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Utterance and Function in Genre Studies: A Literary Perspective

Genre Theory in Information Studies

ISBN: 978-1-78441-255-5, eISBN: 978-1-78441-254-8

Publication date: 6 February 2015



Though contemporary Genre Studies, and especially American Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS), has made great progress through prioritizing the functional aspect of genre, there is now much to be gained by giving renewed space to the formal and thematic sides of genre as well, granting the concrete utterances, making up particular genres, equal weight in the theory and analysis of genre. The purpose of this shift is emphatically not to take anything away from current Genre Studies; I admire what is being done in genre research today and want to add to it and expand it by demonstrating some of the possibilities enabled by a modified approach.


Current Genre Studies, as encountered in RGS, is an impressive and highly organized body of knowledge. By re-introducing literary and high rhetorical subject matter, which has been under-studied in RGS, into it, the chapter demonstrates some of the complexities involved when Genre Studies confront genres whose utterances are more complex than the “homely discourses” usually discussed in RGS. Formal and thematic features play a far too significant role in literary works to be explicable simply as derivations from function alone. But this is not limited to works of literature. The chapter finds that though more complex genres, literary and high rhetorical, most consistently invite utterance-based interpretations, other genre-based studies can benefit from them as well.


The chapter offers a perspective on genre which gives renewed weight to formal and thematic interpretations of genre, by allowing the utterances themselves to re-enter center stage. This enables an improved understanding of complex genres. It also revives close reading as a viable approach to understanding genre and thus to inform the rhetorical, linguistic, and sociological perspectives dominant in current genre scholarship. Finally, it improves our understanding of genre in both a systematic and a historical perspective. The chapter demonstrates, thus, that an understanding which puts as much weight on a genre’s utterances, as it does on its function is viable as an interpretation of genres, and is fruitful as an approach to them.




This chapter is written with the assistance of Camilla Mellin. The author wishes to thank the Research Group for Genre Studies at the University of Copenhagen and in particular Christel Sunesen for her invaluable contribution to this study. Thanks are also due to David Russel, Amy Devitt, Anne Smedegaard, George Hinge, Sarah Auken, and Carsten Fogh Nielsen.


Auken, S. (2015), "Utterance and Function in Genre Studies: A Literary Perspective", Genre Theory in Information Studies (Studies in Information, Vol. 11), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 155-178.



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