Interactions of professional, institutional and business discourses in academic settings

Kenneth C C KONG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The two short conversations above highlight the complexity of our identities in interaction: we can belong to both an institution and a profession. This multiple membership causes confusion at times, not only at the level of our daily lives but also at the level of analysis and methodologies involved in considering so-called 'professional discourse' and 'institutional discourse'. Professional discourse has always been taken as language used by 'professionals', such as lawyers, doctors, and engineers. However, this definition should be extended in light of the current need to give meaning to contemporary professions. Gee et al. (1996, 1) call this need the 'new work order', whereby workers are 'empowered' by concepts and ideas from other disciplines, such as religions, business and charity, to increase their motivation to work. This issue highlights two problems in analyzing professional discourse and has an important implication in the analysis of professional communication. Professional discourse should not only concern those who are traditionally labelled as professionals but also many others, such as teachers, clerical officers, telephone operators, and so on. In other words, any profession or job is a 'discourse system' (Scollon and Scollon 2001) that gives participants a sense of membership because certain ideologies, socialization, face systems and discourse forms are involved. Institutional discourse has been conceptualized as the interaction between professionals and laypeople (Agar 1985). Added to these dimensions is 'business discourse', which is usually defined as language used by individuals 'whose main work activities and interests are in the domain of business and who come together for the purpose of doing business' (Bargiela-Chiappini and Nickerson 1999). Many so-called professionals who were once institutionally affiliated are now self-employed. For example, increasingly more doctors are entering private practice even though they may still have a profit-sharing relationship, whether with a government, a hospital, or a clinic. As mentioned, many institutions now make use of voices from other disciplines. 'Commodification' (Fairclough 1992) or the intrusion of business voices into other practices, such as human relationships and education, has become the norm rather than an exception. Within this complexity and confusion, the question that follows is whether it is now possible to distinguish the three constructs (professional discourse, institutional discourse and business discourse) at all. Theoretically, it is possible to identify what constitutes a particular form of discourse. But in practical terms they have become so enmeshed that it has become less meaningful to investigate how professional genres are created than to understand how they are constructed 'for whom, for what needs and why they have been formed the way they are. We must also analyse the continuous construction and reconstruction process taking place in the various social practices' (Gunnarsson et al. 1997, 3). The purpose of this chapter is to identify how professional, institutional, and business discourses overlap ,by using notions such as 'intertextuality', 'interdiscourse systems', and 'hybridity'. A model for the study of intertextuality is given, and examples are drawn from various contexts to illustrate how different discourses can converge.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProfessional Communication
Subtitle of host publicationCollaboration between Academics and Practitioners
PublisherHong Kong University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9789888052677
ISBN (Print)9789622099654
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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