

that allow them to answer phone calls using voicemails and blue tooth that allow them to send

up-to-date communication about crimes. They also have two-way radios to commute via a

specific channel with headquarters, have an individual frequency for every patrol car and officer.

Third characteristic-information and feedback, meaning information flows both ways,

members of all levels should be able to communicate. In the EPPD the first responder is the

police constable that takes down the notes about the situation then feeds the information to the

next level which would be the sergeant, then onto the inspector, chief inspector and so on. Then

lastly ends back up at the first responder so they can get the information and feedback to learn

for the next situation on what can be done different or even what was done good.

Fourth characteristic-using certain genres to communicate and reach goals. The EPPD

uses many genres to reach their such as being the first on any scene, using the evidence and

being able to use their systems to look deeper into findings, they also have the different levels to

get the different information.

Fifth characteristic- using a specific language. Using their modes of communication, they

have their own language known as police-jargon and ten-codes.

Sixth characteristic- must have a ladder of success meaning everyone in the community

must be able to move up but obtain levels of expertise. The EPPD has many rank structures such

as the police constable, which is the basic level, goes higher into degree with the sergeant,

inspector, and into chief inspector, then superintendent, after chief superintendent, assistant chief

constable, deputy chief constable, and chief constable being the boss of the force.


In conclusion of my ethnography, I was tasked to find a community and decide if it had

the qualities of receiving the title “discourse community”, I chose The El Paso Police

Department with the perspective help of John Swales and James Gee. to prove this was indeed

true I used my knowledge from what James explains about discourse and how they intertwine

and influence other communities also Swales six characteristics to break down the EPPD

community and I did stand correct.



Gee, J. P. (1989). Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction. Journal of Education, 171,


Swales, J. (1990). The concept of discourse community. Genre analysis: English in academic
research settings (pp. 21-32). Boston: Cambridge UP.

Police Department. (n.d.). Retrieved from