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Anis S. Bawarshi and Mary-Jo Reiff 2010: Genre. An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy. West Lafayette: Parlor Press and The WAC Clearinghouse. xi + 263pp. Glossary and Annotated Bibliography by Melanie Kill. ISBN 978-1-60235-173-8
Genre theory and research contributes to and draws on a number of academic traditions: literary (from typological classifications to cultural studies); linguistics (applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and critical discourse analysis, English for Academic Purposes [EAP] and English for Specific Purposes [ESP]); communication studies (film and news media, i.e. digital and electronic forms); philosophy (phenomenological and social action theories); anthropology (ethnomethodological research); and psychology and education (Rhetorical Genre Studies [RGS] and Vygotskian approaches).
Given the range of disciplinary communities studied, all of which are underpinned by genre systems, this 2010 book, titled Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy (hereafter Genre), provides a timely critical review of a rich body of scholarship that has brought about a reconceptualization of genre in multiple contexts. Although each academic community may make use of the concept in diverse ways, in all contexts genre is presently conceived of as encompassing social ways of knowing and acting in order to bring about consequential, recognizable effects (Miller 1984). In this respect, in this volume of 11 chapters--grouped into 3 parts--the authors' concept of genre provides a central nexus for the book: genre is considered as communicative action carried out within typified, recurring social situations and forming part of genre systems which are used by agents to enact conventionalized behaviors. Such a broad definition as this one may be put to work for unifying the goals of university departments that encompass both literary and language studies (discussed below), as is the case in many European universities.
Part 1 of Genre, 'Historical Review and Theories of Genre', presenting various approaches to the application of genre in diverse disciplines, is subdivided into the following chapters (2 through 6): 2, Genre in Literary Traditions; 3, Genre in Linguistic Traditions: Systemic Functional and Corpus Linguistics; 4, Genre in Linguistic Traditions: English for Specific Purposes (a particularly interesting section in that these
studies challenge process-based writing instruction); 5, Genre in Rhetorical and Sociological Traditions; and 6, Rhetorical Genre Studies. It is Part 1 that might provide the appropriate unifying framework for university degrees which combine Language/Linguistics with Literature studies. By structuring their syllabi around genre features and their semantic processing (i.e. making meaning with the choice of textual features), Language/Linguistics and Literature studies, which often times appear to be working in opposition to each other, might unify their pedagogy around genre-based approaches involving scaffolded modelling and text deconstruction (Byrnes 2006: 240-43).
For those of us who teach EAP (in L1 or L2 contexts, the latter is this reviewer's context) and have only kept up with literary studies insofar as they are present in cultural studies approaches to genre, the chapters of Part 1 (chapter 2: Neoclassical approaches to genre; Structuralist approaches to genre; Romantic and Post-romantic approaches to genre; Reader response approaches to genre; and Cultural studies approaches to genre) provide an opportune comparison of the various analytical methods that have been used to classify literary texts. Although genre analysis has come in for very heavy criticism (Patton 1976; Conley 1979, cited in Miller 1984)--and not only in literary studies, but in linguistic studies as well (see the discussion below)--humans are classifying animals and any type of cultural artefact that is similar and has been previously observed will inevitably be used to make associations (Rumelhart 1980). For humans, categorization permits conceptualization. As Jauss has noted:
[A literary work] awakens memories of that which was already read, brings the reader to a specific emotional attitude and with its beginning arouses expectations for the middle and end, which can then be maintained intact or altered, reoriented, or even fulfilled ironically in the course of the reading, according to specific rules of the genre or type of text. The psychic process in the reception of a text is, in the primary horizon of aesthetic experience, by no means only an arbitrary series of specific …