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Concept of Genre

Websters Third definition: genre = a distinctive type or category of literary composition

Today genre is being associated with a disreputably formulaic way of constructing or aiding the
construction of) particular texts a kind of writing or speaking by numbers (Swales, 1990, 33).
Issue: Is genre (structuring device for language teaching) restricted to the encouragement of
unthinking application of formulas? Or is this outcome rather an oversimplification of the term
(pedagogical convenience)?

Genre in folklore studies
Classifying of genres = limited use (archival or typological convenience rather than as discovery
A community will often view genres as means to ends
Communitys perception of how a text is generically interpreted is of considerable importance to the

Genre in literary studies

Transgression, in order to exist, requires regulations to be transgressed
Genres are not classes of texts but codification of discursive properties
To appreciate literature appreciation of genre is necessary (interpretative and evaluative frame for a
work of art)
Therefore genre analysis is valuable as it is clarificatory not because it is classificatory.


Genre in linguistic
Emphasize on:
Genres as types of goal-directed communicative events
Genres as having schematic structures
Genres as disassociated from registers or styles


Genre in rhetoric
Provide historical context for genre movement
Genre analysis is not necessarily the construction of a classification of genres
Concept of genre as a means of social action
Wider socio-rhetorical context and operating as a mechanism for reaching communicative
goals + to clarify what those goals are

Overview of the previous results

a distrust of classification and of facile or premature prescriptivism;
a sense that genres are important for integrating past and present;
a recognition that genres are situated within discourse communities, wherein the beliefs and
naming practices of members have relevance;
an emphasis on communicative purpose and social action;
an interest in generic structure (and its rationale);
an understanding of the double generative capacity of genres to establish rhetorical goals
and to further their accomplishment (Swales, 1990, 45).
Possible to use genres for teaching purposes without reducing courses to narrow
prescriptivism or formalism

A Working Definition of Genre


A genre is a class of communicative events

communicative event: language both significant and indispensable

speech contexts

activities entirely
constituted by talk

activities where talk is

non-occurring or is
incidental (not considered

as communicative

communicative event is conceived of as comprising not only discourse itself and its participants but
also the role of that discourse and the environment of its production and reception


The principal criterial feature that turns a collection of communicative events into genre is
some shared set of communicative purposes.

shared purpose = primary determinant of genreship

basis for that assumption: genres are communicative vehicles for the achievement of goals


Exemplars or instances of genres vary in their prototypicality

additional features to establish genreship

definitional approach

family resemblance

it is possible to produce small set

of simple properties individually
necessary and cumulatively
sufficient to identify all members
of a category

complicated network of
similarities overlapping and

prototypes = most typical category members


The rationale behind a genre establishes constraints on allowable contributions in terms of

their content, positioning and form

recognition of purposes provides rationale

rationale gives rise to constraining conventions
understanding rationale is privileged knowledge of established members of discourse communities


A discourse communitys nomenclature for genres is an important source of insight

active discourse community members tend to have greatest genre-specific expertise

these active members tend to label communicative events they recognize as providing recurring
rhetorical action
we inherit genre categories that get passed down from one generation to another


Two areas of verbal activity that lie outside genres:
casual conversation (chat)
ordinary narrative


Differences among genres

Genres vary according to complexity of rhetorical purpose
They vary in the degree to which exemplars of the genre are prepared or constructed in advance of
their communicative instantiation
Genres also vary in terms of the mode or medium through which they are expressed
Prepared text-genres vary in the extent to which their producers are conventionally expected to
consider their anticipated audiences and readership
In some genre there is diminished consideration for the reader