On Genre as Social Action, Uptake, and Modest Grand Theory
Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie
Carolyn Miller's (1984) "Genre as Social Action," the primary topic—or target—of Anne Freadman's brilliant and thought-provoking article, holds a special place in genre research. If I pick up an unknown piece of research on genre, the first thing I do is look for Miller's article in the bibliography. If it is not there, the text in my hand will probably be of little of value to my work for lack of orientation. Moreover, as Freadman (2012) notes, convention in genre research suggests that when
... uggests that when you mention the article, it is in good form to add a positive qualifier. It will often be framed as having "formative influence" (MacNeil, 2012), as a "landmark essay" (Feinberg, 2015), or as "seminal" (Andersen, 2008; Devitt, 2009a; Motta-Roth & Herbele, 2015; Møller, 2018; Paré, 2014; Tachino, 2012), "groundbreaking" (Bawarshi, 2000; Smart, 2003; Winsor, 2000), or "oft-cited" (Devitt, 2009b). More than just paying lip service to the greats in the field, adding this qualifier demonstrates that the author knows her way around Rhetorical Genre Studies and is mindful of Miller's central place within it. This status as a classic text is in itself an example of the bidirectionality of uptake that holds a central place in Freadman's work. "Genre as Social Action" could not be canonical when it was first published. A canon had to form, and the article's central place within it had to be recognized by later researchers, before Miller's text could be taken as oft-cited, seminal, or groundbreaking.