Sunday, March 9, 2008

Writers and Genres Fight Over Agency

Bawarshi goes a little deeper into his notion of genre as invention in chapter three. He sides with Bazerman in placing the agency of the writer in a larger social sphere. “To designate and treat writers as the sole agents of invention because they are its most visible agents, as is largely still the case in composition pedagogy, is to overlook the less obvious but just as significant factors that are at work on the writer, factors that shape writers’ intentions and motivate the choices they make as agents” (50). Bawarshi is very much interested in teaching genre in writing classrooms as a way for students to be able to more fully understand what happens to them that makes them do what they do. What’s important to remember about the writer is that she is not only acting out her own desires but is also acting out already existing desires. By only looking at half of the equation, by only seeing the writer as agent, we as teachers are misrepresenting the teaching of writing and devaluing composition studies.
Unfortunately, with the focus shifting from the product to the process of writing in the 60s and 70s, came a belief that invention lay in the prewriting stages. Therefore, invention was seen as not only teachable, but also individual. What I found interesting was Lakoff and Johnson’s argument that “metaphors are actually social concepts we learn as part of our social and linguistic development. As already existing social conventions, metaphors structure the ways individuals conceptualize reality” (67). It would be interesting to look at a few metaphors and really see how wide their scope of influence reaches.
Bawarshi may be making more work for teachers of composition, but his intent is valid. We would be doing wrong by our students not to develop the idea of genre as invention. Whether we like it or not, we are wrapped up in social contexts and social practices that determine a lot of what we do. By studying genres, students have a better ability to act against as well as with the constraints that each genre embodies.

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