Monday, February 3, 2014

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 2/4/14

Thoughts on the Readings:

Literature Review as Network:

Carolyn Miller begins her article, "Genre as Social Action", with a literature review of previous scholarship on genres. I was struck by how a literature review can function as a network. Miller writes that Campbell and Jamieson's understanding of genre as having important "social and historical aspects" (151) "leans on" the Burkean terms "motive" and "situation" (152). Then she links their explanation to Bitzer's idea of exigence requiring response and even Aristotle's situation-based rhetoric (152). She argues that their work is indebted to, but differs from, the work of Frye and Black in their privileging form over situation (153). She traces Burke's influence on Fisher in terms of the idea of motive; then continues to credit Fisher with influencing Harrell and Linkugel (154). In this way, the literature review places nodes (authors) within a network (genre discourse). She describes the connections, proximity, and relationships between the nodes. 

Genre as Network:

I am struck by the similarity of genre in Miller's work to Foucault's discussion of fields of discursive events - a space into which events are dispersed and understood by their connections to one another. Miller seems to suggest this as well, asserting that "genre...becomes...a point of connection between intention and effect, an aspect of social action" (153). What is a node, if not a "point of connection"? Genre is a node in the discursive field of social action; it provides the meaningful "features that create a particular effect in a given situation" (153). Miller suggests that if we have an intention to create an action, we rely on our understanding of genre to create an appropriate product to achieve the desired effect. For example, I have the intention of completing a doctoral program of which this course is one requirement. My understanding of the situation as academic in nature and my understanding of certain genres like blog posts, journal articles, or conference papers is necessary if I want to translate the intention into result. Without the ability to navigate through and (re)produce these recognizable forms, I would not be able to complete the program - the desired effect.

Miller later offers this same idea of genre as a node where "intent" is replaced with the "mind" and "effect" can be replaced with "society". In essence, we need genres to translate what exists in our minds into tangible objects that potentially effect society. 

Miller's rethinking of genre from "Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre" (71)

Bazerman Organizes Genre:


Bazerman positions genre in a larger network of human activity in his chapter "Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems". The triangle below is a visual representation of the hierarchy described in the text, placing social fact as the foundation of text-based action (311). It seems that social fact could be equated with exigence (Bitzer) or motive (Burke). It is the problem or awareness of an action needing to be taken. The response to these facts is a speech act, and there can be a collection of many speech acts into longer forms. These speech acts can take recognizable forms, genres, which can themselves belong to groups of similar forms or with similar producers, genre sets. These sets are connected in systems that facilitate the flow of communication between them, genre systems. Then ultimately, these genre systems can be understood as modes of participating in patterns of human activity.


Bazerman's hierarchy of text-based action (311)

Implications for Research:

This week, two ideas emerged that could be potentially helpful to my research.
  • Bazerman's method of conducting a genre investigation (326): This concept could be applicable in the sense of studying the underground press as a genre, which had not occurred to me before, and would be an interesting avenue for exploration. He gives three points when conducting genre investigation - framing the purpose, defining the corpus, and selecting and applying tools. It occurs to me that this method privileges the role of the investigator, forced to make edits and selections at every step of the process - reminds me of Vatz's emphasis on the role of the rhetor in constructing discourse for that very reason of the power of selection.
  • Miller brings the scholar Herbert Blumer into the discussion, author of the 1979 text "Symbolic Interaction". She explains his position that "social action exists in the form of recurrent patterns of joint action" (qtd. in Miller 158). This quote stopped me in my tracks as relevant to the underground press movement. The movement's goal was social action and it channeled this intention through the reoccurring pattern of the dissenting voices in self-published pamphlets or newspapers belonging to communal, or joint, action in its collaborative nature. I intend to find the Blumer article to explore more of this idea that communal actions follow historically repeating patterns to effect social action or change. It feels like the kind of theoretical underpinnings needed to ground my research in the discipline.

A Note on Process:

This is my brain tonight. Synapses firing. Memory centers lighting up like fireworks. Ideas flashing like lightening. This blog is an attempt to organize these tangents and connections into a coherent discussion.

Image posted on tumblr by Silicon Garden
I did something slightly different this week. In the past, I have printed the pdf files of assigned readings and dutifully underlined meaningful passages, took notes in the margins, and scrawled summaries at the end of chapters. But this week, I didn't print the articles since my printer won't print black and white documents until I replace the cyan cartridge.


Screen capture of comic strip from Oatmeal

But I digress. Instead of my usual method, I used the unlined printer paper that my printer refused to have anything to do with and took notes about the articles on the sheets. It was strangely beneficial. I wrote out interesting quotes by hand. I found myself drawing little pictures or diagrams. I drew lines and arrows between bullet points. I easily flipped between my pages to find places of connection that might otherwise have been missed if I had to navigate a complete pdf.

I just wanted to pause here to reflect on the process of reading this week that I used, and to credit this process with the more fluid thinking that accompanied the reading.

Scans of some of my notes liberated from lined paper and marginalia:




Works Cited:

Bazerman, Charles. “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People”. What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Eds. Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior. Taylor and Francis e-library, 2008. 309-340. Print.

---. “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 79-104. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R.. “Genre as Social Action”. Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

---. “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva 
Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 23-42. Print.


Popham, Susan L.. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business”. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19 (2005): 279-303. Print.

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU for sharing your process. I love your visualizations and it is obvious they emerged as part of your process for this week. Keep up the good play!

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