Academic journal article College English

Beyond the Genre Fixation: A Translingual Perspective on Genre

Academic journal article College English

Beyond the Genre Fixation: A Translingual Perspective on Genre

Article excerpt

Rhetorical genre studies, since the groundbreaking work of Campbell and Jamieson (1978), Miller (1984), Devitt (1993), and Bazerman (1994), has identified genres as socially derived, intersubjective, rhetorical typifications that help us recognize and act within recurrent situations. From this work has emerged an understanding of genres as social artifacts that, through their typifications, can tell us things about how individuals define recurrence and acquire social motives to act in certain ways; about how genres relate to one another in the coordination of social activities; about how genres help construct and reproduce the situations that call for their use (and are hence ideological); and about how the explicit teaching of genre conventions might help students gain access to various systems of activity. In short, genre scholarship has taught us a great deal about the ways that genres help us define and make sense of recurring situations while providing the typified rhetorical and linguistic strategies for acting in these situations: both habitats for and habits of perceiving and acting.

If patterns, similarities, recurrence-some degree of typification-are all distinguishing characteristics of genres, what then is the place of genre and genre studies in a translingual orientation focused on thinking differently about difference? What does a translingual orientation-with its focus on temporality, movement, and negotiation, with its view of language boundaries as porous and always emergent, always becoming (Lu and Horner)-offer to the study and teaching of genre, and how does such a perspective map onto current genre scholarship? In what follows, I will explore what I think we gain in genre research and pedagogy when we think of genre difference differently: genre difference not as a deviation from a patterned or recurrent norm, but rather as the norm of all genre performance.

By "Beyond the Genre Fixation" in my title, I mean to suggest two related things: 1) a fixation on genre as an action, site, or object that, in my view, continues to preoccupy thinking about genre and 2) the fixing or stabilizing of genre that results from such a preoccupation. Despite work in rhetorical genre studies (RGS) that treats genres as dynamic social and cognitive phenomena, only stabilized for now (Schryer, "The Lab") and always subject to improvisations (Berkenkotter and Huckin, Devitt, Freadman, Paré, Russell, Schryer), dominant pedagogical approaches still fixate on genres as relatively static objects to be taught and acquired as part of disciplinary and professional enculturation. Genre explication-in the form of identifying prototypical genre conventions and relating them to their social function/purposes and in some cases also examining the ideological implications of these conventions-remains the pedagogical norm. At the same time, because genre knowledge is associated with disciplinary and professional participation, genres become used as benchmarks to distinguish between levels of literacy competence, such as what genres are appropriate and useful to teach in basic writing and "ESL" courses, what genres are most useful in first-year writing, what genres are best taught in professional and technical communication courses, and so on. To be clear, I have been a supporter of these ways of thinking about and approaching genre, and I have joined others in investing much of my professional attention in how we can make genres and genre knowledge effective means of access to forms of power and participation. The point I want to make, however, is that in our preoccupation with genres as sites of access, we have tended to privilege genres as things that can be made explicit through explication, and we have fixated on trying to figure out which genres are best taught when and where. A translingual perspective suggests that this is not enough.

Treating genres in this way is akin to treating genres as sentences, in the Bakhtinian sense. …

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