Genre Theory Courses

Coursework in genre Theory develops students’ understanding of genre as an explanatory construct, rather than fostering students’ facility with or critical awareness of one or more genres.  In such courses, the bulk of students’ reading, writing, discussion, and research engages concepts of genre itself--including, but not limited to, genre formation, stability, change, and disuse; the connections among different genres used in similar situations or spaces; the relationships among textual conventions and social and epistemological formations; strategies and methods of research and analysis; and so on.   

Here, specific iterations of particular genres qua genres are comparatively rare, tending to appear primarily as artifacts against which the uses and limitations of particular theories can be measured. For example, whereas a corporation’s Annual Report might appear in a genre Production course as an exemplar of conventions to be mastered and in a genre Analysis–Criticism course as an example of conventions to be understood; its role in a genre Theory course would likely be as a test case against which the explanatory power of a particular theory could be assessed. Coursework in genre theory also necessarily acknowledges that the scholarly books and research articles in which such theories are developed and challenged are themselves genres. Frow (2005) is a good example of such a work, designed specifically for such instruction.

Genre Theory courses are typically a phenomenon of postgraduate education, on the assumption that the course will advance students’ independent research and teaching agendas. Like the trend noted for genre Analysis–Criticism courses, the last decade has seen attempts to imbue upper-level undergraduate writing-in-the-disciplines coursework, and even some US first-year composition curricula, with genre theory, on the assumption that critical genre knowledge facilitates transfer of writing skills to later coursework. While elements of theory and analysis inform such curricula, these pedagogies nonetheless subordinate genre Theory to the ends of producing expository essays and remain better classified as genre Production courses.