Miller, C., and D. Shepherd. “Questions for Genre Theory from the Blogosphere.” Genres in the Internet: Issues in the Theory of Genre. Ed. Giltrow, J. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co., 2009. 264-86. Print.

Abstract:  The blog illustrates well the constant change that characterizes electronic media. With a rapidity equal to that of their initial adoption, blogs became not a single genre but a multiplicity. To explore the relationship between the centrifugal forces of change and the centripetal tendencies of recurrence and typification, we extend our earlier study of personal blogs with a contrasting study of the kairos, technological affordances, rhetorical features, and exigence for what we call public affairs blogs. At the same time, we explore the relationship between genre and medium, examining genre evolution in the context of changing technological affordances. We conclude that genre and medium must be distinguished and that the aesthetic satisfactions of genre help account for recurrence in an environment of change.

  • In the preface, the authors identify kairos, technological affordances, rhetorical features, and exigence as the key generic constituents of blogs as a new media genre.
  • The authors argue that blogs outgrew their initial generic form and feature as display of personal identity, rapidly being put to use for other purposes far outside of individual representation.
  • The authors ask some super interesting questions here:  if a genre is recurring, typified, reproducible, and “stabilized-enough” then how do we understand new media rhetorical genres that transform so rapidly?  IOW, if a genre is a mark of recurrence, what recurs?  if communities create collective typifications, what do they create?  if genres have identity, then what identity is created through constant change?  is there a dimension of genre that adapts across mediums?  (264)
  • The backgrounds of RGS:  discourse as centripetal and centrifugal; social theory that explains relationship between agency and structure; linguistic studies of variation.
  • The authors note that many studies of rhetorical genres concentrate on the interdependent relationship of sociocultural institutions and genres.
  • Authors claim that their contribution to genre theory in this piece “aims to clarify the relationship between the centrifugal forces of change and the centripetal tendencies of recurrence and typification, stability, and cultural reproduction.  At the same time, we explore the relationship between genre and medium, examining genre evolution in the context of changing technological affordances” (266).  Interestingly, the authors note that an attention to medium is something that could be put to use in print genres as well.[1. Rachel made just this point when discussing RGS and New Media the other night.  She was absolutely appalled that folks weren’t looking into medium . . . as medium tends to be the very starting point for most visual artists.]
  • Authors identify two main social actions of blogging as genre: self-expression and community development.  (268)
  • The authors articulation of new media/digital media rhetorical genre: Formal features (ordered entries, comment functions, etc.) + Cultural moment (i.e., kairos) +
  • To discover  whether the recurrent exigences (disasters in this study) were the basis for typified rhetorical actions (blogging in this study), the authors claim that they need to examine the kairos or cultural moment when the recurrent exigences and typified rhetorical actions occurred (275).  The authors claim that the kairotic moment, in this case, included dissatisfaction with the mainstream media (MSM) and technological affordances (social networking, WYSIWYG editors, RSS, search engines, & tagging).
  • Two more issues to be considered when thinking of internet genres:  1) nature of recurrence; and 2)relationship between genre & medium (280).  The authors acknowledge that the medium of the internet is intrinsically bound up with the genre.  When considering whether the relationship between medium & genre is rhetorical (or, in their words, “the way that the suasory aspects of affordances ‘fit’ rhetorical form to rhetorical exigence” 282), the authors note that the affordances of the medium of the internet aren’t determinative but must interact with social need before the genre comes into being.
  • The authors argue that the technological forces of the internet serve a maieutic function — that is, they coach or coax a latent social motivation widely shared by large numbers of individuals into use by making use of the affordances of technology (think the hashtag).
  • On the development of digital genres:  the new genre arises from the combination of exigence an affordances, along with the modeling of forms and topoi offered by antecedent genres (283).
  • The difference between a technology (Blogging CMS or Twitter for example) and a genre (the hashtag) is marked.  Blogs are “technology, a medium, a constellation of technological affordances” that seemed to be a genre at first because “the genre and the medium, the social action and its instrumentality, fit so well that they seemed coterminous” (283).  Upon their growth and multiplication into various different kinds the rhetorical exigence likewise multiplied and transformed.[2. A key question about hashtags as genre or as technological affordance that contains multiple genres . . . ] Upon it’s first invention, the medium is the genre; however, after time and expansion, there is a multiplication and differentiation of genres made in the same medium.

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