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A discourse occurs when a one or more persons formally expound on and/or discuss a given subject in an academic or systematic way. Within the cultural movement of postmodernism, though, discourse more commonly refers to the way that people talk about a given subject. For example, one can speak of capitalist discourse or feminist discourse: these are different frames of references that generally guide the possibilities of thought and discussion. 

Discourse primarily refers to a relatively formal or academic discussion of a subject. It can also secondarily refer to the general structure or assumptions guiding that discourse such as a debate.

Examples of discourse

In order to help you better understand the meaning of the term discourse, here are a few examples of the term used in sentences

"The philosopher entered into a lengthy discourse on the nature of knowledge, and how this supported his metaphysical views regarding the nature of God."

"The feminist was offended by the lecture because she felt that everything the speaker was saying was thoroughly rooted in a fundamentally sexist discourse."

"The man was intent on proving a point; but his friends wished that he would lay off his discourse so that they could continue having fun on a Friday evening."

Here are a couple basic rules, now that can help you make sure that you are using the term discourse correctly

1. The term discourse has the connotations of formality and logical rigor. If a person is embarking on a discourse, this means that he is systematically trying to prove a point, and that he is doing this in as rationally comprehensive a way as possible. A discourse is not the same thing as a dialogue. A discourse generally consists of a person speaking (or writing) at length (or in short aphorisms), so that the listener (or reader) can gain a deep understanding of what he has to say. 

2. Again, the term discourse can also refer to the general structure or assumptions guiding any given discourse. For example, it is possible to have a Christian discourse, an atheist discourse, a feminist discourse, and so on. Often, people who do not agree with the discourse of a discourse (so to speak) will simply choose not to listen—since insofar as they do not agree with the basic assumptions, the conclusions will be completely irrelevant to them. 

Other disciplines rely on discourse

In its primary meaning, the term discourse is generally associated with the discipline of philosophy. For example, if a philosopher were to write a "discourse on method", then this would mean that he is trying to discuss (at length) what he thinks about the nature of knowledge, or about how philosophy ought to be done. The term discourse could also more broadly be applied to any theoretical endeavor. For example, a discourse on poetry would consist not of writing poetry itself but rather the elucidation of a theory of poetry. In all cases, the term discourse has the connotation of rigorous rationality. 

In its secondary meaning, the term discourse is somewhat related to the term ideology. This is because when one expresses a theoretical perspective on some given subject, one is also (either implicitly or explicitly) placing oneself within some broader theoretical tradition. If someone were to say that they disagree with an entire "discourse", this would essentially mean that they disagree with the entire foundations of the tradition of that discourse, possibly to the point that no meaningful dialogue with the discourse may even be possible. For example, a with Christian may strongly dislike materialist discourse, and vice versa.

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