Bawarshi and Reiff on Genre

Bawarshi, Anis S. and Mary Jo Reiff. Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010. Print.

Part I of Bawarshi and Reiff's text compares a variety of approaches to genre theory, including literary, linguistic, and rhetorical perspectives (Bawarshi 11-104). (Chapter 1 is an introduction).

Chapter 2: "Genre in Literary Traditions"

Chapter 2 examines neoclassical, structuralist, romantic and post-romantic, reader response, and cultural studies approaches (13-28). The theoretical and historical neoclassical approaches typically organized genres into categories, universalizing texts through themes and archetypes, which may be too abstract, as not all texts fit into traditional categories (14-17). A structuralist approach to understanding genre focuses on how texts relate to one another to create an intertextual system, forming genres discursively (17-18). Writers use genres that already exist because of the historical or social setting, and because of the relationships of texts in intertextual systems (18-19). Those with Romantic and post-Romantic perspectives often rejected genre as limiting; though Derrida argued against the idea of "belonging" to genre in favor of the idea that texts "participate" in genres and perform them differently each time (20-21).  The reader response approach to genre claims that readers bring their own understanding of genre to texts they read, which guides their interpretation of and interaction with a text (22-23).  A cultural studies approach to genre investigates how genres come into existence via socio-historical settings, and how genres function to uphold or disrupt "social actions" (23). This approach focuses on genre and ideology by concerning itself with the production of culture and meaning through texts (24-27).

Chapter 3: "Genre in Linguistic Traditions: Systemic Functional and Corpus Linguistics" 

Chapter 3 reviews research by Michael Halliday and the Sydney School to explain a linguistic approach to genre (29-40). The chapter examines how language creates structure, and is structured by, "situation types" which can be described as "register" and involves "field," "tenor," and "mode" (30-31).  The chapter relates genre to prototypes to show how concepts can relate to one another (39).

Chapter 4: "Genre in Linguistic Traditions: English for Specific Purposes" 

Chapter 4 explains how teaching specific genres to nonnative speakers (SFL) compares with teaching genre to advanced native speakers (ESP) (41-56). Both approaches lean on linguistics to help students write in the genres of institutions such as academic or medical settings, though SFL takes a "macro level" perspective while ESP tends to have a more narrow focus (42-44). Bawarshi and Reiff describe Swales' writing on "discourse community, communicative purpose, and genre" to explain genre as arising from social interactions between individuals who share common goals (44-45). Next, Bawarshi and Reiff explain Bhatia's ESP approach to analyzing genres, which includes setting the context, reviewing existing literature, identifying the discourse communitiy, "collecting a corpus" and looking deeper into the context through ethnography and confirmation from a research participant who can confirm the researcher's conclusions (46-47). Recent research in ESP genre theory has looked at the rhetorical moves writers make to depart from the protypical and demonstrate personality and opinion in subtle ways (49-51). Critics of ESP genre theory may challenge the fact that pedagogy may become prescriptive and reinforce institutions of power if students are not also taught to engage in questions about the nature of a genre and how it arose (52-55). Bawarshi and Reiff compare ESP genre theory with Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS), noting a reversed relationship between texts and contexts: "in ESP genre study, context has been used to understand texts and communicative purposes while in Rhetorical Genre Studies, texts have been used to study contexts and social actions" (54).

Chapter 6: "Rhetorical Genre Studies"

In the first section, "Genres as Forms of Situated Cognition," they consider Berkenkotter and Huckin's claim that "genres dynamically embody a community's ways of knowing, being, and acting," enabling the user to use it "strategically" in order to suit the user's purpose, retaining an element of flexibility that will help it last as a community changes (78-79). In this way, knowing a genre means having "background knowledge" and a sense of kairos, or how to time its use (80). Bawarshi and Reiff describe Berkenkotter and Huckin's argument that as genres are reproduced, the become reinforced through "structuration" into an activity system, the idea that genres interact with each other in a network of social and institutional contexts and situations (80-81), 

In the next section, "Uptake and Relations Between Genres," Bawarshi and Reiff discuss Anne Freadman's concept of "Uptake," comparing it to Bakhtin's idea that all utterances are responses to situations and contexts (82-83). The authors describe uptake with Freadman's example in her article, "Anyone for Tennis?" (83).  Freadman's argument is that meaning is created in contexts (like a game of tennis) through shots (utterances) that create the opportunity for response, and genre is the set of rules that can govern a game; therefore, one who knows a genre will know when or if it is appropriate to break rules of the genre (84-85). For Freadman, "uptake does not depend on causation, but on selection"; when the same choices are repeatedly made, the genre becomes increasingly defined (86).

In the next section, "Genre Sets and Genre Systems," Bawarshi and Reiff discuss the relationships among genres, defining genre systems as "a constellation of genre sets that coordinate and enact the work of multiple groups within larger systems of activity (88).

Next, under the heading, "Genre and Distributed Cognition," Bawarshi and Reiff describe how genres allow individuals to access shared knowledge, giving the example of job interviews as a context where shared knowledge informs genre (90).  Not everyone in a community has the same knowledge, so considering power and how certain individuals have more or different access to genre knowledge can help in analyzing genre and understanding how individuals may have ideological biases as they enact genres, which can inform their identity as they play their role in the system (92-93). 

In the section, "Meta-Genres," the authors describe genres about genres, using the example of writing about academic discourse (94). 

In the last section of this chapter, "Genre and Activity Systems," Bawarshi and Reiff describe how various sets of genres interact with each other to achieve objectives (98-99).  The concept of systems helps clarify how genres can change contexts and social or ideological objectives which in turn change genres (102).

RhetoricKatie Ancheta