Genre

Genre

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Encyclopedia
Genre is the term for any category of literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.

History


The concept of genre originated from the classification systems created by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 and Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

. Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 divided literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 into the three classic genres accepted in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

: poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

, drama
Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

, and prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

. Poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 is further subdivided into epic
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

, lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

, and drama
Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

. The divisions are recognized as being set by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 and Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

; however, they were not alone. Many genre theorists contributed to these universally accepted forms of poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

. Similarly many theorists continued to philosophize about genre and its uses, which caused genre as Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 and Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 knew it to evolve and further expand.

Classical and Romance genre theory


The earliest recorded systems of genre in Western history can be traced back to Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 and Aristotle. Gérard Genette
Gérard Genette
Gérard Genette is a French literary theorist, associated in particular with the structuralist movement and such figures as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss, from whom he adapted the concept of bricolage.-Life:...

 explains his interpretation of the history of genre in "The Architext". He described Plato as the creator of three imitational, mimetic genres distinguished by mode of imitation rather than content. These three imitational genres include dramatic dialogue, the drama
Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

; pure narrative, the dithyramb
Dithyramb
The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility; the term was also used as an epithet of the god: Plato, in The Laws, while discussing various kinds of music mentions "the birth of Dionysos, called, I think, the dithyramb." Plato also...

; and a mixture of the two, the epic
Epic (genre)
An epic is traditionally a genre of poetry, known as epic poetry. However in modern terms, epic is often extended to other art forms, such as novels, plays, films, and video games where the story is centered on heroic characters, and the action takes place on a grand scale, just as in epic poetry...

. Plato excluded lyric poetry
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 as a non-mimetic, imitational mode. Genette further discussed how Aristotle revised Plato's system by first eliminating the pure narrative as a viable mode. He then uses two additional criteria to distinguish the system. The first of the criteria is the object to be imitated, whether superior or inferior. The second criterion is the medium of presentation: words, gestures, or verse. Essentially, the three categories of mode
Mode (literature)
In literature, a mode is an employed method or approach, identifiable within a written work. As descriptive terms, form and genre are often used inaccurately instead of mode; for example, the pastoral mode is often mistakenly identified as a genre...

, object
Object (philosophy)
An object in philosophy is a technical term often used in contrast to the term subject. Consciousness is a state of cognition that includes the subject, which can never be doubted as only it can be the one who doubts, and some object or objects that may or may not have real existence without...

, and medium can be visualized along an XYZ axis. Excluding the criteria of medium, Aristotle's system distinguished four types of classical genres: tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

, epic
Epic (genre)
An epic is traditionally a genre of poetry, known as epic poetry. However in modern terms, epic is often extended to other art forms, such as novels, plays, films, and video games where the story is centered on heroic characters, and the action takes place on a grand scale, just as in epic poetry...

, comedy
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

, and parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

. Genette explained the integration of lyric poetry into the classical system by replacing the removed pure narrative mode. Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

, once considered non-mimetic, was deemed to imitate feelings, becoming the third "Architext," a term coined by Gennette, of a new long-enduring tripartite system: lyrical; epical, the mixed narrative; and dramatic, the dialogue. This new system that came to "dominate all the literary theory of German romanticism
German Romanticism
For the general context, see Romanticism.In the philosophy, art, and culture of German-speaking countries, German Romanticism was the dominant movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. German Romanticism developed relatively late compared to its English counterpart, coinciding in its...

" (Genette 38) has seen numerous attempts at expansion and revision. Such attempts include Friedrich Schlegel's triad of subjective form, the lyric; objective form, the dramatic; and subjective-objective form, the epic. However, more ambitious efforts to expand the tripartite system resulted in new taxonomic systems of increasing complexity. Gennette reflected upon these various systems, comparing them to the original tripartite arrangement: "its structure is somewhat superior to most of those that have come after, fundamentally flawed as they are by their inclusive and hierarchical taxonomy, which each time immediately brings the whole game to a standstill and produces an impasse"

Rhetorical situation



In 1968, Lloyd Bitzer
Lloyd Bitzer
Lloyd Bitzer is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Letters and Science. As a rhetorician he is best known for the concept of "the rhetorical situation." Marilyn Young has characterized him as "one of the most respected rhetoricians of the latter half of the...

 claimed that discourse
Discourse
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication". The following are three more specific definitions:...

 is determined by rhetorical situations in his article titled, "The Rhetorical Situation". A rhetorical situation refers to the fact that every situation has the potential for a rhetorical response. He looks to understand the nature behind the context that determines discourse. Bitzer states, "it is the situation which calls discourse into existence" (Bitzer 2). Thus, the situation controls what type of rhetorical response takes place. Each situation has an appropriate response in which the rhetor can either act upon or not act upon (Bitzer). He expresses the imperative nature of the situation in creating discourse, because discourse only comes into being as a response to a particular situation. Discourse varies depending upon the meaning-context that is created due to the situation, and because of this, it is "embedded in the situation" (Bitzer 4).

According to Bitzer, rhetorical situations come into existence, at which point, they can either mature and go away, or mature and continue to exist. Bitzer describes rhetorical situations as containing three components: exigence, audience
Audience
An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art, literature , theatre, music or academics in any medium...

, and constraints. Bitzer highlights six characteristics needed from a rhetorical situation that are detrimental to creating discourse. A situation calls a rhetor to create discourse, it invites a response to fit the situation, the response meets the necessary requirements of the situation, the exigence which creates the discourse is located in reality, rhetorical situations exhibit simple or complex structures, rhetorical situations after coming into creation either decline or persist. Bitzer's main argument is the concept that rhetoric is used to "effect valuable changes in reality" (Bitzer 14).

In 1984, Carolyn Miller examined genre in terms of rhetorical situations. She claimed that "situations are social constructs that are the result, not of 'perception,' but of 'definition'" (Miller 156). In other words, we essentially define our situations. Miller seems to build from Bitzer's argument regarding what makes something rhetorical, which is the ability of change to occur. Opposite of Bitzer's predestined and limited view of the creation of genres, Miller believes genres are created through social constructs. She agreed with Bitzer that past responses can indicate what is an appropriate response to the current situation, but Miller holds that, rhetorically, genre should be "centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish" (Miller 151). Since her view focuses on action, it cannot ignore that humans depend on the "context of the situation" as well as "motives" that drive them to this action (Miller 152). Essentially, "we create recurrence," or similar responses, through our "construal" of types (Miller 157). Miller defines "types" as "recognition of relevant similarities" (Miller 156-7). Types come about only after we have attempted to interpret the situation by way of social context, which causes us to stick to "tradition" (Miller 152). Miller does not want to deem recurrence as a constraint, but rather she views it as insight into the "human condition" (Miller 156). The way to bring about a new "type" (Miller 157), is to allow for past routines to evolve into new routines, thereby maintaining a cycle that is always open for change. Either way, Miller's view is in accordance with the fact that as humans, we are creatures of habit that tightly hold on to a certain "stock of knowledge" (Miller 157). However, change is considered innovation, and by creating new "types" (Miller 157) we can still keep "tradition" (Miller 152) and innovation at the same time.

Ecology of genre


In 2001, Anis Bawarshi's "Ecology of Genre" argues for the teaching of genre as an ecosystem
Ecosystem
An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving , physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight....

. He compares genre to an ecosystem in order to demonstrate how writing recreates genres as well as genre recreates writing. The genre itself serves as an ecosystem, defining our interpretation and creation of genre. Bawarshi uses the idea of a doctor's office as an ecosystem in order to demonstrate his point more clearly. He does this by defining the Patient Medical History Form
Medical history
The medical history or anamnesis of a patient is information gained by a physician by asking specific questions, either of the patient or of other people who know the person and can give suitable information , with the aim of obtaining information useful in formulating a diagnosis and providing...

 as a genre. We recognize this genre; thus, expectations are set. Judging the pre-imposed expectations, we react accordingly within this genre. This genre consists of microenvironments, each consisting of the doctor, patient, and nurse, which form the ecosystem as a whole. As a result, Bawarshi states we are rhetorical beings that act within these ecosystems. We are shaped by the rhetoric surrounding us and we act accordingly. We gather our impressions from rhetoric presented to us, which shapes our actions and perceptions. He also introduces exigence, motive, and intention. Motive operates on the conceptual level and exigence shapes our actions. (Bawarshi)

Reciprocity of genre


People often recognize genre based on the characteristics that the situation offers. Amy Devitt states this when she says, "A genre is named because of its formal markers" (Devitt 10). However she also says, "the formal markers can be defined because a genre has been named" (Devitt 10). When we label something as a certain genre, we also flag these same characteristics as contributing to what we already believe the genre to be. These two quotes show how reciprocity functions within genre. Devitt displays the reciprocal nature of genre and situation according to the individual by using an example of a grocery store list. A question posed by this example is, is something a grocery list because it lists groceries or is it a grocery list because one person says it is a grocery list and we thus recognize all the items on the list as groceries? Though each possible answer to this raised question contradict one another, they are both correct. Similarly, individuals recognize the characteristics of the recurring rhetorical situations in the same way as they see them as affirmation of what they already know about the preexisting genre. The rhetorical attributes of the genre act as both objects which define and are defined by genre. In other words, genre and rhetorical situations are reciprocals of one another. Devitt focused on activity system of genre and that the participants situation, contexts and text are all mutually created "no one aspect fully determines the other." (Devitt)

Antecedent genres


Written in 1975, Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Kathleen Hall Jamieson is an American Professor of Communication and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania...

's "Antecedent Genre as Rhetorical Constraint" declares that discourse is determined by the Rhetorical Situation
Rhetorical Situation
The Rhetorical Situation is the context of a rhetorical event that consists of an issue, an audience, and a set of constraints. Two leading views of the rhetorical situation exist today...

, as well as antecedent genres. Antecedent genres are genres of the past that are used as a basis to shape and form current rhetorical responses. When placed in an unprecedented situation, a rhetor can draw on antecedent genres of similar situations in order to guide their response. However, caution should be taken when drawing on antecedent genres because sometimes antecedent genres are capable of imposing powerful constraints (Jamieson 414). The intent of antecedent genres are to guide the rhetor toward a response consistent with situational demands, and if the situational demands are not the same as when the antecedent genre was created, the response to the situation might be inappropriate (Jamieson 414).

Through three examples of discourse, the papal encyclical
Encyclical
An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Catholic Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop...

, the early State of the Union Address
State of the Union Address
The State of the Union is an annual address presented by the President of the United States to the United States Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda and his national priorities.The practice arises...

, and congressional replies, she demonstrates how traces of antecedent genres can be found within each. These examples clarify how a rhetor will tend to draw from past experiences that are similar to the present situation in order to guide them how to act or respond when they are placed in an unprecedented situation. Jamieson explains, by use of these three examples, that choices of antecedent genre may not always be appropriate to the present situation. She discusses how antecedent genres place powerful constraints on the rhetor and may cause them to become "bound by the manacles of the antecedent genre" (Jamieson 414). These "manacles," she says, may range in level of difficultly to escape. Jamieson urges one to be careful when drawing on the past to respond to the present, because of the consequences that may follow ones choice of antecedent genre. She reiterates the intended outcome through her statement of "choice of an appropriate antecedent genre guides the rhetor toward a response consonant with situational demands" (Jamieson 414).

Social construct


Bitzer's definition of exigence as "an imperfection marked by urgency... something waiting to be done" (Bitzer 6) ties in with Miller's idea of social action as the next step after an exigency is realized. Miller also points towards the theory that genres recur, based on Jamieson's observation that antecedent genres finding their way into new genres. More importantly, Miller takes on the bigger picture of a rhetorical situation in which all of these steps happen. "Situations are social constructs that are the result, not of 'perception,' but of definition" (Miller 156). From this, it is understood that social constructs define situations and, therefore, exigence is also socially situated.

Genre, also, understood in terms of social contexts provides greater meaning to each recurring situation; it essentially allows for differentiation, though past genres have a role in present and new genres. Through this differentiation, genre is allowed to continue evolving, just as social contexts continue to change with time. Bawarshi describes the way in which this happens as "communicants and their social environments are constantly in the process of reproducing one another" (Bawarshi 69). Rhetoric essentially works the same way, as seen in the example of writing Bawarshi provides, "writing is not a social act simply because it takes place in some social context; it is social because it is at work in shaping the very context within which it functions" (Bawarshi 70). Therefore, through social constructs, one can shape rhetorical works, and in turn, the works can shape the social context: "we create our contexts as we create our texts" (Bawarshi 70).

Genre as social action


The concept of genre is not limited to classifications and lists. People interact within genres daily. Genre is determined based "on the action it is used to accomplish" by the individuals using that particular genre (Miller 151). The distance between the text or action of genre and its users does not have to be vast. People respond to exigencies provided by genre every day. Exigence is "a set of particular social patterns and expectations that provides a socially objectified motive for addressing" the recurring situation of a particular genre (Miller 158). Seeing genre as a social action provides the "keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community
Community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

" (Miller 165). Carolyn Miller argues that, "a rhetorical sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse, but on the action it is used to accomplish" (Miller 151).

The idea that rhetorical situations define genre means that participants in genre make decisions based on commonalities and repeat those instances. Genre is not only about the form of but also the mere repetitiveness of similarities. The classroom setting exemplifies this. When students wish to speak, they raise their hands to signify that desire. Raising a hand is the correct response to speaking in turn in that particular social setting. A person at lunch with a group of friends would not raise their hand to speak because the social situation is different. Miller concludes that social actions are the response to "understanding how to participate in the actions of a community" (Miller 156).

Carolyn Miller builds on arguments made by other scholars while also contradicting Bitzer's argument by giving her readers five features to understand genre (Miller 163). She believes that if something is rhetorical, then there will be action. Not only will there be action, but this action will also be repeated. The repetition of action creates a regularized form of discourse. Miller would add that the result has more to do with the action accomplished by the situation. Miller recognizes that a person chooses to take a certain social action within a defined set of rules - rules set in place by that user. Lastly, a situation cannot dictate a response. Miller ends her article with the thought that genres are partly rhetorical education through her statement, "as a recurrent, significant action, a genre embodies an aspect of cultural rationality" (Miller 165). Here, Miller unknowingly encapsulates a future ideology about genre: that genres are created by culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

.
According to Mnotho Dlamini genre is basically a deep information in a particular context.

Tyranny of genre


The phrase "tyranny of genre" comes from genre theorist Richard Coe, who wrote that "the 'tyranny of genre' is normally taken to signify how generic structures constrain individual creativity" (Coe 188). If genre functions as a taxonomic
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 classification system, it could constrain individual creativity, since "the presence of many of the conventional features of a genre will allow a strong genre identification; the presence of fewer features, or the presence of features of other genres, will result in a weak or ambiguous genre identification" (Schauber 403). Under the classification-system concept of genre, placing a text
Text (literary theory)
A text, within literary theory, is a coherent set of symbols that transmits some kind of informative message. This set of symbols is considered in terms of the informative message's content, rather than in terms of its physical form or the medium in which it is represented...

 into a genre is vital, since "every text is read according to a genre which governs its interpretation" (Schauber 401). The classification-system concept results in a polarization of responses to texts that do not fit neatly into a genre or exhibit features of multiple genres: "The status of genres as discursive institutions does create constraints that may make a text that combines or mixes genres appear to be a cultural monstrosity. Such a text may be attacked or even made a scapegoat by some as well as be defended by others" (LaCapra
Dominick LaCapra
Dominick LaCapra is an American-born European historian and the Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies at Cornell University.-Career:LaCapra received his B.A. from Cornell and his Ph.D. from Harvard...

 220).

Under the more modern understanding of the concept of genre as "social action" à la Miller (Miller 152), a more situational approach to genre is enabled. This situational approach frees genre from the classification system, genre's "tyranny of genre". Relying on the importance of the rhetorical situation in the concept of genre results in an exponential expansion of genre study, which benefits literary analysis. One literature professor writes, "The use of the contemporary, revised genre idea [as social action] is a breath of fresh air, and it has opened important doors in language and literature pedagogy" (Bleich 130). Instead of a codified classification as the pragmatic application of genre, the new genre idea insists that "human agents not only have the creative capacities to reproduce past action, such as action embedded in genres, but also can respond to changes in their environment, and in turn change that environment, to produce under-determined and possibly unprecedented action, such as by modifying genres" (Killoran 72).

Stabilization, homogenization and fixity


Never is there total stabilization in a recognized genre, nor are there instances that indicate a complete lack of homogenization. However, because of the relative similarities between the terms "stabilization" and "homogenization", the amount of stabilization or homogenization a certain genre maintains is based on opinion. Necessary discourse is, obviously, always needed and is thus considered perfectly stabilized. In rhetorical situation or antecedent genres, that which is unprecedented mostly leads to stable and predictable responses. Outside the natural setting of a given form of discourse, one may respond inappropriately due to an unrecognized alternate. The unrecognized alternate is created by the lack of homogenization or differing expectations in the presented rhetorical situation. (Jamieson)

Fixity is uncontrolled by a given situation and is deliberately utilized by the affected before the rhetorical situation occurs. Fixity almost always directly effects stabilization, and has little to no bearing on homogenization. The choice of discourse will provide a certain value of fixity, dependent on the specific choice. If a situation calls for more mediated responses, the fixity of the situation is more prevalent, and therefore is attributed with a stable demand of expectations. Stability nor fixity can be directly affected by the subject at hand. The only option is affecting homogenization which in turn, can positively or negatively affect stability. Directly choosing a fixed arena within genre inversely alters the homogenization of said chooser constituting as a new genre accompanied with modified genre subsets and a newly desired urgency. The same ideological theory can be applied to how one serves different purposes, creating either separate genres or modernized micro-genres. (Fairclough)

Culture


Genre is embedded in culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, but may clash with it at times. There are occasions in which a cultural group may not be inclined to keep within the set structures of a genre. Anthony Pare’s studied Inuit social workers in "Genre and Identity: Individuals, Institutions and Ideology". In this study, Pare described the conflict between the genre of Inuit social workers’ record keeping forms and the cultural values that prohibited them from fully being able to fulfill the expectations of this genre. Amy Devitt further expands on the concept of culture in her 2004 essay, "A Theory of Genre" by adding “culture defines what situations and genres are likely or possible” (Devitt 24).

Genre not only coexists with culture, but also defines its very components. Genres abound in daily life and people often work within them unconsciously; people often take for granted their prominence and ever present residence in society. Devitt touches on Miller’s idea of situation, but expands on it and adds that the relationship with genre and situation is reciprocal. An individual may find him- or herself shaping the rhetorical situations, which in turn affects the rhetorical responses that arise out of the situation. Because the social workers worked closely with different families, they did not want to disclose many of the details that are standard in the genre of record keeping related to this field. Giving out such information would violate close cultural ties with the members of their community.

Pop culture


Outside of the academic field, genre regularly affects societies' pop culture. The mass media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

 uses genre to differentiate between classes of popular subjects such as music
Music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, movies, TV, books, etc. Favoritism plays an important part of distinguishing one genre from another; fans of Horror
Horror fiction
Horror fiction also Horror fantasy is a philosophy of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie atmosphere. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural...

 look differently upon Comedy
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 than fans of Romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

 do. Genre has also been used to shape differences in cultural aspects of these popular subjects. American comedies are distinctly different from French ones, as Country music is noticeably unlike Irish folk music. Genres sort subjects (such as movies, music
Music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, books, etc.) efficiently, especially when following trends set by society. From walking in to the nearest movie rental store to searching for music via iTunes
ITunes
iTunes is a media player computer program, used for playing, downloading, and organizing digital music and video files on desktop computers. It can also manage contents on iPod, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad....

, genres are applicable in everyday life as organized classification systems. Even in places such as grocery stores or clothing stores, genres are utilized to form an ordered flow to determine the differences between smaller classes within one particular subject, pointing out the differences between fruit and dairy, and punk to mod. In modern culture, sub-genres often arise to prevent a feeling of homogenization and loss of identity. As the rate of global communication continues to increase, the creation of new pop-culture sub-genres per year does in near perfect tandem.

Audiences


Although genres are not always precisely definable, genre considerations are one of the most important factors in determining what a person will see or read. The classification properties of genre can attract or repel potential users depending on the individual's understanding of a genre.

Genre creates an expectation in that expectation is met or not. Many genres have built-in audiences and corresponding publications that support them, such as magazine
Magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

s and websites. Inversely, audiences may call out for change in a antecedent genre and create an entirely new genre.

The term may be used in categorizing web page
Web page
A web page or webpage is a document or information resource that is suitable for the World Wide Web and can be accessed through a web browser and displayed on a monitor or mobile device. This information is usually in HTML or XHTML format, and may provide navigation to other web pages via hypertext...

s, like "newspage" and "fanpage", with both very different layout, audience, and intention (Rosso, 2008). Some search engines like Vivísimo
Vivísimo
Vivisimo is a privately held enterprise search software company in Pittsburgh that develops and sells software products to improve search on the web and in enterprises...

 try to group found web pages into automated categories in an attempt to show various genres the search hits might fit.

Visual arts



The term "genre" is much used in the history and criticism of visual art, but in art history
Art history
Art history has historically been understood as the academic study of objects of art in their historical development and stylistic contexts, i.e. genre, design, format, and style...

 has meanings that overlap rather confusingly. Genre painting
Genre painting
Genre works, also called genre scenes or genre views, are pictorial representations in any of various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life, such as markets, domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, and street scenes. Such representations may be realistic, imagined, or...

 is a term for paintings where the main subject features human figures to whom no specific identity attaches - in other words, figures are not portraits, characters from a story, or allegorical personifications. These are distinguished from staffage
Staffage
In painting, staffage, pronounced "staffarge" as in French, are the human and animal figures depicted in a scene, especially a landscape, that are not the primary subject matter of the work. Before the adoption of the word into the visual arts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,...

: incidental figures in what is primarily a landscape
Landscape art
Landscape art is a term that covers the depiction of natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still...

 or architectural painting. Genre painting may also be used as a wider term covering genre painting proper, and other specialized types of paintings such as still-life, landscapes, marine paintings and animal paintings.

The concept of the "hierarchy of genres
Hierarchy of genres
A hierarchy of genres is any formalization which ranks different genres in an art form in terms of their prestige and cultural value....

" was a powerful one in artistic theory, especially between the 17th and 19th centuries. It was strongest in France, where it was associated with the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 which held a central role in academic art
Academic art
Academic art is a style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism,...

. The genres in hierarchical order are:
  • genre painting
    Genre painting
    Genre works, also called genre scenes or genre views, are pictorial representations in any of various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life, such as markets, domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, and street scenes. Such representations may be realistic, imagined, or...

  • history painting
    History painting
    History painting is a genre in painting defined by subject matter rather than an artistic style, depicting a moment in a narrative story, rather than a static subject such as a portrait...

  • landscape painting
    Landscape art
    Landscape art is a term that covers the depiction of natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still...

  • portrait painting
    Portrait painting
    Portrait painting is a genre in painting, where the intent is to depict the visual appearance of the subject. Beside human beings, animals, pets and even inanimate objects can be chosen as the subject for a portrait...

  • still life painting
    Still life
    A still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural or man-made...


Linguistics


In philosophy of language
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for analytic philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language...

, figuring very prominently in the works of philosopher and literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin
Mikhail Bakhtin
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language...

. Bakhtin's basic observations were of "speech genres" (the idea of heteroglossia
Heteroglossia
The term heteroglossia describes the coexistence of distinct varieties within a single "linguistic code". In Greek hetero = different + glōssa = tongue, language...

), modes of speaking or writing that people learn to mimic, weave together, and manipulate (such as "formal letter" and "grocery list", or "university lecture" and "personal anecdote"). In this sense genres are socially specified: recognized and defined (often informally) by a particular culture or community. The work of Georg Lukács
Georg Lukács
György Lukács was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic. He is a founder of the tradition of Western Marxism. He contributed the concept of reification to Marxist philosophy and theory and expanded Karl Marx's theory of class consciousness. Lukács' was also an influential literary...

 also touches on the nature of literary genre
Literary genre
A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even length. Genre should not be confused with age category, by which literature may be classified as either adult, young-adult, or children's. They also must not be confused...

s, appearing separately but around the same time (1920s–1930s) as Bakhtin. Norman Fairclough
Norman Fairclough
Norman Fairclough is emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Lancaster University. He is one of the founders of critical discourse analysis as applied to sociolinguistics. CDA is concerned with how power is exercised through language...

 has a similar concept of genre that emphasizes the social context of the text: Genres are "different ways of (inter)acting discoursally" (Fairclough, 2003: 26). J.R. Martin
J.R. Martin
James Robert Martin, born 1950, is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney,. He is the leading figure in the 'Sydney School' of systemic functional linguistics. Martin is well known for his work on discourse analysis, genre, appraisal, multimodality and educational...



However, this is just one way of conceiving genre. Charaudeau & Maingueneau determine four different analytic conceptualizations of genre.

A text's genre may be determined by its:
  1. Linguistic function.
  2. Formal traits.
  3. Textual organization.
  4. Relation of communicative situation to formal and organizational traits of the text (Charaudeau & Maingueneau, 2002:278-280).

Literature



In literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

, genre has been known as an intangible taxonomy
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

. This taxonomy implies a concept of containment or that an idea will be stable forever.The earliest recorded systems of genre in Western history
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. Gérard Genette, a French literary theorist and author of The Architext, describes Plato as creating three imitational genres: dramatic dialogue, pure narrative and epic
Epic (genre)
An epic is traditionally a genre of poetry, known as epic poetry. However in modern terms, epic is often extended to other art forms, such as novels, plays, films, and video games where the story is centered on heroic characters, and the action takes place on a grand scale, just as in epic poetry...

 (a mixture of dialogue and narrative). Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

, the fourth and final type of Greek literature
Greek literature
Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

, was excluded by Plato as a non-mimetic mode. Aristotle later revised Plato's system by eliminating the pure narrative as a viable mode and distinguishing by two additional criteria: the object to be imitated, as objects could be either superior or inferior, and the medium of presentation such as words, gestures or verse. Essentially, the three categories of mode, object, and medium can be visualized along an XYZ axis. Excluding the criteria of medium, Aristotle's system distinguished four types of classical genres: tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 (superior-dramatic dialogue), epic (superior-mixed narrative), comedy
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 (inferior-dramatic dialogue), and parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 (inferior-mixed narrative). Genette continues by explaining the later integration of lyric poetry into the classical system during the romantic period
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, replacing the now removed pure narrative mode. Lyric poetry, once considered non-mimetic, was deemed to imitate feelings, becoming the third leg of a new tripartite system: lyrical, epical, and dramatic dialogue. This system, which came to "dominate all the literary theory of German romanticism (and therefore well beyond)…" (38), has seen numerous attempts at expansion or revision. However, more ambitious efforts to expand the tripartite system resulted in new taxonomic systems of increasing scope and complexity. Genette reflects upon these various systems, comparing them to the original tripartite arrangement: "its structure is somewhat superior to…those that have come after, fundamentally flawed as they are by their inclusive and hierarchical taxonomy, which each time immediately brings the whole game to a standstill and produces an impasse" (74). Taxonomy allows for a structured classification system of genre, as opposed to a more contemporary rhetorical model of genre.

Further reading

  • Sullivan, Ceri (2007) 'Disposable elements? Indications of genre in early modern titles', Modern Language Review 102.3, pp. 641–53
  • Pare, Anthony. "Genre and Identity." The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre: Strategies for Stability and Change. Eds. Richard M. Coe, Lorelei Lingard, and Tatiana Teslenko. Creskill, N.J. Hampton Press, 2002.

External links