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Posted by on Oct 5, 2010

Genre Navigation as Literacy

I am intrigued by some of the notions put forth by Carpenter when he discusses genre reconsiderations in dealing with presentation and literacy, specifically as he quotes Amy J. Devitt. Seeing multimodal sensemaking in digital culture as a genre consideration is a useful framework for analyzing learning engagement.

Pavement in Seoul. Well kept, no boundaries touching, bleeding into each other. A staid view of academic disciplines, isolated silos.

What can genre mean in this instance? A switch from academic to pop cultures? A switch in roles from student to teacher, from active creator of information to consumer? For learning, could genre refer to the silos of disciplinary understanding, the unique characteristics and schemas associated with that culture of learning?

All of the above are indeed possible, and it is the skill to pass comfortably across these genre boundaries that is prized. It represents transliteracy, certainly, but it does so in a way that has historical antecedents. This type of genre navigation is present in film, in literature, in art. A dualism, a sense of many roles, many states of being.

A fundamental feature of these genre reconsiderations is a shift from form to function, a move that foregrounds the role of agents and agency in its emphasis on rhetorical actions. The critical focus, then, similarly shifts from texts per se to motives and outcomes as genres come to be defined, as Amy J. Devitt (2000) explained, “less by their formal conventions than by their purposes, participants, and subjects: by their rhetorical actions” (p. 698). According to Bazerman (1997), genres “are not just forms. Genres are forms of life, ways of being.

A shift from form to function, the role of agents and agency, forms of life, a way of being. In essence, we are making the case that genre engagement is an indoctrination into a way of life, in itself a conversion not unlike a religion.

Historically, this dualism has been portrayed in dystopian ways. A human with too many masters, a Jekyl and Hyde character split in two conflicting and competing halves. However, as we embrace learning of this sort, learning where the purpose is to explicitly develop this additional role (as scientist, or philosopher, or what have you) by genre engagement, then we need to shed the dystopian residue of cultural influences. We cannot be Jay Gatzby playing the role of a Long Island socialite, incredibly anxious as to being found out for being a fraud. We cannot be anxious as to our inadequacies in a particular role. As a way of life, a way of being, we need to embrace the schematic underpinnings of this community. Digital culture as a means of immersion will require this embrace with our new identities, where content takes a back seat to context.

A former student of mine waxing poetic and grammatically incorrect praise; was he embedded in the genre of student? As a language learner? Was this authentic? On an unrelated note, he was the loudest Korean student I ever taught. I place him in the deafening genre.

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2 Comments

  1. Many thanks Michael for a great blog.

    I think you are absolutely right with regards to not being anxious with regards to our inadequacies in a certain role. For me (and I do have to keep returning to the text to confirm my understanding – not feeling inadequate no, no ;)) one of the most important elements is the symbiosis that needs to exist between (cultural) agency and (digital) context. Perhaps this requires a degree of balance (if not mutual acceptance), and cannot truly exist when inequalities or inadequacies exist on either part. Indeed, in terms of boundary/interface negotiation, both are probably needed in order “enable and frame interaction” between digital culture and the classroom.

    • You are too kind, Mark!

      That feeling of uncertainty, unease about being in new environments is evidence of real learning going on (in my opinion). I believe in what you said regarding cultural agency and digital context and how there is a constant balancing of these to affect growth and learning. This balance is indeed the bridge between digital cultures and the classroom, well put. I would argue, however that imbalances can be productive and spur growth in one or the other area (not saying you were saying the opposite or anything). But I like this notion that when agency and context are balanced, then the learner is situated in both worlds. A certain kind of literacy there, I suspect.

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