Conversations about Genre, part 4

A Letter from Alejandra, Melany, Jazmín and Jhoana

Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.
3 min readMay 7, 2021
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The students in this letter describe their learning of genre as something “rigid and pure,” and they speak to the issue of subjectivity and describe a notion of “collective subjectivity” in genre that shapes individual subjectivity.

Escuela de Ciencias del Lenguaje

Departamento de Idiomas

Universidad del Valle

Santiago de Cali, Melendez 760034


05 March 2021

Department of English
1445 Jayhawk Boulevard, Room 3001
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
(785) 864–xxxx

Dear, Doctor Devitt

Allow us to introduce ourselves, we are Alejandra, Melany, Jazmín and Jhoana, a group of Universidad del Valle’s Foreign Languages Bachelor degree students, and we are glad to have the opportunity to contact you. Not long ago, our professor Julian Avila wrote an email to you trying to build a bridge between the reader and the writer to provide us with the opportunity to point out some thoughts about one of your papers, and now it is time for
us to write to you.

In our course of Written Genres in English, we were asked to read your text, “Generalizing about Genres: New Conceptions of an Old Concept”. In this process, some questions arose, as well as the desire of sharing with you what our experiences toward genre have been. As students, we are constantly confronting new perceptions of what genre is, always facing different ones depending on the teacher. After reading, it caught our attention that you outlined genre as a matter of form and content together, rather than just structure. According to the reading, genre is not foreign to the situation, instead it responds to and constructs the situation itself. This is interesting because we were always taught genre as something rigid and pure, something not malleable. Moreover, a huge portion of us, students, do not receive concrete information about genre at all. For this reason, it was challenging for us to reshape the concept we already had.

After the reading, we had the possibility to exercise our intertextuality by linking the notions of active subjectivity, discourse, knowledge and power from Foucault’s perspective, and the information in your text. This is what we thought:

“Genre is linked to subjectivity in so far as it changes through time according to a
given society’s needs, which shows there is a kind of ‘collective subjectivity’ that
influences its construction — we can say ‘collective subjectivity’ is a discursive
formation, a generalized approach to a subject matter. This might lead us to think there are some constraints toward genre outlined by society that affect writing processes and writers’ individual subjectivity. However, when writers let their subjectivity guide them, they begin to construct genre”

Furthermore, we would like to ask you about your teaching experience, how has it been? How do you approach your students to genre in class? We wonder whether you think it might change the way it can be taught now that teaching practices have been pushed into virtual environments. For us, understanding the concept was a little confusing. Is it confusing for your students too when you teach genre? If that is the case, how do you help them to understand it better? We are concerned about how we are going to teach genre in the future or if we are going to be allowed to do it from these new conceptions. Maybe you could shed some light on how we could achieve that.

Finally, we have one last question for you. Has your conception of genre changed from when you wrote the article to nowadays? If it has, was this influenced by something in particular?

Thank you for taking the time to read us, we are looking forward to your response.

Our best wishes for you,

[written confirmed signatures from Leidy P., Melany C., Alejandra Charry T., and Jazmín L.]

As future teachers, these and many of the students asked about how I teach genre, a tough and important topic. And of course, my conception of genre has indeed changed, as I’ll write about at the end of this series.But first, more insights from the students and more questions in the next letter.



Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.

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