3: Defining Genre as a Social Construct

Genre is a method of communication that comes about as a result of a particular rhetorical situation located in a specific place in time and setting. This was not always genre’s definition, and it is still not the accepted definition within certain academic circles. In “Generalizing about Genre,” Amy Devitt explains the problems in the traditional view of genre, which has been typically viewed in terms of the structural forms that it requires, such as the 14 lines required in a sonnet or a typical five-paragraph essay structure (575). Devitt opens the definition of genre and “shift[s] our thinking from a formal classification system to a rhetorical and essentially semiotic social construct” (573). Other academics are beginning to adhere to this new, open view of genre, allowing genre to emerge as a social form. Kerry Dick, in “Navigating Genre,” explained it simply: “[W]hen something new happens that requires a response, someone must create that first response. …Eventually everyone who encounters this situation is basing his/her response on the previous ones” (252).

My understanding of genre, similar to what Vicky and Jordyn said in their posts, has changed significantly after reading these articles. Like Jordyn said, if someone were to ask me for examples of genres, I would probably only say things like “romance books,” “pop music,” and “horror movies.” What really interested me is the idea that everyday responses to situations, like essays and memos, are considered genres (“Navigating” 255-56) and that genres evolve out of a social need.

Digital genres support this definition of genre because they were created to fill a social need. Like Vicky’s example of blogs, all digital genres can be traced back to a need that the creation of the genre fulfilled. As another example, the wiki was created because users wanted an experience similar to a real encyclopedia that they could edit together to increase the encyclopedia’s usability and relevance, as print encyclopedias stop being useful a certain number of years after publication (“Genre” 25). A form began to emerge based on the needed collaborative nature of the project, until we got the well-known wiki format we have today.

I would be interested in learning about digital entertainment genres that have emerged as a result of our increased use of technology. Something I found very interesting is the idea that, with this expanded definition of genre, memes can be considered a digital genre. I am interested in seeing how these emerged, what needs they fulfill, and what previous genres they have stemmed from. Other examples of entertainment genres I would be interested in exploring are vlogs, particularly gaming vlogs or entertainment vlogs, because I myself watch these a lot, and I would like to know more about why these have developed.

Word Count: 457


Works Cited:

Devitt, Amy J. “Generalizing about Genre: New Conceptions of an Old Concept.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 44, no. 4, 1993, p. 573–586.

Dirk, Kerry. “Navigating Genres.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, vol. 1, 2010, p. 249–262.

Meyers, Greg. “Genre: What is a blog? What is a wiki?” Discourse of Blogs and Wikis, p. 15-27.