Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Second Discipline, Revisited

I found a great blog entry that speaks to research! I strongly recommend each of you read it!

I've been thinking some more about Senge's second discipline, mental models. Specifically, I've been thinking about the idea of genre as a mental model, and how the way we mentally position ourselves in relationship to knowledge affects the way we think! (Is the concept of "mentally positioning" oneself an example of what Lefebvre means by a "representational" or "conceived" space?).

In English studies, we have been trained to think of genres, or types of texts, in terms of their classification. For example, in our literature classes we learn about major genres such as prose, poetry, and drama, as well as subgenres such as the detective story and the lyric poem. When we study media, we might learn about television genres such as the sitcom, the serial drama, and the reality show. And in business report writing, we might learn such subgenres as the trip report, the analytical research report, or the informational white paper. When he position ourselves to think about texts in this way, we position ourselves as consumers of texts. We learn enough about the genre so that we can discern the differences between them. We may also learn some generic expectations as we gain experience from reading these texts.

As writers, we should be thinking about genres in a different way--in other words, I'm arguing that as writers, we must shift our "mental models" of what a genre is. As writers, we need to see genres in terms of the production of texts.

I believe that as writers, we need to analyze genres we plan to work in, just as we should analyze the audiences we are hoping to reach. In my dissertation, I analyzed genres in terms of three "fields" which seem to make up what we mean by the term "genre." First, I examined the "social image" of the genre we call "the manifesto," beginning with the image created by an influential and early example of the genre, Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses." I looked at this "social image" of the genre by examining visual reproductions of Luther posting his theses as a subject matter for paintings and woodcuts, as well as descriptions of the text. Secondly, I examined the "rhetorical dynamics of the genre," in terms of the relationships it creates between reader, writer, text, and knowledge. My analysis here considered power relationships, the exigency offer purpose of the text, and spatial or temporal relations inscribed by the text. Finally, I examined the "formal features" of the text. This included such factors as typical formats, recurring textual features, use of visuals and typefaces, linguistic style, and register. By looking at these three fields I was able to gain a more complete understanding of how the genre works that I would gain by simply "reading" in the genre.

Why analyze genres? To become more astute at writing in the genre. And even more importantly, as a writer who wants to create or innovate--before we modify, or even challenge a generic convention, we need to understand the full impact of such a convention. Genre analysis will help us build better texts by building better genres!


Blogger robinbp said...

Lefebvre's representational or conceived space, which you propose is akin to mental positioning, seems to also be the same postering Mary Ann Cain goes through in determining her involvement in her study of the language in "Listening to Language."

Is this then the idea of looking at it another way, when all the ways seem to have been used? Is this stepping outside the box? Is this phase shifting?!

I can't help but think of the Little Prince's explaination of his drawing to the pilot. It is quite simple, when we finally see it.

3:20 PM  

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