Sunday, January 23, 2011

The concept of genre

Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre analysis: English for academic and research purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

This book is a classic and to me it seems to age well in many respects. I still enjoy reading this book. In this chapter first Swales gives an overview of how genres are treated in folklore studies, literary studies, linguistics, and rhetoric and then defines genre as
"A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This rationale shapes the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constraints choice of content and style. Communicative purpose is both a privileged criterion and one that operates to keep the scope of a genre as here conceived narrowly focused on comparable rhetorical action. In addition to purpose, exemplars of a genre exhibit various patterns of similarity in terms of structure, style, content and intended audience. If all high probability expectations are realized, the exemplar will be viewed as prototypical by the parent discourse communities and imported by others constitute valuable ethnographic communication, but typically need further validation."  (p. 58)
I have to say though, I'm skeptical about the emphasis Swales put on purpose. How about genres that are distinct but share the same purpose, such as evaluation genres (book reviews, proposal reviews, reviews given to articles submitted for publication, etc.)? As you can see even within the academic context there are many of them. Then the question is 'How do you define purpose?' or 'How specific should the purpose be?' How about genres with multiple purposes? For instance, conference abstracts are written for two purposes, to be accepted to a conference and also to attract people to the presentation if it is accepted. Also, should we consider adding a line to your CV one of the purposes ^_^? You see, it is much more complicated than it looks. I just feel uncomfortable when a complex matter is explained by one factor, even one dominant factor. If you ask me what I suggest, I will have to say I don't know. I'm still thinking. What do you think?

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