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Miller, Carolyn R. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 2 (1984): 151-67. Print.

  • Miller isn’t content with the definition of genre as 1) similarity in strategies or forms in discourse; 2) similarities in audience; 3) similarities in modes of thinking; and 4) similarities in rhetorical situations (151).
  • Working from Korhrs Campbell and Jamieson, Miller contends that the study of genre is useful not because it creates a taxonomy but because it emphasizes social and historical aspects of rhetoric.
  • Genre is action-ends driven, not substance/form motivated.
  • Kohrs Cambell and Jamieson note that, “A genre does not consist merely of a series of acts in which certain rhetorical forms recur. . . . Instead, a genre is composed of a constellation of recognizable forms bound together by an internal dynamic (21).
  • Genre, in it’s ideal form, becomes pragmatic, fully rhetorical, a point of connection between intention and effect, an aspect of social action (153).
  • Miller is proposing that “genre” is limited to a type of discourse classification based in rhetorical practice and open rather than closed; in addition, she requires that genre is organized around situated actions (that is, pragmatic, rather than syntactic or semantic) (155).
  • Rhetorical situations in genre theory – they must recur; however, their recurrence isn’t some objective event but a social occurrence.  It’s a intersubjective event that occurs in addition to materialist terms.  It’s never replicable in totality (156).
  • Exigence is located in the social world, neither in a private perception nor in material circumstance – it’s transactional (157).
  • Here’s the lowdown on understanding Miller’c conception of genre:
    • Genre refers to a conventional category of discourse based in large-scale typification of rhetorical action; as action, it acquires meaning from situation and from the social context in which that situation arose.
    • As meaningful action, genre is interpretable by means of rules; genre rules occur at a relatively high level on a hierarchy of rules for symbolic interaction.
    • Genre is distinct from form:  form is the more general term used at all levels of the hierarchy.  Genre is a form at one particular level that is a fusion of lower-level forms and characteristic substance.
    • Genre serves as the substance of forms at higher levels; as recurrent patterns of language use, genres help constitute the substance of our cultural life.
    • A genre is a rhetorical means for mediating private intentions and social exigence; it motivates by connecting the private with the public, the singular with the recurrent. (163)
    • As a recurrent, significant action, a genre embodies an aspect of cultural rationality.

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