triggers specific, "typified" answers, which in turn characterize and sustain the
social context - made of people, actions, and texts - in which the genres are used.
Thus, genres work as "means of orientation," in the sense that they "help us
navigate the complex worlds of written communication and symbolic activity"
(Andersen, 2008, p. 349) in which we are immersed.
Every community, or group of individuals, who participates in some communicative
action in order to get something done, establishes "conventions of discourse" as
ways of "acting together" (Miller, 1984, p. 165). Miller (1994) refers to this kind of
community, which is dynamic, porous and inclusive (in line with Bakhtin's dialogic
view of the world), as a "rhetorical community." Other RGS scholars prefer the
expression "discourse community" (Smart 2006). What should be emphasized here
is that communities are always culturally and historically situated, and their
structure and character are defined by, and at the same time give shape to, the genres
that are enacted in such contexts. "In recognizing a text type," Charles Bazerman
(2000, p. 16) writes, "we recognize many things about the institutional and social
setting, the activities being proposed, the roles available to writer and reader, the
motives, ideas, ideology, and expected content of the document, and where this all
might fit in our life."
RGS sees genres as helping structure social interaction in the production of work.
This structuring function of genres comes from the "bottom," that is, from
communities that keep on using "certain material tools [or genres] in certain
ways that worked once and might work again" (Russell, 1997, p. 515). In contrast,
the diplomatic view of documents focuses on the "rules of representation" inherent
in them, rules that "reflect political, legal, administrative, and economic structures"
(Duranti, 1989, p. 15). Diplomatics takes a top-down, normative, or prescriptive
approach to the analysis of documents, being concerned with "juridical acts directed
to the obtainment of effects recognized and guaranteed by the system" (Duranti,
1989-90, p. 12). This propensity is linked to the historical origins of the discipline
and its primary goal of proving the authenticity of documents. On the contrary, RGS
is not as concerned with established procedures as it is with the vagaries of process
and practice. While one could say that the focus of diplomatics is in the ideal,
impeccable form and the fixed, juridical norm, RGS is more interested in the specific
and, oftentimes, innovative character of actual genres, their dynamics, and their
departure from the norm as a result of their ongoing use. Genres are not defined by
their following of strict compositional rules in a top-down fashion, but by the users
themselves and their actual, contingent situations of use.
To borrow a metaphor from design, a genre approach to understanding
documentary relations and creating information management systems would
parallel a view of urban design that, instead of following top-down rules for laying
out streets, took a thorough analysis of so-called "cow-paths" as its guide. Cow-
paths, also known as "calf-paths" or, less-pejoratively and more poetically, "desire
lines," are the paths that pedestrians take informally over a grassy area, rather than
using an established, usually paved route. These desire lines are people's chosen ways
of navigating space, emerging first as barely noticeable tracks that eventually turn
into beaten paths by the recurrence of their use. RGS is chiefly interested in
documentary pathways that emerge as desire lines, directly resulting from the social
preferences enacted on a daily basis by the information management practices of
workers in an organization, in opposition to the documentary paved roads designed
by information engineers and managers. Workarounds are, from this perspective,
more important than any official procedure.
MacNeil (2004, p. 230) argued for the need to construct a "'social' diplomatics"
that, unlike traditional diplomatics based on the decontextualization of records,
would explore the social and cultural contexts of records and achieve a "rich
ethnographic description" through its alignment with perspectives from cultural
history, historical anthropology, socio-linguistics and semiotics. Instead of
dissolving the context into those elements that are encapsulated in the form of the
record and those elements that are not and therefore do not matter
(de-contextualized away), such a social diplomatics would revel in discovering and
making explicit the multitude of connections between the record as text and its
Recent reinterpretations of the concept of record share the poststructuralist view of
language mentioned above. The idea of a record as a "continuum," as an object that
is "in a state of always becoming" (McKemmish, 2005) - an idea that since the early
1990s has become part of the archival body of knowledge thanks to the Australian
school of recordkeeping - mimics Bakhtin's notion of language as being in a
"ceaseless flow of becoming" (cited in Allen, 2011, p. 18). Geoffrey Yeo (2010a, p.
97) referred to speech act theory, with its implication "that each act has a stable and
particularized context," to highlight the "performative characteristics" of records.
Seeing records as persistent representations of occurrents, Yeo shares with RSG an
emphasis on the social agency of records.
In the next section, we will offer a few examples of how RGS scholars have examined
the dynamics of genres in ways that aim to suggest an alternative articulation of the
documentary context of records.
Genres and intertextuality
An important assumption that RGS shares with archival science is that "no text is
single, as texts refer to one another, draw from one another, create the purpose for
one another" (Devitt, 1991, p. 336). The study of the interactions taking place
among the texts typically produced and reproduced by one particular community,
that of tax accountants, allowed RGS scholar Amy Devitt to reveal the social and
epistemological characteristics of that community. By borrowing the notion of
intertextuality from literary theory, Devitt examined the possible kinds of
interactions (among texts, rhetorical situations, agents and purposes) one may
observe within a community. The understanding of genres as social action requires
that the "genre set" of a community be defined by the participants in that
community. Repeated, structured activities and relationships prompt typified
responses that draw on previous texts written in response to similar situations. This
so-called "generic intertextuality" (p. 338) was implicitly acknowledged by the
subjects of Devitt's study. When asked to name the types of texts they typically used
to accomplish their work, tax accountants were able to name a few genres that
Devitt then categorized as their "genre set."
archives in liquid times
fiorella foscarini and juan ilerbaig intertextuality in the archives