Yates, Joanne and Wanda Orlikowski.  “Genres of Organizational Communication: A Structurational Approach to Studying Communication and Media.”  The Academy of Management Review 17 (2).  299-326.



Drawing on rhetorical theory and structuration. this article proposes genres of organizational communication as a concept useful for studying communication as embedded in social process rather than as the result of isolated rational actions. Genres (e.g .. the memo. the proposal. and the meeting) are typified communicative actions characterized by similar substance and form and taken in response to recurrent situations. These genres evolve over time in reciprocal interaction between institutionalized practices and individual human actions. They are distinct from communication media. though media may play a role in genre form. and the introduction of new media may occasion genre evolution. After the genre concept is developed. the article shows how it addresses existing limitations in research on media. demonstrates its usefulness in an extended historical example. and draws implications for future research.


  • Y&A note that ongoing interaction between individuals and institutions can be viewed in terms of Giddens’ term structuration or the “production, reproduction, and transformations of social institutions, which are enacted through individuals’ use of social rules” (299).  The authors intend to use the notion of genre to explain organizational communication as a structuration process.  The particular genres the authors study are characterized by structural, linguistic, and substantive conventions and are understood to shape and be shaped by individuals’ communicative actions[1. This seems particularly important to your project.  The notion of genre as structuration characterized by structural, linguistic, and substantive conventions aligns with your own project in that the technological structures (server code, plugins, etc.) come to embody particular ideological framings.  These are worked out through a series of linguistic and substantive actions (discussing plugin development, it’s modifications, etc.) that allow the piratical activity system to grow, embodying user action while also determining user interaction through a host of rhizomatic/associational new media components].
  • Y&A highlight Miller (1984) to reframe the rhetorical situation away from Bitzer’s collection of objective circumstances toward situations that are at the behest of exigence – a force that is not totally subjective or objective but a “form of social knowledge – a mutual construing of objects, events, interests, and purposes that not only links them but also makes them waht they are: an objectified social need” (qtd. on 300).
  • The authors pose the existence of genres of organizational communication to underscore how communicative practice in discourse communities are involved in the production, reproduction and modification of particular kinds of communication that meet the social exigency of circumscribed communities at particular times.
  • Y&A anticipate G.’s exploration of genre as both substance and form.  Generic substance is comprised of the “social motives, themes, and topics expressed in the communication” while form is “the observable physical and linguistic features of the communication” (300).
  • Y&A argue that genres are enacted through rules: metrics/dictates/modes of association that coordinate the correct elements of form and substance with particular recurrent situations [2. Of course, this is also of great use for your work.  Rules are intrinsic to articulating an Activity Theoretic account of technological, systemic activity.  You can explore the rules of the piratical activity system – in the case of genres – by paying close attention to substance (the social motive to share intellectual property/build commons-based archives) and form (the archive itself).  In fact, the archive might be one of the genres ripe for analysis in your study as it exists at different sites (the form is generically expansive and adoptable to multiple contexts) while it’s substance may/may not be.  Explore further.].
  • Y&A’s exploration of the “level of abstraction” of particular genres reads thusly:  the levels of abstraction dictate the level of activity vis-a-vis Spinuzzi (see here).  As such, this reading of genre might correlate to the different kinds of conscious/unconscious/automated action that occurs with particular genres.
  • Y&A note that “in structurational terms, genres are social institutions that are produced, reproduced, or modified when human agents draw on genre rules” (305).  In other words, the genre is fundamental to creating and limiting agentic potential in structurational processes.
  • How does genre change?  Well, individuals modify genre rules for substance (the social motives of the community change) and form (the technologies and media available change to allow for different/lateral transformation)[3. Again, super useful for your own project.  You needn’t look far in your sites of research to discover how particular substantive transformations occur (think the move from general archive to personalized collections) or how formal changes occur (think the development of particular technologies such as Oink+).].
  • The authors offer shortcomings on media studies and genre studies before time of publication and then provide an extended study of the genre of business memos and email memos to demonstrate how form and substance change precipitate generic transformation.
  • Y&A’s research draws attention to the fact that media use and the consequences of media use are tightly coupled in a process of structuration over time (318).  They aren’t separate processes to be studied independently of one another.  Rather, they are processes that both commute “communicative action situated in a stream of social practices which shape and are shaped by it” (318).
  • Diachronic studies of genre: investigate the production, reproduction, and change of genres through communicative/generic action over time.  Think Bazerman’s work here on Priestly. Synchronic analysis identify a range of genres and their use in a particular context[4. Obviously, you’re attempting to do both in the Activity Theoretic paradigm – remember this point as it will be useful in explaining the site scope and temporal depth of your work.](322).


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