Tag Archives: Bourdieu

Bauman & Briggs—Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power

Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power

by Richard Bauman and Charles L. Briggs

[Briggs, Charles L., and Richard Bauman. 1992. “Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2: 131–72.]


“grasping the complex intertextual relations that underlie genre, along with the way these relations are closely linked to social, cultural, ideological, and political-economic factors, can offer insight into why studies of genre have proved to be so problematic” (132).

Genre styles—”are constellations of co-occurrent formal elements and structures that define or characterize particular classes of utterances. The constituent elements of genre styles may figure in other speech styles as well, establishing indexical resonances between them. Additionally, particular elements may be abstracted from recognized generic styles and employed in other discursive settings to endow them with an indexical tinge, a coloration, of the genres with which they are primarily associated and the social meaning that attaches to them” (141).

“Beyond the fact that it has been put to a wide range of analytic and descriptive uses, practitioners have generally simply assumed that they and their audiences know what genres are and what makes them work” (145).

  • Bakhtin, however, “sees linguistic dimensions of genres in terms of their ideologically mediated connections with social groups and “spheres of human activity” in historical perspective (1986:65)” (145).
  • “Bakhtin was one of the first to replace the static hewing out of texts with a model where literary structure does not simply exist but is generated in relation to another structure. What allows a dynamic dimension to structuralism is his conception of the “literary word” as an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee (or the character), and the contemporary or earlier cultural context. [Kristeva 1980:64-65, emphasis in original]  […paragraph] Two facets of this characterization are crucial. First, structure, form, func- tion, and meaning are seen not as immanent features of discourse but as products of an ongoing process of producing and receiving discourse. Second, this process is not centered in the speech event or creation of a written text itself, but lies in its interface with at least one other utterance.  […paragraph]  Bakhtin’s interest in a “translinguistics” that is vitally concerned with2 intertextuality has clearly provided part of the force that lies behind the recent interest in reported speech evident in linguistic anthropology and other fields” (146-47).

“Viewed synchronically, genres provide powerful means of shaping discourse into ordered, unified, and bounded texts. As soon as we hear a generic framing device, such as “once upon a time,” we unleash a set of expectations regarding narrative form and content. Animals may talk and people may possess supernatural powers, and we anticipate the unfolding of a plot structure that involves, as Propp (1968(1928]) showed us long ago, an interdiction, a violation, a departure, the completion of tasks, failure followed by success, and the like. The invocation of genre thus provides a textual model for creating cohesion and coherence, for producing and interpreting particular sorts of features and their formal and functional relations all the way from particular poetic lines to the global structure of the narrative” (147).

  • “Genre thus pertains crucially to negotiations of identity and power—by invoking a particular genre, producers of discourse assert (tacitly or explicitly) that they possess the authority needed to decontextualize discourse that bears these historical and social connections and to recontextualize it in the current discursive setting” (148).

“When viewed diachronically or vertically, the fit between a particular text and its generic model—as well as other tokens of the same genre— is never perfect; to paraphrase Sapir, we might say that all genres leak” (bold added,149).

  • “The process of linking particular utterances to generic models thus necessarily produces an intertextual gap. Although the creation of this hiatus is unavoidable, its relative suppression or foregrounding has important effects. One the one hand, texts framed in some genres attempt to achieve generic transparency by minimizing the distance between texts and genres, thus rendering the discourse maximally interpretable through the use of generic precedents. This approach sustains highly conservative, traditionalizing modes of creating textual authority. On the other hand, maximizing and highlighting these intertextual gaps underlies strategies for building authority through claims of individual creativity and innovation (such as are common in 20th-century Western literature), resistance to the hegemonic structures associated with established genres, and other motives for distancing oneself from textual precedents” (149).


“In this article we have critiqued views of genre that draw on purportedly immanent, invariant features in attempting to provide internally consistent systems of mutually exclusive genres

  1. We presented an alternative view of genre, one that places generic distinctions not within texts but in the practices used in creating intertextual relations with other bodies of discourse …
  2. we argued that generic intertextuality is not an inherent property of the relation between a text and a genre but the construction of such a relationship …
  3. We accordingly suggested that generic links necessarily produce an intertextual gap; the strategies used for constructing intertextual relations can seek to minimize this gap,maximize it, or both.
  4. Choices between intertextual strategies are ideologically motivated, and they are closely related to social, cultural, political-economic, and historical factors (bullets added, 163).

“Our goal in this article is thus not to “rescue” the category of genre from these difficulties or to assert its centrality to research in linguistic anthropology. Any attempt to champion—or to dismiss—the concept of genre would have strong ideological underpinnings. We have rather tried to use our discussion of genre as a means of raising some basic is- sues regarding discourse production and reception. In an earlier article (Bauman and Briggs 1990) we argued that discourse analysis cannot best proceed either by (1) studying (socio)linguistic elements and processes apart from the process of discourse production and reception or by (2) studying social interactions as analytic microcosms. We rather pointed to the fruitfulness of studying discourse vis-a-vis the way it is transformed in the course of successive decontextualizations and recontextualizations and of exploring the process of entextualization that provides the formal and functional basis for such transformations (164).


This article addresses the relationship between discourse, textual and social order, and power by means of an examination of the concept of genre. It begins with a critical review of the way genre has been used in linguistic anthropology. A distinction is delineated between approaches that take for granted the status of genre as a tool for classifying and ordering discourseand those that contend with elements of generic ambiguity and dynamism. Proceeding to outline a new approach to genre, the discussion analyzes awide range of intertextual relations that are deployed in constituting genericlinks. A series of examples contrasts strategies for minimizing gaps between texts and generic precedents with strategies for maximizing such gaps. A final section points to the ways that investigating generic intertextuality can illuminate questions of ideology, political economy, and power.

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Malaby— Anthropology and Play

Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience

by Thomas Malaby

[Malaby, Thomas. 2009. “Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience.” New Literary History 40 (1): 205–18.]


  • The use of play as a theoretical tool, rather than being brushed off as a leisure activity, has taken hold across academic disciplines within the humanities and social sciences. Malaby wonders why Anthropology hasn’t been invested before now.
  • He argue that “while the ingredients of a more useful conception of play as a disposition (as opposed to an activity) were always present, and even found expression on occasion, the field as a whole stressed only two viable possibilities: play as nonwork and play as representation” (205-6).
  • BUT, “Departing from this pattern prepares us to recognize a better model for thinking about play, one that draws ultimately on the pragmatist philosophers’ portrayal of the world as irreducibly contingent. On this view, play becomes an attitude characterized by a readiness to improvise in the face of an ever-changing world that admits of no transcendently ordered account” ( bold added, 206).

Historically, play is divided in Anthropology

  • Non-work—position held by Materialists
    • Callois: “play is an occasion of pure waste” (206).
    • play cannot be commoditized, so it is worth nothing
  • Representation—position held by representationalists (gasp)
    • Ex. Geertz & Deep Play
    • play stands as a symbol of larger and deeper cultural meanings
    • BUT WAIT: “What should interest us about this treatment of a game, however, is the way it trades one kind of reductionism for another. In his zeal to trump whatever material stakes were in play with the different stakes of meaning-making, Geertz eliminated from consideration any consequence beyond the affirmation of meaning. On his view, games become static appraisals of an unchanging social order; and thereby, one element that is vital for any understanding of the experience of play is lost” (207).
    • “That element is the indeterminacy of games and the way in which, by being indeterminate in their outcomes, they encapsulate (albeit in a contrived fashion) the open-endedness of everyday life” (207-8).
  • So the point is that games are indeterminate, much like our complexly contingent lives.
    • “an approach to games that acknowledges this indeterminacy looks quite different from its past treatments. It connects games to other domains of experience by showing how they contain the same kinds of unpredictabilities and constraints that saturate our experience elsewhere, albeit combined in a contrived fashion. Viewed this way, games assume a powerful relationship to human practice and social process.”
      • “What is more, this view allows us to see how games may be related to a particular mode of experience, a dispositional stance toward the indeterminate. This is an aspect of experience that disappears from view when practice is left out in favor of materiality or representation” (208).
    • in Play and Work: A False Dichotomy, Stevens makes “a vital point that game researchers (and social scientists generally) are still prone to forget: if by “play” we are trying to signal a mode of human experience—a way of engaging the world whatever one is doing—then we cannot simultaneously use it reliably as a label for a form of distinct human activity (something that allows us to differentiate categorically between activities that are play and those that are not)” (208).
    • So then “when the work/play distinction is left behind, we see instead in ludic practice a more useful contrast between a cultural form (a game-like activity, no matter how playfully engaged in) and a mode of cultural experience (a playful disposition towards activities no matter how game-like)” (209).
      • Csikszentmihalyi’s flow is a mode, for instance
      • For Huizinga, it is the play-element
  • In the world, we also have this type of indeterminacy or contingency
    • can be compared to Heideggerian thrownness
    • also fits well into the concepts behind practice theory
  • There are three main features to this disposition of play in the world
    1. “First, it is an attitude that is totalizing in the sense that it reflects an acknowledgment of how events, however seemingly patterned or routinized, can never be cordoned off from contingency entirely …”
    2. “Second, the disposition of play is marked by a readiness to improvise, a quality captured by Bourdieu in his development of Marcel Mauss’s concept of the habitus …” 
    3. Finally, play is a disposition that makes the actor an agent within social processes, albeit in an importantly restrained way; the actor may affect events, but this agency is not confined to the actor’s intent, or measured by it. Rather, it allows for unintended consequences of action” (211).
  • The playful disposition does not need games, but can be leveraged to other means: “just as with ritual, it is the power of the mode of experience associated with it that makes the deployment of the cultural form a tempting project for individuals and institutions”

Play and institutions:

  • “In its study of ritual, anthropology undertook with great success a similar project, whose enabling insights should inform our current inquiries into play not least with regard to the relationship of these institutions to a social form they are beginning to deploy for purposes of their own …”
    • “games, as outlined above, manifest a playful disposition that, seeming to lift them above institutional interests, can, by the same token, be seen to validate those interests impartially” (213).
    • examples given
      • Linden Lab and its semi-successful attempts at gamifying the in-house decision making process
      • “gold-farming,” tying gameplay to actual capital accumulation IRL
      • TopCoder.com having coders compete to write the best code for specific commercial uses—the company then owns the code

Game vs. Ritual

  • There is an important “difference between the cultural forms of ritual and game. Rituals, despite the fact that they can go wrong—the fact, that is, they are subject to contingency—aim to bring about determinate outcomes …”
  • and “Games, while also a contrived cultural form and subject to similar kinds of sponsorship, are marked by the legitimacy of their indeterminacy; that is, their outcomes are supposed to be contingent” (214).

and finally—BIG POINT

  • “What is most provocative about the current moment, then, is how the explosion of thoroughly digitized games prompts us to confront the play element and its powerful yet indeterminate relationship to the emergent cultural form of computerized games. As institutions are coming to deploy games in their governance and in their engagement with a computer-mediated public, we may be well advised to see their efforts as similar to the age-old and ongoing attempts to employ ritual to prompt sentiments for nations or other groupings. The disposition of play is, in many ways, the latest sentiment to have been turned into the object of institutional desire. Some of us are prepared to bet that its roots in indeterminacy will be a bulwark against corporate takeover; but a bet is probably the most we can hazard. “

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Latour—We Have Never Been Modern

We Have Never Been Modern

by Bruno Latour, (Translated by Catherine Porter)

[Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]


  • The act of purification is key to being modern, however, we are increasingly creating and coming up against hybrids. For instance, a discussion of the ozone layer combines science, technology, politics, and nature, blurring the modernist distinctions and continuing the proliferation of quasi-objects.
  • Latour is not arguing that we are entering a new era of hybridization, but instead that we have always created these hybrids and their quasi-objects and have never been “modern” to begin with.
  • Latour hopes to replace what he calls the modern “constitution” with a nonmodern version that does not separate nature and society and brings the genesis of quasi-objects to light (see below).

Purification—making a clear distinction between the ideas of nature (science, non-human, objects) and society (culture, human, subjects)

Hybridization—mixing nature and culture (non-human and human, object and subject)

Quasi-object—the products of hybridization; objects that can influence the social action of subjects (soccer balls, tools, diagrams, etc.)


“The hypothesis of this essay is that the word ‘modern’ designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The first set of practices, by ‘translation’, creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by ‘purification’, creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on one hand; that of nonhumans on the other. Without the first set, the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without thesecond, the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or evenruled out. The first set corresponds to what I have called networks; the second to what I shall call the modern critical stance” (10-11).


“We can keep the Enlightenment without modernity, provided that we reintegrate the objects of the sciences and technologies into the Constitution, as quasi-objects among many others – objects whose genesis must no longer be clandestine, but must be followed through and through, from the hot events that spawned the objects to the progressive cool-down that transforms them into essences of Nature or Society” (135).

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