Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005 23:42:25 +0200 From: Diana Yankova Subject: Worlds of Written Discourse: A Genre-Based View
AUTHOR: Bhatia, Vijay K. TITLE: Worlds of Written Discourse SUBTITLE: A Genre-Based View SERIES: Advances in Applied Linguistics PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd YEAR: 2004
Diana Yankova, Applied Linguistics Department, New Bulgarian University
The purpose of the book is to address the relation, or rather the gap, between the real and the ideal -- the actuality of written discourse in academic, professional and institutional contexts, with its idealistic representation in genre analysis. Its intended audience are linguists interested in discourse and genre research, as well as practitioners teaching a course on genre analysis.
The book is divided into five sections: Overview, The world of reality, The world of private intentions, The world of analytical perspectives, The world of applications. The setting of what is to follow is provided by the 'Overview', where terms such as 'discourse' are glossed. In a survey of the historical development of discourse analysis the different approaches to analyzing written discourse are viewed (discourse as text, as genre, as professional practice, as social practice) as well as the different stages of analysis (textualization, organization, contextualization). On this basis Bhatia provides his conception of a multi-perspective model of discourse which comprises four spaces: textual, tactical, professional, social space. The two most important characteristics of the genre-based view of language are the emphasis on conventionalized generic features on the one hand and the observation that genres are dynamic, they develop and change, on the other. The seeming discrepancy between these contradictory and opposing features of genres and their implications and corollaries are exploited in detail in the following sections.
The section "The world of reality" explores the function of disciplinary knowledge with a view to a deeper awareness of genre-based variation in academic and professional discourse and considers genres within and across specific domains. Bhatia begins by elucidating the terms genre, register, discipline, offering a neat and clear distinction. Registers are defined on the specific configuration of the three contextual factors of field, mode and tenor of discourse and represent the content; disciplines manifest features of the subject matter and represent the language associated with the content; and genres cut across disciplines and are singled out on the basis of their communicative purpose. Different types of variations are considered which testify to the fact that the relationship between registers, specialist disciplines and genres is complex in that they can overlap or contrast with each other.
Taking as example the genres of textbooks, lectures and cases, Bhatia shows that although they all serve a common purpose in academic contexts across disciplines they also display idiosyncratic disciplinary characteristics, such as variation in knowledge structures and norms of inquiry, typical patterns of rhetorical strategies associated with typical modes of expression, specialist lexis, etc. These variations are contingent on the discursive practices of the discipline, the disciplinary methodologies, and the pedagogic tasks and activities deemed productive for particular disciplines.
Bhatia subcategorizes domain-specific genres as comprising genre sets (specific typical genres of a particular professional which are distinct, yet intertextually linked), systems of genres (composed of all the interrelated genres produced by all the participants in a professional activity) and disciplinary genres (representative of a particular professional domain, such as law or business). The concept of a genre colony is introduced as a collection of genres within and across disciplines with a common communicative purpose and considered primary members. It is also "a process whereby generic resources are exploited and appropriated to create hybrid (both mixed and embedded) forms, which may be considered secondary members of the colony" (Bhatia 2004:58).
According to what he terms 'generic values' (the combination of rhetorical acts through which the communicative purposes of genres are realized, e.g. description, evaluation, information, explanation) Bhatia differentiates between primary and secondary members of genre colonies within and across disciplinary domains. For example, in considering the colony of 'promotional genres' he enumerates advertisements, promotional letters, book blurbs, job application letters, reference letters, which although displaying specific realizations demonstrate an overlap in communicative purpose -- a common promotional purpose. Further, each genre can be described at a lower degree of generalization, for instance, with advertisements -- he distinguishes between print advertisements, TV commercials, radio advertisements, etc. Secondary genres would be such that have strong promotional concerns, for instance fundraising letters, travel brochures, grant proposals, book reviews, film reviews, company reports, annual reports, company brochures. Many such secondary members can be primary in another colony. Bhatia gives further illustrations within the genre colonies of 'academic introductions' and 'reporting genres' making the observation that the mixing of private intentions with socially recognized communicative purposes leads to appropriated, embedded, mixed or hybrid forms of discourse (cf. Scollon et al 1999) and this is the theme of the next section, 'The world of private intentions'.
The discussion centers on the recent tendency of expert members of a discourse community to adopt lexico-grammatical, rhetorical, discoursal generic conventions from a particular genre in the construction of another in order to communicate their private intentions, resulting in the "colonization of one genre by the other by invading its integrity" (Bhatia 2004:87). This invasion of territorial integrity that materializes in the appropriation of generic resources across conventional socio-rhetoric boundaries is determined by the dynamic and interrelated spheres of current academic, institutional and professional life. Such an omnipresent and genre is advertising -- it has invaded several genres: academic, corporate, political, journalistic and this corroborates Bhatia's claim that informative functions are more likely to be colonized by promotional functions than by any other since they are unlikely to create tensions (Bhatia 2004:89). Several mixed genres are in the process of creation: 'infomercial', 'infotainment', 'advertorial', while others, such as job application letters and philanthropic fundraising letters demonstrate similarities with advertising in their communicative purposes, lexico- grammar, and their move structure.
Although hybrid or mixed types of genres serving complementary communicative purposes are more common, Bhatia gives evidence of mixing of genres that serve conflicting or contradictory communicative purposes. He exemplifies it with the joint declaration by Hong Kong/China during Hong Kong's handover which comprises legislative intentions (to provide solutions to future disputes) and the conflicting diplomatic intentions (to promote mutual understanding and to defer difficult decisions on contentious issues that might be resolved by means of negotiations).
Bhatia's concern is how expert writers manage to identify, compose, interpret, use and exploit generic constructs in a socially accepted manner despite such complex variations in the lexico-grammatical and discoursal features of genres and in their interpretative strategies and expectations. The explanation he puts forth is that they respect the generic integrity which he defines as "a socially constructed constellation of form-function correlations representing a specific professional, academic or institutional communicative construct realizing a specific communicative purpose of the genre in question (...) constructed in the context of the goals of the professional or disciplinary culture it is often associated with" (Bhatia 2004:123). Generic integrity is defined by text-internal (contextual, textual and intertextual) and text-external characteristics (discursive practices, discursive procedures, disciplinary culture); it is "flexible, negotiable or sometimes contested". The versatility of genres depends on dynamic changes in the nature of a specific genre over time or on the contextual factors that constrain the genre. An example of the former is the advertorial, a hybrid from travel and tourism of the editorial and advertisement, and of the latter -- the legislative provision.
A topical but still ill-defined and nebulous issue is how specialists acquire professional expertise. Bhatia offers the term 'discursive competence' to encompass the three levels of textual, generic and social competence and defines professional expertise as comprising the following three key elements: discursive competence, disciplinary knowledge and professional practice. He reaches the conclusion that professional expertise is a complex multidimensional concept requiring a correspondingly complex approach in studying its constitution, composition and its acquisition by members of the discourse community. Building on Swales' (1990) six characteristics of a discourse community, Bhatia highlights the difference of focus in discourse communities and communities of practice and at the same time proposes that the two concepts be integrated without surrendering the strengths of either.
The next section, 'The world of analytical perspectives", proposes methodology for a thorough and insightful analysis of written discourse. Bhatia sees the main goals of genre analysis as follows:
- to understand and account for the realities of the world of discourse - to understand 'private intentions' within professional genres - to understand individual, organizational, professional and social identities constructed through discursive practices within specific disciplinary cultures - to understand how professional boundaries are negotiated through discourse practices - to investigate language as action in socio-critical environments - to offer effective pedagogical solutions - to negotiate interactions between discourse practices and professional practices
These goals can be realized in relation to the concepts of space proposed earlier in the book -- textual, socio-cognitive (tactical and professional) and social, each allowing a different analytical perspective within Bhatia's multidimensional perspective framework: textual perspective (genre as a reflection of discursive practices of disciplinary communities), ethnographic perspective (genres in action, grounded in narrated insightful experiences of expert members of the community), socio-cognitive perspective, socio- critical perspective (historically and structurally grounded accounts of the conditions under which genres are constructed and interpreted by members of the discipline to achieve their typical goals). Bhatia provides a detailed list of procedures for a multi-dimensional and multi-perspective analysis of genre and exemplifies the methodology with a publisher's blurb. It commences with a textual analysis and extends to the socio-cognitive and socio-critical space, emphasizing areas of intertextuality and interdiscursivity in order to go beyond the lexico-grammatical and rhetorical resources into the use of the text in real life contexts and its rhetorical performance.
The last section, 'The world of applications', looks at the power of genre as a means to draw the line between insiders and outsiders in disciplinary communities. Bhatia emphasizes that one of the principal concerns in genre theory is the study of the constraints on genre creation, the power it gives to insiders of a discourse community and the way this power is exploited to accomplish novel aims. Although generic forms demonstrate delicate variation, they tend to observe the basic generic features. Bhatia illustrates how disciplinary communities preserve the generic identity of their discourse within academic and legal cultures. In this concluding section he also discusses recontextualization of written discourse in the same or in another language, canvassing for easification procedures that keep the communicative purpose of the source text intact -- a concept and procedure he suggested in previous work (Bhatia 1983).
In the last chapter of the book some considerations pertaining to applied linguistics are discussed, namely: the extent to which pedagogical practices should reproduce the real world of written discourse, how generic integrity and generic creativity can be reconciled, and whether analytical procedures should account for the full realities of the world of discourse. Bhatia highlights important issues, conflicts, alternatives and prospects connected with the development of language curriculum and methodology, disciplinary conflicts, and analytical options, appealing for a shared vision that corresponds to both the discourse community and the pedagogic community.
Genre analysis has spawned a series of studies over the last 15-20 years and has been widely used in the context of English for specific purposes (ESP) as a link between the basic concerns of text and discourse analysis and ESP needs, supplying a basis for elaborating materials for classroom use, for syllabus design and needs analysis. Initially it was considered to be tied with pedagogic concerns (cf. Dudley Evans 1987, Hyland 1992). Bhatia argued for combining language insights with socio-cognitive and cultural considerations in his 1993 book 'Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings'. In the present book he argues again that these factors contribute to genre construction, interpretation, use and exploitation. The novelty in his approach is the attempt to move the focus from a predominantly pedagogic direction to studying genres in their professional and organizational contexts -- the real worlds of written discourse. A different concept of genre thus follows -- it is not considered as something pure with distinctly established boundaries and limits, necessarily attributed to a specific discourse community. This tension between mixing and embedding of genres and yet preserving their generic integrity is the key to how professional expertise is acquired and this has not been put forth in available literature. Researchers and practitioners have not so far accounted for this intricacy of genres in such a comprehensive and thorough manner as it is examined and presented in the book. Bhatia considers genres in all their complexity: vertically as super- genres and sub-genres, horizontally as genre sets, and their interrelations and relatedness to features of context. In order to become a competent professional, one must take into consideration the integration of disciplinary with discursive knowledge as well as the discursive practices in professional contexts.
Throughout the book Bhatia substantiates his claims by offering ample illustrative examples. It is lucidly written and well-structured. I would have preferred to see the author's definition of certain terms, such as interdiscursivity, for example and also a better argued explanation for the division of domain-specific genres into genre sets, genre systems and disciplinary genres. There are a few repetitions and unexpected and unnecessary changes in the I/we perspective. However, these are minor issues and do not detract in the least from the values of the work.
Within the study of genre several traditions can be delineated. The North American school (Freedman and Medway, Berkenhotter and Huckin) focus on the interrelations between text and context and consider genre as dynamic and unstable, while the Australian school (Halliday, Kress, Ventola, Martin) emphasize more on textual characteristics and hold the view that generic integrity is attainable and stable. Bhatia follows a third path building on the traditions of the genre analysis established by John Swales and bridges the gap between the other two schools, maintaining that generic integrity is not static but developing in concordance with a particular generic event.
The book is a brilliant contribution to the study of genre analysis. It establishes a comprehensive methodology for further research in the field. Bhatia proves once again his expertise in elaborating a multidimensional approach for analysis of the intricacies of academic, professional and institutional discourse and offers new perspectives and insights of how the real world of written discourse is represented by the generic structuring of texts.
Bhatia, Vijay (1983) Simplification v. Easification -- The Case of Legal Texts, Applied Linguistics, vol. 4, No. 1, 42-54.
Bhatia, Vijay (1993) Analysing Genre- Language Use in Professional Settings, London: Longman.
Dudley-Evans, A. (1987) Genre analysis and ESP, ELR Journal, Vol.1, The University of Birmingham, 1-9.
Hyland, Ken (1992) Genre Analysis; just another Fad? Forum, vol. 30, 2.
Scollon, Ron & Bhatia, Vijay & Li, David & Yung, Vicki (1999). Blurred Genres and Fuzzy Identities in Hong Kong Public Discourse: Foundational Ethnographic Issues in the Study of Reading. Applied Linguistics 20/1:22- 43.
Swales, John (1990) Genre Analysis. English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Diana Yankova has a PhD in Linguistics and teaches legal English and culture studies at the Applied Linguistics Department, New Bulgarian University. Her research interests are in discourse analysis, points of convergence between legal studies and linguistics, approximation of legislation, North American culture studies.