From an intellectual standpoint, discourse refers to the different points of view that exist on a given topic. When scholars argue about "the discourse," they refer to the idea that there are debates in which ideas have staked certain claim to participating in this dialogue. The inclusion of more voices in "the discourse" helps to enhance discussion about the topic, adding more vibrancy to it. For example, if one were to take a survey of American Literature course about fifty years ago, the literature includes would be a bit different from the same course today. Part of this would be the realization that "the discourse" about the composition of American Literature has changed to include other voices and newer participants to the discussion.
The definition of this particular word can be very different, depending on the context that it is used in. There is a "normal" definition of the word, but there are also some academic definitions of the words that are quite different from the normal one or ones.
The first definition of discourse is simply conversation -- a verbal exchange of ideas.
The second definition is closely related to this one. In this definition, a discourse is sort of like a speech or an essay. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, wrote some discourses on government.
The truly academic meaning is much harder to get across, especially in a few words. I guess maybe the simplest way of saying it is that a discourse is something like an ideology. If this is the definition you're looking for, let me know and I'll try to be clearer.
As the previous post explained the idea of discourse is broad and can mean different things based on the context. Since you are in the 12th grade, you are probably asking about discourse from the point of view of literary theory. The person who has written the most on this topic or at least the most famous is Michel Foucault. He talks about discourse as a form of power. In short, By controlling discourse, one can create not only categories of thought, but also shape a society. For about twenty years already, people have been studying discourse as a separate topic.
My teacher says it has to do with people's attitudes, beliefs and values towards particular people/topics. But I find this definition is a bit hard to understand, could you define this vague definition further? Thanks alot in advance.
Also, in one of my English assignments, I am analysing how TV current affair programs manipulate/influence public opinion through media bias. And on one of the questions on my task sheet, is asks me to "Identify the dominant and competing discourse/s that are involved in my news story." Could you help me to understand that question as well?