From the Archives: Genre Theory as Ontology

When I was working on my doctorate, I was thinking a lot about genre theory, activity theory, and other ways of understanding the effects of communicative actions. (I even gave a shout-out to Actor-Network Theory in my dissertation thank-yous, though I did not use it.) My work since then has diverged from this topic, but I found some thoughts recently that I liked quite a bit and never got to publish.

Genre theory has long been used as a way to look at genres individually and in assemblages (Spinuzzi 2004). It has not been fully fleshed out as an ontology despite its claims to explain how the social situations come to exist, stabilize, and change. I posit that genre theory is an object-oriented, asymmetrical, situational, non-rhizomatic, historical, networked ontology.  

Genre theory is object-oriented because it is focused on the genre as a primary artifact and site of investigation, instead of people or actions as the main focus.  

It is asymmetrical because theorists do not afford the genre the ability to change itself, although it does have the delegated agency to constrain and promote action.  

Genre theory is situational because it is not a top-down, rigid theory of everything; however, it does have theories and concepts with explanatory power that can be applied in a variety of situations.  

Genre theory is non-rhizomatic because the relationship of people to other elements is conducted through the genre—everything is not connected to everything else directly, but instead connected through interaction with the genre.  

Even though it is not rhizomatically networked, genre theory is networked in the sense that it does require many different elements relate to each other through the lens of the genre.  

It is historical because the genre is an instantiation of a set of relationships that had a beginning and may develop and change over time; it does not imagine that the relationships determined in a genre are anything more than stabilized-for-now (Schryer 1993).  

There was a tour of the literature that went along with this, but many other people tour the literature better than me. There was no further analysis after that sentence; the next step was a smash cut to the references. Yet, these ideas still excited me when I ran across them, so I’m putting them up.