Genre Conversation

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English 131 W
2010. Jan. 28

Genre Conversation

Although genre is commonly regarded as a tool for conventional assortment, it is necessary to recognize that a genre is not defined by its formal features, but by its situational factors. The contextual identification of a genre is highlighted by Carolyn Miller, who describes genres as the “typified rhetorical ways of acting in recurring situations” (qtd. in Bawarshi 7). The word “situation” is crucial in her definition because writing results from situational demands. Such situational nature of writing is emphasized by many scholars including Amy Devitt, Anis Bawarshi, and Stanley Fish. Synthesizing the works of these authors, we can derive that genre unites writing and context. Thus instead of focusing on formal features, a genre should be acknowledged as a publicly established form identified by its contextual features, in which writers and readers are socially connected.

Since genre is socially defined, it can only function when there is a rhetorical situation that calls for a response. Returning to Miller’s definition, genres are responses to recurring situations. Because similar situations trigger similar rhetorical responses, these responses develop into a default ways of answering a particular type of situation (Bitzer 13). Nonetheless, not all situations stimulate responses; only situations in which one or more exigences exit trigger production. According to Lloyd Bitzer, an exigence is an “imperfection marked by urgency” (6). Writers are only motivated to write due to the presence of such imperfection. Since a rhetorical writing is invented to address an exigence, the purpose of such writing is therefore to modify the situation and so to alleviate the presented problem. Such contextual dependency of writing is highlighted when Bawarshi connects writer’s purpose and situation, indicating that writing “begins and takes place within the social and rhetorical conditions constituted by genres” (11). In other words, genres situate and motivate writers to write for a practical reason. For example, an advertisement article serves to encourage purchasing when a company tries to sell a product, while a science report serves to communicate lab results when researchers wish to publish their findings. In short, genres are responses to situations, thus what classifies a text into a genre is primarily the pragmatic purpose of the text in relation to the given situation. Furthermore, situations does not merely create genres, they also shape genres. Consider the rhetorical situation in which a letter is written: there are some physical distances between the writer and receiver, there is a close relationship between the writer and receiver, there is something the writer wants to communicate…Given such situation, there are many constraints that dictate the formal features of writing. These constraints give a genre its formal features. Thus genre simplifies the formal decisions writers need to make by “organiz[ing] the conditions of production as well as generat[ing] the rhetorical articulation of these conditions” (Bawarshi 9). With genre, writers are provided with writing frameworks that allow them to echo the demands of the given situation. Again, these writing frameworks are “rhetorical forms” that “comes to have a power of [their] own” as they are primarily responses to recurring situations (Bitzer 13). This implies that genres are shaped by situational specificity, thus particular social demands give birth to particular genres as different situations emphasize different values. Therefore “keep[ing] form and generic contexts united” is essential for a genre to work and hence for us to communicate as genres are shaped by contexts (Devitt 200). Although situation suggests appropriate forms to allow effective communication, it is crucial to acknowledge that formal features do not define genres. Formal feature can vary significantly within a genre, and such “inherent...
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