“Genres are not simply text types; they are culturally and historically grounded ways of ‘seeing and conceptualizing reality.’” — Spinuzzi, 2003
This semester, in my Composition and Communication course, freshman at the University of Kentucky will be exploring genres in detailed and meaningful ways, seeing genres as forms of social practice and action (Wenger, 1998; Miller, 1984), as stable-for-now sites and instantiations of ideology (Schryer, 1993), as carriers of provisional knowledge (Shirky, 2008), and as culturally and historically grounded ways of knowing and being in the world (Spinuzzi, 2003).
That’s a mouthful, so let me say this another way: we’re going to be investigating genre all semester, and we’ll be documenting instances of genre in everyday life via Instagram and Twitter.
More importantly, we want you to help!
Where are the genres of your everyday life? What kinds of genres are the norm in your profession, discipline, or vocation? What genres are unique to your city, town, or region? What genres are important to you, and why?
Through the #1000genres project, we’ll be documenting the genres that surround us here in Lexington, at UK, and in local academic and professional contexts. In the process, the collected images and descriptions of genres will become source material for student projects near the end of the semester.
Why are we focusing on genre in this way? Because of David Russell, of course!
People do not “learn to write, period,” notes Russell (1995). Instead, he argues, “one acquires the genres (typified semiotic means) used by some activity field as one interacts with people involved in the activity field and the material objects and signs those people use” (p. 56). For Russell, “writing does not exist apart from its uses, for it is a tool for accomplishing object(ive)s beyond itself. The tool is continually transformed by its use into myriad and always changing genres” (p. 57). Stated another way, he notes that “Learning to write means learning to write in the ways (genres) those in an activity system write” (p. 57).
The #1000genres project is largely about learning how to learn genres—to recognize different genres in the world, the ways those genres arise from and operate within given social contexts, and the ways we might adapt our communication strategies to better match the norms and expectations carried through specific genres. But in doing so, we’ll also consider the ways that people not only adapt but in fact change genres over time.
Participating is easy! Take a picture of a genre that interests you (for whatever reason); write a brief description of the genre or how it operates; tag that photo #1000genres and post it to Instagram, Twitter, or both. That’s it!
We probably won’t always nail it—sometimes things that seem like genres might be something else. But that’s ok. The point is to be looking, thinking about genres, and documenting what we see.
We can learn even more about genre by seeing the things you post. What kinds of genres are ubiquitous in your world? Show them, and show others!