Conversations about Genre, part 3

A Letter from Sara, Juan Diego, Carol, Fanny and Leidy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Below is one letter I received from five students in Colombia. You can see the insightful critiques they offer of society through genre.

March 8, 2021

Dear Ms. Devitt,

Hope this message finds you well. We are Sara, Juan Diego, Carol, Fanny and Leidy, students of Foreign Languages from Universidad del Valle, in Cali, Colombia, and we read your article Generalizing about Genre: New Conceptions of an Old Concept in our English class. We are now writing you to share some thoughts and ask you some questions about it, in an effort to build a bridge between us, students, and the authors of the articles that we read everyday. First off, we would like to tell you we found your text very eye-opening, since it greatly expanded our understanding about genres. Now, we see genres not as a static construction, as we were taught in high school, but instead as a response to recurrent situations, always entailing the context behind them, a response that has been determined by society, and a configuration we should actively contribute to.

When we were in high school, our conception of genre was defined by these dichotomies you advice to overcome. Society and individual, in particular, was the most engrained one in our heads, as we saw genres as something established upon us to follow. Even worse, in some cases, our understanding about genre was limited to only literary genres.

Therefore, we would like to ask you why do you think these dichotomies have become the norm? How did we get to this point where conceiving genre as a complex whole, where these dichotomies converge, is harder than picturing it as something made up of two separate components?

In our opinion, the concept of genre was never shown as a reflection of the convergence between society and the individual, it was never a mirror of reality, but forms of discourse expression classified into strict and invariable characteristics whose approach was mostly linguistic. From this point of view, we believe that, on a large scale, this standardization of the concept of genre is due to two main points: the exponential growth of sources of information
and the lack of questioning about what surrounds us.

First, we think that easy access to any type of information has caused people to think that everything has already been said and therefore it is a waste of time to question the established information. Second, we believe that school teaches people to repeat certain discourses instead of encouraging a critical attitude towards the world. They do not teach you to know and explore your environment, instead they present to you a reality previously constructed by them for you to follow. This goes as far as to the point of teaching religion in schools, but not as a way to explore our personal spirituality, rather than indoctrinate you with a specific religion. This, together with the fact that we live in a society where the only motivation is acquisition of material goods as the only way to achieve happiness, has caused that instead of constructing our
own reality, we accept one that other people have constructed, just as it is reflected in genres.

With all this being said, we believe that your role in society is of immeasurable importance, as you question the established norms and strive to be part of the change. Education today needs to move towards an unlearning environment, an environment where we stop repeating obsolete ideas that hinder the proper development of society. We believe it is invaluable to have the
opportunity to access this type of sources so that in the future, we can stop normalizing the world that surrounds us.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, we look forward to reading your reply.

Best wishes from Colombia,

Sara Campos Avila
Juan Diego Matta Solarte
Carol Gamboa Ibarguen
Fanny Ortiz Paz
Leidy Hurtado Salazar

I trust you are as impressed as I was by the careful and critical thought that went into this letter.The other letters, in the next five installments of this series, continue with their own perceptions and insightful critiques.

Writer, teacher, researcher, PhD, optimist. I explore language & everyday genres to help people see & choose the language & genres they use.