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
- 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 …
- 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 …
- 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.
- 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.