Course Instructor Days Times Room



English 4830W (Spring 2019)

Advanced Studies in Writing (Alexander)

"Theories of Genre and the Development of an Academic Discipline"



This course represents an opportunity to examine intersections between developments of genre theory and developments of rhetoric and composition as academic disciplines.


While John Swales (1990) recognizes how genre shapes "the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constrains choice of content and style," other studies following Carolyn Miller's pivotal work "Genre as Social Action" (1984) help demonstrate genre as intently ideologically-bound.

Charles Briggs and Richard Bauman (1992) explain that genre "pertains crucially to negotiations of identity and power – by invoking a particular genre, producers of discourse assert (tacitly or explicitly) that they possess the institutional authority needed to decontextualize discourse that bears these historical and social connections and to recontextualize it in the current discursive setting."

While Miller expands our understanding of genre by defining them through recurrence of social situations and actions, Briggs and Bauman complicate the operations of genre by determining them as processes of de-contextualization and re-contextualization, performed at the behest of those granted the authority to do so.

This class asks us to examine our own statuses as operators and delineators of academic discourse, our own perceived and actual positions of authority in the classroom and in the university as a larger structure, as well as how interpretations and understandings of genre affect conceptions of academic disciplines, particularly those housed in the framework of "the English Department."

Anis Bawarshi (2000) describes genre as that which "can account not only for how certain 'privileged' discourses function, but also for how all discourses function, an overarching concept that can explain the social roles we assign to various discourses and those who enact and are enacted by them."

Such focus on genre's potential reminds us how genre itself participates in response to privileged discourses, explanations of social roles, and "recurring rhetorical situations" (of both privileged discourses and social roles in general).


Key questions to consider over the course of this term include

How do we define, explain, and rationalize distinctions between genres of "literary" and "everyday" texts, and how do these distinctions comment on our own sense of disciplinarity?

What does it mean to "assign" a genre? How has the idea of "genre" developed from a set of textual categories and classifications to representations of social action and rhetorical participation?

How do we respond to relationships between conceptions of genre and conceptions of audience?

How does "intertextuality" contribute to understandings of genres and of academic disciplines in general?

How do we talk about the kinds of writing we do in various progressions of professionalization in English, and what do these conversations reveal about the disciplinary statuses of English, Rhetoric, and/or Composition?


Participants in this course will write weekly response papers. In addition, participants will engage with a particular genre of their choosing, paying particular attention to the sources of their working definition of "genre," as well as explorations of how this genre has, will, or could contribute to English as an academic discipline. A seminar paper-length project (due at the end of the term) asks students to use their experiences reading and writing about the course's required readings to build upon genre theory.