Monday, October 29, 2012

Reading Response: "Materiality and Genre in the Study of Discourse Communities"

Reading on Writing (p. 98-109)
Reading Response
“Materiality and Genre in the Study of Discourse Communities”
by Amy Devitt, Anis Bawarshi, and Mary Reiff

In “Materiality and Genre in the Study of Discourse Communities,” the three authors attempt to explain how genre analysis can help in understanding discourse communities. They argue that, “Genre study allows students and researchers to recognize how ‘lived textuality’ plays a role in the lived experience of a group. Teaching students how to analyze genres can provide discipline and focus to the study of discourse communities” (98). Three essays are provided as examples.

Devitt explains the legal genre of jury instruction and argues that there is a disconnect between the creators of communal agendas and the interests of those who use them. Devitt describes the separation between specialists and non-specialists; members and non-members. Devitt believes some language in jury instruction contains words such as "aggravating," "mitigating," "and "might," that members require but nonmembers maybe be confused by. Although Devitt has personally tried to rewrite the particular genre of jury instructions to better inform nonmembers (users), she also recognizes that such language protects the community and the values of its members (judges, lawyers). Two other examples that Devitt provides are tax forms and voting ballots. 

Bawarshi explains the medical genre of the Patient Medical History Form, or the form of life. She argues that “Genre analysis gives access to the workings of discourse communities in a way that renders the idea of a discourse community a more tangible, helpful concept for teachers, students, and researchers” (104). Bawarshi explains how the medical forms allow the patient to enter into that genre by providing their personal information but they may not particularly agree with its values (a knee injury v. a person with a knee injury). Also, the mental state of the patient may not be considered material and thus people don't report it and proper treatment may be overrated. 

Reiff explains ethnography. She describes it as both a research genre an approach to genre analysis. Reiff argues that ethnographic study allows one to “compose communities while composing in communities” (109). Reiff tells about three main teaching interests that can be achieved through ethnographic study: learning genres, learning about genres, and learning through genres. (Susan, a pre-law student, is provided as an example for a mini-ethnography that consists of those three goals).


  1. How does Devitt show that being a specialist and non-specialist can cause problems? What specific example is provided?

    1. As I stated above in an example, nonmembers were confused by the language provided by members (non-specialist affected by specialist). The verdict may be affected by what the jury interprets the instructions to be rather than what the lawyer would expect based on the same set of instructions.