Teaching Dreams

I’d love to teach a course on gender and sexuality leaning towards researching and questioning BDSM practices because they, in their turn, are exploring questions of power, violence, and gendered expectations. If I ever have such an opportunity, in this course I’d prompt students to read classical texts, such as Foucault’s The History of Sexuality and Butler’s Gender Trouble; ethnographic or historic accounts, like Chauncey’s Gay New York and Kulick’s Travesti, and some non-nonfictional literature too–memoirs, old and recent, written mainly by women, exploring their sexuality through writing.

Genre and Power

The question of genre is, I believe, extremely important.

The piece "Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power" Bauman and Briggs begin with delineation of the history of ethnographic writing in order to arrive to understanding how genre plays out in power relations. Evoking Vladimir Propp, who discovered that the structure of fairy tail is preserved albeit the content may vary, and engaging with Boasian writing (produced by Boas and his students; for them, the genre of ethnographic writing was primarily the means of organizing gathered material), they identify the differences between approaches to genre, among which "The most significant dimension of contrast among formal perspectives on genre distinguishes those approaches that identify the formal organization of genre as an immanent, normative, structuring property of texts from those that view generic form as a conventionalized but flexible and open-ended set of expectations concerning the organization of formal means and structures in discursive practice." (144).

This division seems to not necessarily be so contrastive in nature. Genre might be a structuring property of texts and simultaneously a flexible set of expectations. The lack of clarity of the defining genre is telling, in the authors’ consideration, of the fat that it is the under-theorized problem in linguistic anthropology. (The article is written in 1991 but the clarity of the issue, I’d suggest, has only diminished, if anything, since then.) For Bakhtin, genre was an important subject of constant writing. With the shift from text to performance, the question of genre has only increased in its significance. Bringing the discussion to the discourse of intertextuality and dialogism of creative forms, the written work begins to exist on the "intersection of textual surfaces" (Kristeva), that is to say, within multiple intersecting (competing, interchanging, contesting each other and supporting each other) contexts. 

Therefore, "We would argue, similarly, that genre cannot fruitfully be characterized as a facet of the immanent properties of particular texts or performances. Like reported speech, genre is quintessentially intertextual" (147), that is to say, does not exist "objectively," as given, but depends on context.

"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. Generic frameworks thus never provide sufficient means of producing and receiving discourse. Some elements of contextualization creep in, fashioning indexical connections to the ongoing discourse, social interaction, broader social relations, and the particular historical juncture(s) at which the discourse is produced and received. […] The process of linking particular utterances to generic models thus necessarily
produces an intertextual gap." (149)

Ultimately the question of genre is political: "Invocations of genre provide powerful strategies for building what Anderson (1991(1983]) terms "imagined communities." (150) For example, "As in the Weyewa case, the
speech genres that comprise the "talk of the elders of bygone days"
among Spanish speakers in New Mexico play a key role in this process" (150).

The question of power, therefore, is a question of powerful narratives the production of which is structured around the axis of genre. "Intertextual gaps" are widened, narrowed, erased, deepened, and downplayed depending on goals of the ruling classes.

"Naturalizing the connection between genre, gender, and emotional experience can in turn rationalize the subordinate status of particular social groups or categories of persons; Lutz’s (1990) discussion of the association between "emotionality" and the female in Western society provides a case in point." (158)


Briggs, Charles and Richard Bauman (1991) "Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power." Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(2):131-172