In Amy Devitt’s “Generalizing about Genre: New Conceptions of an Old Concept” is certainly doing this. I’ve taught genre in the FYE classroom before, usually in the form of genre analyses or a genre-recreation. My goal in these instances have been to raise the students’ sense of genre awareness, to, perhaps, offer the students the skill of learning the components to either an unfamiliar genre or to learn to become better acquainted with already familiar genres. I like the complication that Devitt offers, that “genre not only responds to but also constructs recurring situation, [but also] genre must be a dynamic rather than static concept. Genres construct and respond to situation; they are actions” (578). If we (and students) are understanding genre in very formalistic terms, then we are seriously misunderstanding writing and what it does. Writing could then be statically boiled down to five modes. Genre makes meaning. As soon as we can identify the genre of piece, the reader then infers meaning, to a point anyway. The reader can infer situation and context. Genre is certainly rhetorical.
But after reading through all of these specific ideas and notions of viewing genre through this more considered lens, I don’t think she’s really made a very large distinction between old understandings of genre and these new considered understandings of genre. I mean to say that, as I read, really wanted to get a sense of why these distinctions are important. Devitt mentions “Aviva reedman’s research [which] suggests that some novices may learn to write particular genres without explicit instruction, even ignoring explicit feed back” (583). And I think this is true. Some of these notions of genre (basic notions) are really self-evident. How situation and context are important. A resignation letter that communicates appreciation verses a resignation letter that communicates “you can’t fire me because I quit!” have obvious differing social contexts but still fit under the genre of resignation letter, largely due to the purpose of the document. If I’m not incorrect, then what are we doing here? What value does pointing out the obvious have for a class of freshman? Or, is this stuff obvious to our freshmen?
Generally, I’m always on the lookout for the connection between theory and practice—where the rubber meets the road—and when I can’t readily find that connection, I get antsy. Devitt writes, “[t]eachers of writing need to discover how to teach novices the situations and forms of the genres” (583). I point this sentence out because she has presented the theory to us, but no real sense of where the rubber will meet the road, perhaps putting the impetus on us. “[S]tudents may know the genre of letters to the editor in a superficial way, but if they have never felt the need to write such a letter—if they have never experienced the situation—they may be incapable of writing one that appropriately responds to that situation” (583). She is speaking to having a sense of agency here, I think. Arguably, language is imitation. We learn it by imitating what we hear. We often acquire new genres by imitating (writing) what we read. So, what is the limitation to imitation? Is agency a prerequisite in composing in new genres? Particularly if students, truly and legitimately, don’t give a damn?