chapter  3
17 Pages

New Genres—New Roles for the Audience? An Overview of Recent Research


With recent media technologies and an increasing number of media texts now ‘trans-media’ (Evans 2008), a diverse range of communicative forms or genres are now in circulation and the mass audience has long since also developed interactive user elements. Together, such developments have necessitated a range of new terminologies and concepts. This chapter aims to provide an indicative account of research happening within new media genres, from textual as well as audience perspectives. Research along these lines broadly asks whether or not new communicative modes are genuinely new, or alternatively, if are we in danger of over-celebrating generic diversity, by assuming that each new technology facilitates an entirely different mode of engagement, and calls for an entirely new literacy. Some scholars (e.g., Kress 2003) still use the notion of genre to understand these new forms, while others (e.g., Darley 2000) wish to be cautious about the utility of genre as a concept in the converging media environment which surrounds us. Traditionally, the genre concept is used in relation to literature, although it has previously been extended to apply to the mass media as well. The word genre has French etymological roots which refer to ‘kind,’ ‘sort’ or ‘style,’ and deal with typologies ( Oxford English Dictionary ), and, in literary studies, it has a long history traceable to Aristotle’s Poetics (n.d./1968). More useful for our purposes, however, is the distinction introduced by Todorov (1970/1975) in the 1970s between theoretical and historic genres. Theoretical genres are defi ned post factum, in retrospect, by, for example, academic scholars, based on shared characteristics and patterns of narration. Historical genres, on the contrary, are already recognised as genres by their contemporary readers, viewers or listeners. They can thus not be understood apart from their users, and through this, an indexical as well as a social relationship is established. This might be an important aspect of the concept of genre, making it an appropriate analytical tool in the contemporary world of user-generated content and audience involvement.