Jamieson: "Antecedent Genre as Rhetorical Constraint"

Jamieson, Kathleen M. "Antecedent Genre as Rhetorical Constraint." Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 61, no. 4, 1975, pp. 406-415. 

Jamieson uses the examples of the papal encyclical and the King's Speech to argue that analyzing a text should include analyzing the antecedent genre that informs it (406-407).

Jamieson describes the papal encyclical as didactic letters continuing the tradition of epistles that were common in the days of the early church, a tradition meant to teach and bring unity to the members of the tradition (406-408). Jamieson also describes how the encyclicals still retain elements used during the time of the Roman Empire, echoing imperial power dynamics from long ago to imply the pope's authority (407-408).  Jamieson sums up: "In an unprecedented rhetorical situation, a rhetor will draw on his past experience and on the genres formed by others in response to similar situations" (408). Genres may also retain elements of antecedent genres that were initially created in response to factors that no longer in existence, e.g., the continued use of Latin in the papal encyclical (410).

In her next example, Jamieson examines the genre of the American state of the union address (411). Jamieson writes that although the founders of the country wrote the Constitution in rebuke of monarchy, they kept the state of the union address similar to the King's Speech because the rhetorical situation was so similar, and that was the genre they knew (411). Even the replies from the members of the House of Representatives were similar to the replies from the members of Parliament (412).

With these two examples, Jamieson shows the power of antecedent genre in constraining a rhetor, who may even act paradoxically by using the earlier form, for the sake of using what he or she knows (414). Jamieson concludes by stating that antecedent genre should be considered as a factor alongside audience and situation when analyzing a text and its performance of genre (415). 

GenreKatie Ancheta