tentative proposal with annotated bibliography


Also known as: "What I think I want to do for the next two years"

    For my unbound master’s project, I intend to study the practical applications of rhetorical genre theory freshman composition classroom. More specifically, I want to examine the textual and extratextual facets that compose genres, especially academic writing. Furthermore, I wish to explore how composition instructors can use genre theory to help students develop an understanding of how and why academics write and the impact that written knowledge has in shaping the way we think and act. I believe that encouraging freshman writers to examine the social and rhetorical structures that inform academic writing will enable them to make informed decisions about how to adopt an academic style without losing the specificity of their own authorial voices.
    Some notable theories and theorists I will be including in my project are: Caroline Miller’s “Genre as Social Action,” which reconceives genres not only as a way to classify texts but as social tools involving actors, situations, and texts of all kinds, from literary to everyday; David Russell and Charles Bazerman’s Writing Selves/Writing Societies, which examines writing and activity in producing work and the economy, the role of writing in creating and maintaining socially located selves and communities, and the role of writing in the academy; Charles Bazerman’s Shaping Written Knowledge, which discusses the history and nature of science articles and highlights the social and rhetorical forces that fashioned its development; and Anis Bawarshi’s Genre and the Invention of the Writer, in which Bawarshi explores his theory of “the genre function,” an expansion of Foucault’s author function that includes non-privileged discourses, such as a first-year student’s essay.
    Genre studies has become a significant and productive subfield within rhetoric and composition studies, in large part because it draws theories from a wide arra of disciplines, including applied linguistics, the sociology of science, communications, and education. Moreover, because genre studies examines such “everyday” texts as student papers, it provides an ideal framework for examining student writing as a mode of writing in and of itself, as well as examining students as authors. Therefore, I believe my master’s project will make a contribution to the scholarship of this active and increasingly popular field.    
 Annotated Bibliography

Texts I Have Read

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” When a Writer Can’t Write: Studies in Writer’s Block and Other Composing Process Problems. Ed. Mike Rose. New York: Guilford, 1985. 134-165.
    In this seminal essay, Bartholomae explores the obstacles basic writers face when beginning to write academically. More specifically, the author argues that the primary hurdle that stymies novice college writers is the expectation to write for an academic audience when they are unfamiliar with the conventions and language of the genre. Although Bartholomae does not specifically mention genre theory, his ideas may be useful to my project because he underscores the importance of audience and genre awareness in coaching successful student writers.

Bawarshi, Anis. “The Genre Function.” College English. 62:3. 335-360.
Genres, Bawarshi contends, are useful and potentially significant areas of inquiry because they are textual reflections of real-life social practices, relationships, and identities. Bawarshi describes the “genre function”—a nod to and modification of Foucault’s “author function”—as a democratic concept that encompasses all writers and modes of writing. Like Foucault asserts that the author’s name functions on a conceptual, impersonal level, Bawarshi argues that genres function beyond a merely rhetorical level to shape the way we “experience and enact a great many of our discursive realities.” Bawarshi’s article is useful to my project because he provides a convincing argument that everyday authors and genres are worthy of study, and because he demonstrates how genres are microcosms of living social institutions.

Bazerman, Charles. “Intertextualities: Volosinov, Bakhtin, Literary Theory, and Literacy Studies.” Bakhtinian Perspectives on Language, Literacy, and Learning. Eds. Arnetha F. Ball and Sarah Warshauer Freedman. Cambridge University Press: New York, 2004. 53-65.
In this essay, Bazerman argues that intertextuality, a theory that had primarily been the domain of literary studies, can also be a useful concept in the study of rhetoric and composition. When writers sit down to compose a text, they are directly and indirectly influenced by other texts that they have encountered. Bazerman contends that helping students to understand the intertextual nature of their writing will increase their ability to navigate within the rhetorical concept they are working with and give them more options for how to carry out the task at hand. Although Bazerman does not explicitly situate his argument within the framework of genre studies, his argument highlights how texts within (and even outside of) a particular genre interact with one another to create meaning.

Bazerman, Charles. “Life of Genres, Life of the Classroom.” Genre and Writing: Issues, Arguments, Alternatives. Eds. Wendy Bishop and Hans Ostrom. Boynton/Cook, 1997. 19-27.
In this relatively brief essay, Bazerman argues that writing instructors should make their reasons for assigning certain genres of writing explicit to students. Genres, Bazerman says, “the familiar places we go to create intelligible communicative action with each other and the guideposts we use to explore the unfamiliar.” If the teacher’s guideposts are seem unfamiliar or unnecessary to students, the writing class will fail. If the guideposts resonate with students, they will become empowered to use writing as a tool and emboldened to explore unfamiliar discursive territory. Bazerman’s article relates to my project because he highlights the importance of making writing genres relevant to students and demonstrates how generic knowledge can help students improve their writing, in school and beyond.

Bruffee, Kenneth. “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind.’” College English. 46.7. 635-652.
Although texts are perhaps the most tangible examples of social genres, Bruffee argues that they are not the only generic interactions that take place within a knowledge community. Texts are only one aspect of what Bruffee describes as “normal discourse,” or the writing and conversation that members of a profession or discipline engage in daily. Within speech and written genres, knowledge is embedded and preserved in both the language and rhetorical devices that the community has established as conventional. Because normal discourse occurs within a community, situating learning within that community facilitates mastery of the discourse. Bruffee’s essay is useful to my project because he describes the extratextual nature of genre, and because he points out how collaborative learning can help basic writers acclimate to the culture of the academy.

Devitt, Amy J., Anis Bawarshi, and Mary Jo Reiff. “Materiality and Genre in the Study of Discourse Communities." College English. 65.5. 541-558.
In this essay, the authors describe the enactment of genre in a trio of real-life settings: in the courtroom, in the doctor’s office, and in the classroom. Reiff’s discussion of the use of genre as a pedagogical tool in the writing classroom is particularly useful to my project. The author suggests that writing instructors assign students to write ethnographies examining a social group’s spoken and written genres. Reiff posits that these ethnographic observations teach students genre awareness while demonstrating the mutually constitutive relationship between genre and social actions. Furthermore, she argues that understanding a community’s genres facilitates an understanding of what it is like to be a member of that community. Reiff’s emphasis on locating genres within their lived context is especially relevant to the teaching of freshman composition because it allows students to examine writing outside of the hallowed but often intimidating halls of academia.

Texts I Plan to Consult

Bawarshi, Anis. Genre and the Invention of the Writer. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003.
In this book, Bawarshi applies genre theory to ideas of invention and creativity. Significantly for my project, Bawarshi spends the final chapters of the book exploring pedagogical implications for his theories, focusing on freshman composition.

Devitt, Amy J. Writing Genres. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.
In this book, Devitt, who has been publishing regularly in the field of genre theory since 1989, discusses and expands upon 20 years of work in rhetorical genre theory. After surveying major theorists in the field, Devitt goes on to debunk the notion that genres are regulatory and deterministic. Rather, she argues that genres allow for rhetorical choice and freedom. Applying this idea to the writing classroom, she argues that teaching students genre awareness provides them with the resources to consciously adopt, accept, or resist those genres and the social contexts to which they are related. This book may be helpful to my final project because Devitt points to genre studies as a vehicle for student choice in the classroom.

Freedman, Aviva and Peter Medway, eds. Genre and the New Rhetoric: Critical Perspectives on Literacy and Education. Bristol: Taylor and Francis, 1994.
In this collection of essays, noted theorists such as Charles Bazerman and Caroline R. Miller discuss genre theory and its implications in a variety of disciplines, such as literary theory, sociology, cultural studies, and education. Freedman’s contribution, “Anyone For Tennis?,” focuses on genre theory in the classroom. Even if I do not end up using these essays for my final project, I would like to familiarize myself with them because the book has been cited numerous times in the other articles I have read.

Miller, Caroline R. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech. 70.2. 151-167.
In this landmark essay, Miller argues that genre can be used not just as a taxonomy for classifying texts but as a tool for understanding the action it is used to accomplish. She defines genre as a “cultural artifact” that presents a textual interpretation of a recurrent situation or event. Relevant to my project, Miller points out genre theory’s implications for the teaching of writing, and how understanding genres can help students understand and participate in community action.