Genre Analysis and Criticism Courses

Genre Analysis and Criticism pedagogies immerse students in the social and aesthetic significance and historical development of particular forms and media of cultural production. Such pedagogies are distinguishable from genre Production courses in that their aim is to enable students to understand, critique, compare, historicize, or assess one or more genres (e.g., novels, multimedia features, speeches, television shows, etc.) rather than to help students become contributors to such genres themselves.

Obviously this distinction is not absolute: Production courses often assume that at least some historical perspective is conducive to active participation in a genre; Analysis–Criticism courses may ask students to try their hand at, e.g., an ottava rima or a memorandum, in order to facilitate awareness of its conventions. The essential point is that these techniques are means to the ends of analysis and critique, rather than the organizing principle for the course.

Analysis–Criticism pedagogies have shifted from their traditional (and some would say atheoretical) priority of maintaining a cultural tradition (e.g., a “music appreciation” course) to a cultural-studies approach that de-emphasizes the formal features of the genre itself. For example, genre as it is now used in undergraduate literature courses tends to focus less on the history of a particular genre (e.g., the pastoral) and more on the reading practices that produced and reflected the conventions of the pastoral. This shift in focus reflects a general weakening of certainty that “the lyric” or “the speech” or “the sitcom” are isolable from the purposes they serve and the interests they advance. Even the “great author” courses that remain popular in English Departments now focus less on the genre as something mastered by the literary author in question and more on the genre as placing particular demands on and opportunities for that writer’s motivations. Analysis and criticism of genres remain common though not central to curricula in Communication Departments through courses in public address and presidential rhetoric (see Foss, 2008; Kuypers, 2009; Burgchardt, 2010) and in film studies programs through courses in the popular genres of film (see Petrie & Boggs, 2011; Bordwell & Thompson, 2009; Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2012).

In sum, while residual interest in maintaining classical distinctions among cultural text-types remains a powerful force in students’ exposure to genre (e.g., the distinctions between poetry, fiction, and drama continue to powerfully influence curriculum, reading lists, and hiring practices in Departments of English), emergent Analysis and Criticism genre pedagogies (e.g. Tabachnick, 2009; Sadler, 1992; Bamford & Legget, 2002) seek to help students understand that definitions of genres themselves are subject to change—an important common ground with pedagogies of genre Theory