Subject Matters of Genre

Despite what we have been taught as young students of the public school system, and often times of the higher education system, the term “genre” is not quite as it seems. The traditional, well-known, definition of the term “genre” even the youngest of school age children can probably define. It is usually thought of as categorization of literature such as, “fiction,” “non-fiction,” “biography,” and many other types of categories of writing. However, what I have read of genre in the Written Communications and Organizations class from writers like Devitt, Bazerman, and Kress, has given us a new perspective on what genre means. Genre is not just simply a category for literature to be placed. It is a context, undertone, or even sometimes a hidden meaning that can be applied to a multitude of situations including life, school, work, and, yes, still literature.

Amy Devitt writes of genre, “The common understanding of genre among too many composition scholars and teachers today is that genre is a relatively trivial concept, a classification system deriving from literary criticism that names types of texts according to their forms. Viewed in this way, genre is not only a rather trivial concept but also a potentially destructive one, one that conflicts with our best understandings of how writing, writers, and readers work, one that encourages the dichotomies in our field… Genres develop, then, because they responds appropriately to situations that writers encounter repeatedly” (p. 574 & 584). This basically is a reiteration of the statement above in order to justify this new, or I should say lesser known, definition of the true meaning of genre.

Bazerman’s examples of the true form of genre are related to the genres of life and “genred-situations.” It relates to the changing of environments and times of life that induce change in a person or their lifestyle. The life-situation that I like to use as an example from his paper is the concept of tax season. This is something that gets little attention over the course of the year aside from maybe saving receipts and documents that get neatly shoved away for when the time comes. No one at any other time introduces themselves and adds that they happen to be an excellent tax preparer come January. However, when the time does come, all people have to change their focus to doing what is legally required of them. Many of us suddenly have knowledge of deductibles and tax write offs and as soon as that refund comes to our accounts, we give it little thought until next year.

There are many other forms of genred life-situations that a much simpler. A lot of us have to balance different genres at once. For instance, being a mother and a student are two very different genres of my life. Sometimes they cross, like now, when I am writing this blog and half watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” with my children while disciplining my son for hitting his sister. This are two very different contexts of my life that sometimes come together. There are many people who can relate and have their own individualized genres. In the old form of genre we would look at the person’s life as a whole. The genre would be more like a biography of that person’s life. However, the contexts and undertones provide us with a whole array of genred situations.

Kress speaks more on the visual genres of text and their importance. I find that visuals combined with texts have benefits as well as downfalls depending on its context of genre, as well. Business writing, i.e. proposals, presentations, direct marketing, are all much benefited with the added use of visual. A lot of time they are used to stimulate thought and provide further information. This concept is subjective, as are many things, and visuals may or may not always be useful.

Hopefully, with further research and understanding of the actual concept of genre, more students will come to know it as a common concept in learning of genres. It will also hopefully teach students that a lot of what they learn is subjective and there are not a lot of absolutes in subjects like English, Literature, and History. Believing the first things we are told because it is in a classroom setting is what misguides us sometimes and we need to be advocates for our own education in order to come to conclusions that we are comfortable with.

3 thoughts on “Subject Matters of Genre”

  1. Hi Keary,

    Your definitions are perfect. I would use these in teaching and put them in notes, simply stated and succinct. Additionally, there is a logical flow in which you present the information. Every term and explanation compliment and clarify.

    Additionally, I think you examples of genres and your split between mother and students is both hilarious as well as easy for me to identify with the situation. Last week while I was typing a response, I accidentally typed, “Carter please don’t tip…” Then I realized that I typed it, not said it. Then I took a break a got a towel.

    Lastly, I totally think that the subjectivity of English, and a ton of interpretation is classes like social studies. It would be interesting to see how student learn when they are given the opportunity to learn in various genres, Chase Elizabeth had a great blog on that topic! Thank you for your blog!


  2. I agree about having to balance a lot of different genres at once. I am often overwhelmed by that fact even. Thank you for your insight and I love how you applied your post to real life. Awesome!



  3. Hi Keary,
    I really like all of your definitions of genre. I never knew it was such a controversial topic. What I loved most was when you got to the paragraph about your “life genres”. This helped me relate to you and understand where you were coming from. I would have loved this as an intro paragraph. I can relate one hundred percent on balancing life genres on a daily basis (right now my 2 and 6 year old are watching “Mia and Me” in the background). I love thinking of it like that!


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