Heyd, Theresa. “A Model for Describing ‘New’ and ‘Old’ Properties of CMC Genres.” Genres in the Internet: Issues in the Theory of Genre. Ed. Giltrow, J. Amsterdam: John Benjamin’s Pub. Co., 2009. 239-62. Print.

Abstract:  While genre theory has become one of the central paradigms for CMC studies, these approaches face a dilemma:  while they are often firmly rooted in the functionalist framework of’Swalesian’ genre theory, they strive to describe digital genres as new, emergent or at least hybrid – positions that are not easily reconciled. This paper suggests a way out by proposing a two-level structure for genre ecologies: a function-based superlevel that will usually be established from traditional discourse which branches into emergent subgenres on a lower, form- and content-based level. This two-level model is established in detail around the test case of digital folklore; it is also shown how the model can be extended to other domains of CMC discourse.

  • The author notes that genre analysis is useful from the perspective of discourse analysis and also the fields of library and information science, data mining, and corpus linguistics.
  • H. focuses on the question of digital genres in relation to their novelty, remediation or hybridity vis-a-vis print-based formats.
  • H. claims that the tentativeness in identifying digital CMC genres is a result of “methodological constraint” tied too strongly to the Swalesian approach that emphasizes discourse communities and Miller’s attachment to genres as “social action” (240).
  • Heyd’s theory:  Based on the well-established dichotomy of formal vs. functional criteria, it introduces a two-level genre ecology.  In this model, genre bundles are defined, on the top lvel, by a function-based ‘supergenre,’ which branches out into a variety of associated ‘subgenres’ individuated through form and content specificities.  It is contended that functionally defines supergenres are medially stable and have relatively clear genre antecedents in pre-digital discourse, whereas formally defined subcategories are more diverse, more prone to change, and may easily be generated within a changing medial environment.  (240-1)  So, in other words, the function (social action, communicative purpose, etc.) is superordinate, while the content and form is subordinated.  They’re in a relationship of hypotaxis.
  • H. traces the form/function divide to the work of Halliday (1965) and later Bhatia (1993).  The addition of “communicative purpose” from Swales turned genre analysis away from form to function.  Here’s the Swales quote:


  • Kwasnik and Crowston (2005) declare that the fusion of content, purpose, and form of CMC makes the formal/functional distinction impossible in digital formats.
  • Interestingly, Heyd only sees genre ecologies in a relationship of parataxis; however, as Spinuzzi points out, genre ecologies tend to organize repertoires of genres at varying levels of scale.  This insight from Activity Theory creates some real questions/problems for Heyd’s use of genre ecologies as “horizontal genre relations rather than vertical structures of super- and subgenres” (244).
  • I’m pretty sure that our own research is at odds with Heyd’s characterization of potential genre ecologies . . . in fact it is an inversion.  In her model, the functionally defined “social action” embedded in genre is elevated to the level of “supergenre”; while smaller subgenres whose formal characteristics are emergent and differentiated constitute difference among CMC genres.  In our model, the relationship is inverted — the formal structure and medium of the genre are elevated to the level of supergenre while the “social action” or functional operation is varied and takes the place of subgenres.  So, while the medium (link and hashtag searchability) and format (camelbacking, hashtag+descriptor) are consistent, the function/social communicative purpose (identify/iterate/rally/etc.) is varied.  Here’s Heyd’s figure:

heyd 2

  • And here is her figure for digital folklore as supergenre:

Heyd 3

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