Genre Studies

Genre Theory

Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition  

by, Anis Bawarshi

This book is a trip. I don't really know what else too call it. Bawarshi is innovative and sharp, and his analysis of genre as constitutive sites of action offers many implications for the writing teacher.

I have pulled what I found to be the key points out of the text and placed them here. I know this is not the most effective way of reflecting on his work, but I think I am still coming to an understanding of this Genre Theory...

It is very very interesting and  Genre analysis is something I will have to look into further. 

Maybe one of my classmates' e-portfolio will be about that! =)


In his effort to expose us Humboldtians to current work in the feild, Dr. Stacey included a text about genre theory in our class. Anis Bawarshi's 2003 book (pictured to the left) argues for a genre based pedagogy in first year writing courses that would engage students in genre analyses. 

Bawarshi argues that the "container view of genre, which assumes that genres are only transparent and innocent conduits that individuals use to package their communicative goals, overlooks the socio-rhetorical function of genres--the extent to which genres shape and help us generate our communicative goals, including why these goals exist, what and whose purposes they serve, and how best to achieve them" (23).

Analyzing genres as generative, Bawarshi explains that "genres are sights of action which locate writers within specific relations, practices, commitments, and subjectivities. Within such discursive ecologies, writers not only acquire and articulate specific desires, but they also participate in, resist, and enact the relations and activities bound up in and deployed through these desires" (71).

Taking this generative aspect of genre a step farther, Bawarshi illustrates an understanding of genre as productive. "We cannot understand genres as sights of action without also understanding them as sites of subject formation, sites, that is, which produce subjects who desire to act in certain ideological and discursive ways" (78).

"...genres are sights of action as well as sites of invention..." (78).

Bawarshi restates this double-function of genre throughout the text. It is quite difficult to understand, so his repetition is effective. He explains that "the genre compels individuals to assume certain situational positions, positions established by our culture and rhetorically articulated and reproduced by the genre" (84).

Here it is again. "Genres are the conceptual realms within which individuals recognize and experience situations at the same time as they are the rhetorical instruments by and through which individuals participate within and enact situations" (113). 

Bawarshi hinges this discussion of genres as generative and self-constituting on the topic of invention. He says, "invention is a process that is inseperable from genre since genre coordinates both how individuals recognize a situation as requiring certain actions and how they rhetorically act within it" (114). 

"Invention takes place at this intersection between acquisition and articulation of desire" (115).

He goes on to provide an example of genres constitutive power by showing how the genres associated with the first year writing course reproduce the scene of the composition class. He analyzes the syllabus, the writing prompt and the student essay in the second to last chapter. Bawarshi is arguing for writing teachers to "make genres analytically visible to students so that students can participate within and negotiate them more meaningfully and critically" (141).

Getting into the thick of the argument about genre and invention here: "genres position their users to perform certain situated activities by generating and organizing certain desires and subjectivities. These desires and subjectivities are embedded within and prompted by genres, which elicit the various, sometimes conflicting, intentions we perform within and between situations. To assume that the writer is the primary locus of invention, then, is to overlook the constitutive power of genre in shaping and enabling how writers recognize and participate in sites of action" (143).

Then Bawarshi concludes his text arguing for a genre-based writing pedagogy. "Genre analysis can make visible to students the desires embedded within genres; and by giving students access to these desires, we enable them to interrogate, enact, and reflect on the relations, subjectivities, and practices these desires underwrite" (146).