Anis Bawarshi develops a case for a genre-studies-based first-year writing
curriculum. In the courses teachers would introduce students to sampled
genre sets from selected disciplines or professional fields (studying, in
effect, lab reports as a genre, or other professional document types).
Students would analyze the genres, writing both in them and about them; hence,
composition would have as its impetus a pragmatic extra-disciplinary
awareness of the writing students will do in their major areas of study and, as
well, bona fide content: writing itself (in all its forms, in and beyond the
academy). As Bawarshi’s project builds an argument for this model, he
reasons that a more comprehensive, nuanced understanding of genre is one
(though perhaps golden) ticket to composition’s status as a discipline and
might also serve us with a compelling justification for the first-year writing
I finished the book still feeling somewhat unsettled with the ecological
metaphors Bawarshi develops early on. With genre theory, Bawarshi enfolds
LeFevre’s "ecology of invention" and Bourdieu’s "habitus" to set up what he
calls–following his accounting of the "social turn" in composition–"rhetorical
ecosystems" (8). How are such systems constrained by institutional
dynamics–the forces of power inscribed, for example, in the first-year writing
course? Bawarshi presents a wonderfully rich, interesting set of
definitional twists to account for the correspondence between ecosystems and
genres; he spells out clearly that he is "more interested in what happens once
genres are in circulation" than how they come to exist (10). My uneasiness
with the ecological metaphor, which I should explain more fully, stems primarily
from two issues: 1. institutional forces, power dynamics and
pressures (which must, inevitably, give greater weight to certain genres, yes?)
and 2. the presumption that genre as the reproduced communication patterns or
recurrent exigencies suspended between individuals and social collectives are
sufficiently explicit that we might study them, teach them, organize them into
sets, and so on. Briefly, in his discussion of the syllabus, Bawarshi
mentions Swales and occluded genres: "According to Swales, occluded
genres are genres that operate behind the scenes and often out of more public
sight, yet play a critical role in operationalizing the commitments and goals of
a dominant genre, in this case, the syllabus" (119). But might there be
other, more elusive genres at work in the classroom? What of these?
[Look to Swales, eh?]
What gives a genre its stability? Bawarshi gives us this: "Genres–what Catherine Schryer defines as ‘stabilized-for-now or
stabilized-enough sites of social and ideological action’ (1994, 108)–thus
constitute typified rhetorical sites or habitations in which our social actions
and commitments are made possible and meaningful as well as in which we are
rhetorically socialized to perform (and potentially transform) these actions and
commitments" (81-82). I like Schryer’s definition, detached though it is
here from its immediate context (Bawarshi puts it in a section called "Genres as
Rhetorical Ecosystems" (80)). With "stabilized-for-now" and
"stabilized-enough" we are challenged doubly: a genre could be fresh and
fleeting; a genre must be qualified as a genre–it must be named.
"Stabilized-for-now" also complicates the concept of a tradition or at least
exposes another problematic dimension in approaching genre with any
consideration of its history, evolution, past-ness.
I’m short on time, but I want to go ahead and post a few more notes from
Bawarshi–continue my plan to write through the reading for the summer course.
These are really floating bits–note-worthy, but sliding underneath any more
inquisitive response from me:
- adopt-a-discipline (163): This comes in the final chapter on the
pedagogical implications of genre theory as Bawarshi entangles it with systems
theory, situated cognition, ecologies of invention, and activity. The
idea is that FYW students would size up a discipline by examining various
genres constituting disciplinary activity. Seems to me that this, along
with writing in the disciplines (WID) strands of Bawarshi’s work might work
better with final-year writing students, perhaps juniors or seniors who have
more firmly committed to a particular field of study. Lots of other
issues with this, including whether it over-ambitiously emphasizes
- "genre game" (164): Hold this up to Anthony Giddens’s stuff on 117-118. Gaming
tropes can be misleading. Are they misleading in this case? If we
accept that it’s possible for students to "game" genres, what other forms of
extra-generic activity are they entering into and what interest might we find
- list of B.’s examples (143): "PMHF [Patient Medical History Form], the
social workers’ assessment report, the resume, the course journal, the ‘king’s
speech,’ the greeting card, the syllabus, the writing prompt, and the student
- "One way teachers can help students reposition themselves within such spheres
of agency is to make genres analytically visible to students so that students
can participate within and negotiate them more meaningfully and critically"
(141). Does this refer only to "loaded" genres–pre-existing, recognized,
conventional? Genre as…?
- choreographic force [of genre] (134): "[Yates and Orlikowski] describe how
genre systems choreograph interactions among participants and activities
chronologically (by way of measurable, quantifiable, ‘objective’ time) and
kairotically (by way of constructing a sense of timeliness and opportunity in
specific situations) within communities (2002, 108-10). In terms of chronos,
the writing prompt assigns a specific time sequence for the production of the
student essay, often delimiting what is due at what time and when" (134).
I understand the need for deadlines, but does this feature/attribute of genre
suggest that it enforces artificial rates of production (given to
- coercive genre (120): "No doubt, the syllabus is a coercive genre, in the
same way that all genres are coercive to some degree or another. It
establishes the situated rules of conduct students and teacher will be
expected to meet, including penalties for disobeying them." Yikes.
Genre as fear-maker and order-keeper.
- "Participants in one activity system, for instance, use some genres to
communicate with participants in other activity systems, thereby forming intra-
and intergenre system relations" (116). How does this match up with what
Miller gives us as both relational, hierarchic and virtual discourse
communities. Is the intra-/inter-genre system noted by Bawarshi oriented
toward or within any particular one of Miller’s classes? Which one? The GC
example (107) also defers to a hierarchical–nested genre systems, etc.
- Ref. to Bazerman’s "humble genres" (106) Genres of the everyday? What makes a genre
humble? Does this mean that it’s not officially recognized as a literary genre?
Also, what are the limits to the communicative social activity spheres genre
might be used to characterize? If writing is a "way of being in the
world," so are other (non-textual, non-linguistic?) communicative interactions, including ones where the
utterance is less neatly captured in an explicit form or artifact-ready
medium–tacit knowledge, feeling, patterned social action that falls outside the
production of a text?