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Composition Forum 37, Fall 2017

Worlding Genres through Lifeworld Analysis: New Directions for Genre Pedagogy and Uptake Awareness

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Angela Rounsaville

Abstract: Recently, rhetorical genre studies scholars have challenged the field to de-center the study of genre as artifact to focus on the conditions that surround, inform, and constrain how those genres get used by writers: the genre uptakes. While prior research has begun to identify many of these consequential influences, these endeavors would benefit, I argue, from an emic, writer-oriented method that follows what writers perceive has impact on genres from a longitudinal and trans-contextual perspective. To that end, I extend previous research by introducing lifeworld analysis to the study and teaching of genre uptake. Lifeworld analysis, I argue, centralizes uptake, uptakes over time, and the background life from which uptakes are formed, as salient for literacy development. To support this claim, I present a lifeworld case study of one student (Ron), an electrical engineering major and participant in local and online maker culture, who I followed over four years of his undergraduate curriculum, from general education and discipline-specific courses into an online and local community makerspace. Ron’s case reveals the interplay between maker-consciousness and encounters with engineering and general education writing, highlighting how maker culture became a core scene of uptake for his performance of school-based genres. This lifeworld analysis shows the porousness and malleability of spheres of writing activity as well as the consequences of such perceived malleability for writers. Ron’s case grounds my introduction of an uptake awareness pedagogy: an attempt to help students recognize and strategically draw from expanded and often taken-for-granted temporal, spatial, and perspectival histories of their prior genre uptakes and those uptake histories.

In their recent edited collection Genre and the Performance of Publics, Reiff and Bawarshi challenge scholars to de-center the study of genre as artifact in genre studies. Ushering in a new phase for rhetorical genre studies research, this seemingly counterintuitive call looks to “the interconnections, translations, and pathways between genres” that comprise the “inter- and intrageneric conditions (material, embodied, temporal, affective)” in and through which genres circulate, become meaningful, and are realized as social actions (3). In Accounting for Genre Performances, Bawarshi has similarly argued that “while we know a lot more about what genres are and how genres relate to one another in complex ways, we do not know as much about the complex performances that take place in-between and around genre” (188). In other words, to de-center genre as artifact is to shift focus from what is “textually available” in genre performance (189) to the conditions that surround, inform, and constrain those genre performances. As a result, the “complex scene[s] of agency” (189) within which writers come to know, develop orientations toward, and experience genres in “real time and space” (190) are amplified. Not only the genres themselves but also the connections between the genres become the focus point for theory, method, and pedagogy.

Uptake theory, introduced to genre studies through Anne Freadman’s efforts to explain why people, despite a pool of available genres, respond to some genres and not others, has provided both inspiration and language for exploring genre interstices: spaces between, around, and through which genres travel and accrue memory for writers. For Freadman, uptake theory emphasizes the long memories, sequences, and arrangements of texts and intertextual relations that condition how and for what purposes writers take up genres. Uptake “mediates between genres” (Uptake 44) and draws its power from the expanse of genre-related memories and repertoires—serving as a historical, intertextual precedent—from which writers select or translate from when writing genres. Recently, Freadman has revisited her earlier theorizations to elaborate how an uptake’s spatial-temporal influence should include “not only a single ‘occasion’” of uptake-genre mediations, but also a “sequence of events in time and across a variety of temporal sequences” (The Traps and Trappings 558). Building from Freadman’s work, rhetorical genre studies scholars have extended uptake theory to account for a range of “extra-textual factors that inform genre consider history, materiality, embodiment, improvisations, and other agentive factors” (Bawarshi, Accounting 188). Innovative studies have identified the ways in which extra-textual features such as identity (Emmons; Kill), the body (LeMesurier), histories of oppression (Bawarshi, Uptake, Memory), and affect and desire (Collins) come to impact genre use. In her study of writing students’ individual genre uptake processes, Heather Bastian illuminated factors such as students’ “past and immediate experience with the genres,” prior contextual influences within a course, and students’ “self-perceptions of their abilities.” Combined, these studies start to reveal the vast networks within which genres gain meaning and motivation, supporting the claim that genres themselves, as artifacts, are often made relevant for writers through “extra-textual factors” that, from a researcher or teacher perspective, might appear as only tangentially consequential.

While prior research has begun to identify many of the consequential factors that shape genre performance, the complicated nature of what may influence genre and why and how that influence is motivated would benefit, I argue, from an emic, writer-oriented perspective that follows what impacts genre performances from a longitudinal and trans-contextual perspective. Linking uptake and genre performance in these ways matters for teachers and scholars of writing because it foregrounds how student writers may mark or experience as moveable, porous, and malleable, or rigid and fixed the uptake histories they have experienced across multiple spheres of writing activity. Specifically, for writing teachers, following students’ orientations towards and histories of writing overtime and across spheres honors writers’ demarcations of meaningfulness over a priori named domains and spheres. Such emphasis offers composition teachers and students a framework for looking across uptake histories proactively for how those histories influence genre performance. Such proactive pedagogical measures also provide opportunities to view when, how, and why students might seek to silo uptake’s long histories within discrete domains even while those histories permeate across spheres. Longitudinal and transcontextual analyses privilege interplay across writing spheres and establishes the theoretical possibility for their porousness and malleability. Such an approach responds not only to Freadman’s contention that uptake’s long history matters for deciphering the logic of any current genre performance, but it also responds to calls for more research into subjectively experienced factors that shape how writers encounter and make sense of genres (Bastian; Bawarshi; Dryer; Reiff and Bawarshi; Rounsaville).

In this article, I extend previous research on uptake histories and genre performance by introducing lifeworld analysis to the study and teaching of genre uptake. I bring together genre uptake theory and lifeworld analysis through two theoretical moves. First, I evoke genre’s phenomenological nature and situate genre uptake within the experiential lifeworlds (Habermas; Schultz; Schultz and Luckman) of writers. As Habermans has defined it, the lifeworld functions as “the horizon within which communicative actions are ‘always already’ moving” (119), as more or less the “background” environment for ways of thinking, being, and acting in the world that appear natural and obvious to us. In this way, lifeworlds are paradoxically encompassing and taken-for-granted. Consciousness embeds within, is supported by, and yet cannot easily discern a lifeworld’s presence, like a fish in water. The lifeworld is our everyday in its most mundane and fleeting form. Emplacing uptake within this lifeworld construct emphasizes the “horizon of perception, orientation, and action” (Honer and Hitzler 545) within and from which genres are learned, foregrounding “the interconnections, translations, and pathways between genres” (Reiff and Bawarshi 3) within holistic and integrated fields of action and perception. Second, I connect writing studies’ longitudinal tradition with lifeworld analysis to understand the role of uptake over months and years. Such a timescale is necessary to grasp how factors that impact genre uptakes are integrated into experience, bypassed, or used for a time and then transformed.

Why elaborate and develop these dimensions of uptake theory for genre pedagogy? The answer lies in my seeking to provide a spatiotemporal orientation to uptake that can illuminate how people connect with genres over the course of their life, across spheres of activity, and how best to develop classroom practices attuned to those orientations. To do so, I account for how uptakes accrue, responding, in part, to Dylan Dryer’s interest in what he has called uptake residues: the “accretion and sedimentation of memory that conditions uptake” (73). Lifeworld analysis contributes to research in this area as it foregrounds the more capacious spheres of writing activity from which the “long, ramified, intertextual, and intergeneric memories” (Freadman, Uptake 40) of uptake residues are generated and accomplished. While current discussions of uptake theory work to identify the “extra-textual factors that inform [and reside between] genre performances” (Bawarshi, Accounting 188), they haven’t as much pursued the long history of these extra-textual factors across domains of everyday life as they accrue, orient, or disorient to genre learning. If uptake is to be useful for understanding longer-term genre development, it must be placed within these longitudinal and subjectively experienced processes of becoming (Compton-Lily).

I develop these arguments with special emphasis on how a lifeworld orientation to uptake and genre can enhance existing genre pedagogy. To that end, I first provide a theoretical discussion of lifeworld theory and continue to argue for its potential. I then present a lifeworld case study of one student (Ron), an electrical engineering major and participant in local and online maker culture. I followed Ron over four years of his undergraduate curriculum, from general education and discipline-specific courses into an online and local community makerspace. Drawn from qualitative interviews and text collection, Ron’s{1} case chronicles the interplay between his growing maker-consciousness and his encounters with both engineering and general education writing assignments to highlight how maker culture became a core scene of uptake for his performance of school-based genres. Finally, I show how this case provides a window into an uptake awareness pedagogy that focuses on interstices, uptakes, and genres, especially as they emerge in unofficial cultures and beyond institutionally designated times, spaces, and rationales for learning.

Such “worlding” of genre in writing classrooms, I argue, can supplement genre awareness, genre critique, and genre acquisition pedagogies by emphasizing what surrounds, informs, and impacts written genres from a writer’s perspective of lived experience and movement across domains of life and spheres of writing activity. This pedagogy (a) foregrounds how structures of perception precede conventional divisions of temporal or spatial writing contexts, thereby challenging conventional reliance on literacy domains to teach genre; and (b) promotes “the [writer’s] horizon of perception, orientation, and action” (Honer and Hitzler 545) as the more capacious sphere of accumulating uptakes. Pedagogies built around worlding genres draw together ways of writing, thinking, and doing across life-worlds as writers come to know and gain agency in how those movements orient or disorient genre learning along the way. In the final section of this article, I offer assignments and class activities that engage students in this “flow of lived experience” (Schutz and Luckman 99) across life-worlds with the goal of helping them recognize and draw from expanded and often taken-for-granted temporal, spatial, and perspectival histories of their prior genre uptakes and uptake residues. This pedagogy may also aid students in re-drawing and resurrecting boundaries between domains as necessary, when the pull of lifeworlds on school-based genres is more disruptive than helpful.

Genres and their Worlds: Foregrounding Uptake through Lifeworld Analysis

In this section, I provide a brief background on the incorporation of phenomenology into rhetorical genre studies and then further develop the concepts of lifeworld and lifeworld analysis in relation to genre and uptake theory. The introduction of lifeworld theory and method helps shift focus from the genre as artifact to the elusive “background” (Habermas 124) that surrounds, informs, and buoys genre knowledge while remaining so ordinary as to seem inconsequential. From the perspective of lifeworld theory, writers’ ongoing encounters with these taken-for-granted ways of thinking, feeling, and doing in everyday life embeds and structures uptake, generating a perceptive apparatus that precedes, motivates, and mediates individual genre development. Lifeworld analysis, thus, provides access to uptake chains, uptake reproductions, and uptake actualizations in its capacity to “elucidate the spatiotemporal and social organization of the life world” (Habermas 129). Uptakes are often obscured in analysis of genre learning, due perhaps to a textual bias in rhetorical genre studies, their ephemeral nature, or the methodological difficulties in empirically revealing these “inter- and intrageneric conditions” (Reiff and Bawarshi, Genre and the Performance 3). Lifeworld analysis is one attempt to foreground and even privilege this often-elusive background. I present my framework for using lifeworld analysis to bring to the surface how everyday, ordinary experiences and encounters in writers’ lives participate in uptake formation and affirmation, and thus in the interpretation and acting out of genres.

In her influential article Genre as Social Action, Carolyn Miller argues for a rhetorical and phenomenological re-theorization of genre, explanations which had, up until that point, referred to genres as taxonomies of discourse. Rather, Miller suggested “an understanding of genre [that] can help account for the way we encounter, interpret, react to, and create particular texts” (23). The influence of phenomenology is strong in Miller’s theorization of genres, which she describes as social “stocks of knowledge” (a phrase borrowed from Schutz) which become typified over time because they “prove continuously useful for mastering states of affairs” (157) and cleave out “recurrence, analogies, and similarities” (157) as a way to make sense of the vastness of human experience. In this way, these stabilizations called genre serve as structures of perception, operating as constellations of discourse (Schryer) through which we encounter, make sense of, and interact with the world. Bazerman helpfully described this relationship between genre and phenomenology, noting that Miller’s “move to see genre as an instance of Schutz’s typification process [...] provided a key link in our understanding of text as social action and as constitutive of the social order” (66). Important work in rhetorical genre studies has extended these phenomenological implications for theories of genre invention (Bawarshi, Genre and the Invention of the Writer), genres as forms of life (Bazerman, The Life of Genre), and genre transfer (Reiff and Bawarshi, Tracing Discursive Resources; Rounsaville), even if phenomenology was not always evoked and remains somewhat underdeveloped in writing theory (Russell).

Lifeworld analysis was developed for mundane phenomenology, a field that seeks to understand experiences of everyday life as they appear to us and how that appearance becomes constituted over time. Mundane phenomenology is concerned with the “constitution and structure of typicality” (Schutz, The Structures of the Life-world 233) as people move through life’s daily routines and surprises. Accordingly, “Schutz’s theory of constitution describes the human reality as an interlinking of life-worlds with a multiplicity of perspectives and manifold realms of meaning, and it systematically takes into account the variability of cultural worlds and of different life-forms” (Eberle 285). As further elaborated by Schutz and Luckmann, “every actually present experience is inserted into the flow of lived experience and into a biography, according to the set of types and relevance found in the stock of knowledge” (99-100). What I suggest with regard to the relationship between uptake and genre is, if “every actually present experience is inserted into the flow of lived experience” (Schutz and Luckman 99), then genre knowledge will include discourse community-defined conventions as well as relevant “claims to reality, sedimented memories, references to meaning (sense), and modes of givenness into which our lived experience and our meaningful experiences are interwoven and out of which, in turn, our reality is built” (Honer and Hitzler 555). Accordingly, new or even repeated encounters with genres are being made, transformed, and affirmed within the flow of lived experience and are taken up into a developing perception of what Dryer calls “uptake residue” (66). Lifeworld analysis, then, reveals perceptions of uptake residues as they accumulate toward genre performance; from this unit of analysis, the lifeworld method indicates how elements of genre knowledge develop iteratively, through everyday movements across lifeworlds, both in and out of school, as uptakes bend toward perceptive schemata that frame the interpretation, valuation, and enactment of written genres. Lifeworld analysis centralizes uptake, uptakes over time, and the background life from which uptakes become salient for literacy development. As writers traverse their everyday worlds, bits of that world move through and inform genres. Lifeworld analysis asks us to follow, capture, and intertwine the “complex performances that take place in-between and around genre” (Bawarshi, Accounting 188).

Uptake reification, akin to Dryer’s notion of uptake residue, emphasizes the accrual and the magnetic pull of motivations and conditions for uptake into genre over time. A lifeworld analysis looks not to the typified genre but to what envelops it, with focus on “our orienting to, taking part in, and therefore bringing further into being some regime of activity, relations, consciousness, and meaning associated with [that] invoked world” (Bazerman, A Theory of Literate Action 75). Moreover, lifeworld analysis “attends to the background,” for “a background is what explains the conditions of emergence or an arrival of something as the thing that it appears to be in the present” (Ahmed 38). Such an accounting attempts to make visible how uptakes are gathered from life worlds and transformed into “learned recognitions of significance that over time and in particular contexts become habituated” (Bawarshi, Taking up Language 653).

Finally, lifeworlds are experienced as enveloping rather than predictably additive and instrumental. As such, lifeworld analysis does not follow normative spatiotemporal markers. Rather, lifeworlds

can be described only on the basis of concrete subjective consciousness—as the self-evident, unquestioned foundation of all everyday lived experience [emphasis mine] and action, and of all dreams, phantasms, and theories. A life-world can neither be captured by means of a model of “outside versus inside” nor with the help of socio-temporal and spatial measurements. It is not something in which the subject is incarcerated, nor is it something he wanders round. Rather, “lifeworld” refers to the subject’s horizon of perception, orientation, and action. (Honer and Hitzler 545)

An important point to make about studying the perceptions of uptake residues-in-becoming as they inform genre performance is that these linkages can neither fully be determined a priori nor can they be determined based on conventional designations of, for example, disciplinary communities or curricular time. From this perspective, the meaningful resonances that attach to genre over time are enacted through “the subject’s horizon of perception, orientation, and action” (Honer and Hitzler 545). A second crucial point is that these subjective uptake experiences gain or lose their resonance in relation to self-defined meaningfulness. In other words, the boundaries of literate activity used for determining uptake-genre relations are in a continuous process of being made and remade. Habermas contends: “Situations have boundaries that can be overstepped at any time—for Husserl introduces the image of the horizon that shifts according to one’s position and that can expand and shrink as one moves” (123). Lifeworld analysis follows what influences uptakes across spheres of activity to privilege the “inter- and intrageneric conditions” (Reiff and Bawarshi, Genre and the Performance) that travel with writers and that come to inform genre uptake across what appear to be demarcated literacy domains.

As I have discussed, my introduction of lifeworld analysis to rhetorical genre studies continues and extends genre’s phenomenological character to include perceptions of the uptake residues and trajectories that motivate a writer’s growing understanding and negotiation of genres. Similarly, lifeworld analysis is interested in how people organize and give infrastructure to their daily encounters through a focus on subjective meanings derived from on-going experience. Lifeworld analysis is a helpful complement to emerging studies of uptake as a method for revealing how accretions matter in writers’ worlds. Additionally, it provides entry points for genre teaching and genre learning that includes both uptakes and genres. The following case study illustrates this complementary relationship. Ron’s case provides a window into how writers’ traversals through life worlds can influence ways of thinking about and acting out genres in unexpected yet consequential ways.

A Life-world Analysis of One Maker-engineer

In this section, I present a case study of Ron, an electrical engineering major and maker-culture participant, who I followed over four years of his undergraduate education at a large, metropolitan university in the Southeastern United States, collecting four literacy interviews annually and selecting and collecting texts (Table 1). Interviews suggested that maker-culture and participation in maker-spaces constituted a lifeworld experience for Ron, providing a discursive and experiential background that yielded taken-for-granted ways of thinking, feeling, and doing in everyday life that then supported Ron’s other genre performances. While school supplied a focal domain that was spatially and temporally demarcated, Ron interacted with maker culture through hours of daily online reading and writing activity (at home, at school, and at work), constant magazine reading, and later by joining a local maker space (Familab) in ways that diffused across domains. Such immersion (virtual and physical), combined with the ubiquity of maker culture’s presence in Ron’s life, gave maker culture its consciousness producing potential. As I found, unique values, beliefs, and actions buoyed by maker culture, and revealed through an iterative analysis of how Ron described his approach to and enactment of written genres, enveloped and thus informed Ron’s writing. Maker culture’s constant presence suggested it was a worthy object for lifeworld analysis. Thus, this lifeworld analysis traces Ron’s perceptions of how his participation in maker-culture impacted his work with genres beyond what is “textually visible” (Bawarshi Accounting 189). What the data revealed was that Ron’s encounters with genres were often shaped by a growing maker-consciousness that he drew from his experiences with maker literature and maker communities, both on- and offline. Specifically, it reveals how maker culture influenced Ron’s procedural and invention strategies, valuation of written genres, motivations for writing, understanding of a genre’s relevance, and types of exigencies and potentials that he attributed to genres.

From a life-world perspective, Ron’s first two years of undergraduate education were marked by a slow and unintended coming together of school writing and his “meaning-endowing consciousness” (Schutz 37) as partially drawn from maker culture, which came to serve as an uptake environment for genre performance. To understand the horizon of Ron’s life-world as motivated, in part, by ways of thinking and doing associated with maker culture, it is helpful to first observe how Ron described that community. During an early interview with Ron, I learned that much of his extracurricular (and even curricular) time was spent reading and researching about maker culture, with the occasional online contributions to others’ maker blogs. Ron was immersed in this world. He lit up as our conversations moved away from talk of school writing and toward his passion for following and reading maker-related magazines, websites, message boards, and project logs, which he had been doing avidly for up to five years prior to our first interview. The length of time here is important because it highlights the depth of uptake residue that Ron continued to build from during our 4-year study. Once talk of maker culture had become a consistent topic of interview conversations between us, Ron would excitedly pull up web pages that gave detailed instructions for making things like lasers, robots, and machines for cutting glass. He walked me through the many project logs of makers he admired from around the world and talked enthusiastically about the “super amazing” winner of international contests who could not only transform everyday throw away objects into technologies that solve practical problems, but who also wrote informative and rhetorically savvy project logs. For Ron, these “magicians” are “part of a revolution.” Ron described how he returned again and again to sites like to learn how “somebody takes something and changes it around to use it for what it wasn’t intended for” as well as for a reminder of an identity he aspired to. As he said, when reading these logs and sites, he was always on the lookout for “some solution waiting for a problem,” which was a common refrain throughout our discussions of the philosophies that informed maker culture.

To be a maker, according to Ron, one has to create. Ron asserted that the criterion for being a maker was “to make things.” Even when Ron started to write maker-oriented blogs of his own, he still refused to call himself a maker. He claimed, “I need to make more things. You’ve got to prove that you can do it before you actually call yourself a maker.” In the later interviews during years three and especially year four, Ron had begun to visit and participate in a local maker space. Maker ways were increasingly the first criteria from which other writing-related activities were interpreted and valued, and although this case does not show a linear or causal relationship between maker ways and written genres, it does indicate an ever-present impact, even if subtle at times, of maker culture on school genres. Maker culture was the expanding horizon within which genre uptake occurred.

Table 1. Reported reading and writing activities across spheres over 4 years

Participating in Maker Culture

Participating in Formal Schooling

Year 1

Reading Project Logs

Reading WiredIn Magazine

Writing Obituary

Reading Message Boards

Writing Academic Papers in Composition 1

Writing Academic Papers and Reading Journal in American History

Year 2

Reading Project Logs

Reading WiredIn Magazine

Reading Message Boards

Reading Researched Articles

Writing Research Blog in Composition 2

Writing Academic Papers in Composition 2

Writing Academic Papers in Philosophy

Writing Analysis Papers in Introductory Engineering

Year 3

Reading Project Logs

Reading WiredIn Magazine

Reading Message Boards

Writing School Notebook

Year 4

Reading Project Logs

Reading WiredIn Magazine

Reading Message Boards

Writing Maker Journal

Asking questions on Message Board

Contributing Project Log posts in official maker forums

Writing Senior Design Project

Writing School Journal

Maker Culture and Writing for General Education Courses

In his first two years of college (freshman and sophomore years), Ron spent time reading about maker culture, both in virtual and offline forums (Table 1). In these early years, while the influence on making and writing appeared both accidental and incidental, interview comments did reveal that Ron brought a sense of procedure and process from maker culture to genres. Ron’s interview comments suggested that while ways of thinking and acting in maker culture did structure some of his approaches to different genres, his peripheral status within maker culture influenced how extensively—or not—his maker perspectives informed his writing. When asked whether he considered himself a maker during his early engagements with the culture, he revealed: “I wouldn’t say that because I’m definitely not as experienced as these people, but hopefully one day I can say, ‘Yes, I am.’” While early interviews showed the growing background presence of maker culture as a vital interstitial space between genre performance, this world still provided provisional conditions for maker-informed uptakes. For instance, to make sense of and complete writing tasks in Composition 1 and Introduction to American History classes, Ron commented on his appreciation of how writing is like “putting blocks together” and how he wrote his papers by “building a foundation to place his argument on top of.” An interesting comment came when Ron described how he brought “object-oriented thinking” to his American History paper. I asked Ron to elaborate on this point, and this was his response:

I was referring to programming. There’s certain languages where the thinking style is object-oriented. You have these different files that they are number or they are function. If you introduce number and function together, they combine and perform this task. I think, referring it to writing, here I have this source and here I have this problem. How do I look at the problem in such a way that the source could answer the problem? Or reword the source or the problem so that they answer each other? How can I make this entertaining? How can I make this thinking more of a process, rather than just a, “This is what I feel. This is me telling you my opinion”? I’d rather it be, “Yes, this is my opinion, but this is the process and the journey that I went through to get here.”

Providing empirical texture to Freadman’s notion that a genre’s context includes “events in time and across a variety of temporal sequences,” (The Traps and Trappings 558), Ron’s comment shows him bringing an infrastructure he was familiar with—problem-solving and programming—to an experience that he was just starting to define and develop competency in—academic writing. This infrastructure informed Ron’s writing process, as it provided procedures from building—laying a foundation, putting blocks on blocks, identifying and following through on your function—to procedures for finding purpose and organizational schemes for the genres of Composition 1 and American History.

Interview comments also showed Ron bringing maker culture content to his school writing; he did this in addition to drawing on the influence of maker ways of thinking. This finding foregrounds the breadth of uptake residue to include content as well as ways of thinking, emphasizing the importance of an emic, writer-oriented approach to uptake research for chronicling the multi-dimensional and often surprising ways that lifeworlds infuse writing activity. Without a writer’s point of view to chronicle the texture of uptake residue, we cannot follow when and where lifeworlds gain relevance for writers. During this time, in Composition 2, Ron wrote a research blog that he linked to other maker content that he admired; in his philosophy course, he wrote an end-of-term research paper on the philosophies behind making and maker culture. Importantly, this turn to maker-type content was still informed by the ways of thinking and acting that could be tied to maker culture, which impacted both his process and, later, his invention strategies. As Ron often described, maker culture was most valuable for how it tried to make something creative out of the most ordinary of objects. The makers he admired most made a real mark on the world by solving real problems. Ron dreamed of doing these things, and he enacted them. Ron described one such incident:

Ron: Last week I was walking through Engineering 2, and somebody threw out computer monitors in the trash and they were really cool because they were pivoting and they were thin. Not thin as like the computers today, but thin for 1998.

Interviewer: OK. So they were older.

Ron: Yep. Trash. We’re throwing these away. I was like, “No you’re not, I’m taking these!” I think that these people also just go around scratching up different things and so whenever they find a good deal they just take it and just hope that someday they’ll find a use for it.

Interviewer: So there’s some area in their garage where there’s all these things ready to go for a later date?

Ron: Yes. Some solution waiting for a problem.

Ron’s philosophy paper was approached similarly, revealing how he assessed what kinds of content and form to bring to school genres. In reflecting on a teacher’s prompt, Ron stressed:

When they say something, I try to think of the most unique thing that I have, and it’s like, “That would do.” That would be really cool to bring in because I doubt many people deal with it and it would be something that I really like. Hopefully, everybody could learn something.

These maker-endowed qualities of uniqueness, novelty, and pragmatics comprised Ron’s lifeworld and informed his interpretation of how to approach this assignment. Lifeworld values were transformed into methods for invention. Further support for how Ron invented for genres came from his general education history course:

I like to bring in new material because I feel that it, one, separates me from the rest of the class, and that it also shows that I’m not limiting myself to just the boundaries of the class. I’m also looking outside and finding other examples to bring to the class and, hopefully, promote discussion that has more variety in it.

Ron’s description of his writing in these early college years shows how his growing ruling passion (Barton and Hamilton) of maker culture connected and shaped his genre performance. While not predictable in its application or outcome, Ron’s “meaning-endowing consciousness” (Schutz 37) is recognizing similarity between making and writing, as this and other scenes of writing were available to be perceived within the already familiar world of building, inventing, programming, and problem-solving. How Ron defined writing, his framing language and governing attitude, gave glimpses into how maker-drawn knowledge was turning into a prominent motivator for how to interact with and take up academic genres. In fact, his maker lifeworld appeared to define what would and would not cross over generic boundaries (Freadman “Uptake”), privileging emic over externally imposed boundary markers when recognizing and performing academic tasks.

Maker Culture and Writing for Electrical Engineering

Early connections between making and writing in general education courses were bolstered by Ron’s reading and researching about maker culture. Later connections in Ron’s junior and senior year, when writing for upper division electrical engineering courses, coincided with his writing (on- and offline) for and eventually participating in a local maker lab. At this time, maker culture started to impact Ron’s motivations for writing, especially his understanding of a genre’s relevance and the types of exigencies and potentials he attributed to engineering genres. At this point as well, earlier influences drawn from mundane experience began to reify and repeat, as Ron appeared to move from idiosyncratic approaches to genre to more habituated uptakes. This phase of my longitudinal study highlights most strongly the outcomes of uptakes residues, as the “accretion and sedimentation of memory” (Dryer 73) start to inform how Ron viewed and enacted engineering writing and engineering culture.

Continued uptake orientations of procedure and invention pulled from maker culture, which intertwined with school-based genre learning, included breaking things down, putting them back together, cataloguing the process of success and failure associated with initiating and completing a project, discovery-based learning, and inventing useful technologies with and for community through trial-and-error. Ironically, though, while Ron’s fuzzy understanding of maker culture helped him succeed in his general education writing, when he got further involved in maker culture, the ways of thinking and doing drawn from that culture spurred a divergence from his more advanced disciplinary writing, even though making and engineering seemed like kindred activities. Ron’s growing lifeworld orientation toward perceiving writing from the vantage of a maker had a paradoxical effect on his approach to engineering genres.

Beyond this continued impact, during this time, maker consciousness became a motivating factor in how Ron assessed and determined a genre’s exigence and potential. Ron had little to say about writing assigned in his early engineering courses. Rather, he stressed that most of his writing efforts were put into the set of notebooks that he kept for each course—the minor and supporting genres that helped Ron to recall, decipher, and chronicle course content. While these notebooks were not assigned by the course instructor, they should still be considered examples of Ron’s discipline-specific writing because they supported his learning. Ron’s interpretation of the positive value of these journals was in direct correlation to the value he placed on a separate set of journals that he used to document his making activities. In describing the differences, Ron asserted:

I am more deliberate and slower with [my] maker journal, I believe, because it has value for me later. The more value I put into it now, the more value you can get out later. Whereas this one, I am only trying to index that information for the semester. I don’t even plan to access it after that semester. It’s just a bunch of math and equations. It has very little value. Whereas with this, the things I am interested in, one, and two, they are the people I care about. Three, hoping to access it later.

Ron’s valuation of each journal is connected to his maker-inflected thinking, which shows that uptake determines value as well as invention strategies, assumptions about a genre’s purpose, and content choices. Ron’s engineering journal, while necessary, is “only trying to index information for the semester.” His maker journal, on the other hand, combined use, learning, and community value. A prime distinction then, between writing his engineering journals and his maker journals was each journal’s potential to pragmatically inform future creations. In his maker journals, Ron saw the genre as a place for learning. Ron’s in-school journal, on the other hand, was used as a place for memorizing and documenting what was already known. Notably, Ron did describe instances in which he tried to bring his maker-writing orientation into his in-schooling journaling. He also described its failure. He stated, “The school notebook, it’s not for community or anything. It’s a very dry, almost mechanical approach [...] It’s hard to relate that to anything I would find useful.” In both of these examples, it’s clear that Ron’s invoked world of maker-consciousness was a type of sorting mechanism for his encounters with genres. As Freadman asserts, “uptake selects, defines, and represents its object” (“Uptake” 48). In the example of Ron’s journals, the uptake residue-in-becoming, as accrued through various forms of maker participation, defines Ron’s in-school journal as mechanical, not useful, and dry vis-à-vis his mental representation of his maker journal, as passed down through immersion in maker culture.

It was not only Ron’s school journals that were viewed this way. In response to an end-of-term report Ron did for a junior year engineering course, he intimated: “they gave us guidelines for how to write. So it was like OK, sort of how to write it was you read it, look away from it a bit, and try writing in your own words. Look at it, don’t look at it, write in your own words.” Ron’s biggest issue with having to stick so closely to this genre’s textual moves and features came in the conclusion. In response to my question about how he would revise this genre, if given the chance, to reflect a maker orientation toward this final technical report, Ron suggested: “I wouldn’t mention a summary, because I would have just said it with the diagrams. Why include a summary for something that’s so short?” Rather, Ron wanted to provide recommendations for future engineers. But in this genre, he claimed that “you don’t even provide any recommendations for how it could be improved or anything, just analyze it. If you do that in maker culture, you said that the thing breaks, what are you going to do to make it better? Why am I following you, if all you tell me is ‘Oh, my thing broke?’ I don’t want to look at some broken thing. I want to look at something that works.” Again, engineering genres were rated in relation to maker values, and they were found lacking.

The deeper the perceived pull of maker culture, it seemed, the more certain Ron’s relationship to his disciplinary genres became. A further phase of writing reification occurred around the time he entered his senior year at the university. Once entrenched within his major, he was told to prepare for writing his senior project. Just as Ron began to envision his senior project, he also, serendipitously, started attending and participating in FamiLab, a local, grassroots maker space that provides space and community for individuals’ tinkering efforts. At this point, Ron was not merely reading, writing, and researching maker culture; he was enacting it through his weekly trips to FamiLab. As Ron stressed many times and in different ways, he loved makers because they are do-ers; they are explorers; they learn by action; they are committed to solving problems and support one another in the process. Joining FamiLab furthered Ron’s uptake of maker culture, deepening the mundane and daily experiences of reading and writing in and for maker culture with active community participation. It was also at this time that interviews revealed maker culture as seeping into and transforming Ron’s attitudes and approaches to both engineering writing and engineering as his profession of choice. In this way, the accretion of values and beliefs pulled from lifeworlds appeared to affect genres as well as the communities they represent. This was a year of powerful and defining uptakes between making and writing—a year when Ron became even more immersed in maker culture and even less motivated to write as an engineer. In this way, maker culture played a powerful role in how Ron interpreted his discipline’s relevance as well as how motivated he was to write within its standard genres.

In these later college years, while Ron was not ready to declare himself a maker, he was enmeshed in that lifeworld. This final example, Ron’s senior design project, illustrates a clash in uptake between maker culture and engineering, suggesting his entrenchment in maker ways might also have negative impacts on his motivation for disciplinary genre learning; maker culture also prompted him to question the engineering report’s relevance. When describing his senior project, Ron indicated discontent with regard to how much space was taken up with relaying procedures that didn’t move the project forward. Noting that his team members were assigned a 90-page report, Ron described the genre as “the most uncreative thing you could possibly imagine.” While Ron was very proud of what he wrote and how he was able to transform his team’s data into genre-appropriate tables, bullets, and paragraphs, his mind often was preoccupied with the question: “How do I write this in not such a mechanical way and not bore the reader?” Ron was less interested in documenting the project’s design and findings and more concerned with writing down “what went wrong” because that’s information he might be able to use to prepare for future projects. Ron’s senior project did have a redeeming feature, according to Ron—his writing team. Collaborating with his classmates helped give Ron a sense of community and, thus, value to the project; this sentiment is reminiscent of what attracted Ron to his newfound FamiLab community: “It’s about people working together to solve problems.” While Ron welcomed the collaborative nature of this project and its affinity with the collaboration that he valued within maker culture, the emerging structures of his consciousness as a maker-writer more powerfully shaped how Ron was able to recognize and realize this genre’s potential. Ultimately, it appears that Ron’s maker orientation partially extinguished an affinity for the engineering report genre and for engineering writing more broadly. This surprising finding speaks to the power of uptake as pulling some objects into consciousness while obscuring others.

Revealing Perceptions of Uptakes and Genres through Lifeworld Analysis

For Ron, maker culture was a strong shaper of his typified behavior and consciousness vis-a-vis writing as an engineer; it was this taken-for-granted background (Habermas) whose ubiquitous presence came to impact Ron’s valuation of written genres, his procedural and invention strategies, his motivations for writing, his understanding of a genre’s relevance, and the types of exigencies and potentials he attributed to genres. Functioning as a horizon for perception, maker culture developed as an orientation and perceptive frame toward school genres as Ron’s desire to become a maker enhanced certain writing attitudes and composing skills while occluding or burying others. Entanglements between maker ways and specific genres revealed when and where maker culture enhanced Ron’s genre understanding and development and when and where his growing orientation as a maker-writer made learning and writing certain genres more tedious, challenging, or unmotivated. In this way, each of the connections I chronicled drew attention to the complicated and changing nature of extra-textual impacts on genre learning, which were only visible by tracking lifeworld perspectives over time. For instance, when writing his senior project, Ron reflected on how much he missed his general education courses because the writing done there made sense to him. I interpret this to mean that the writing done in Composition 1 and 2, in American History, and Honors Philosophy could be made familiar to a maker orientation. These types of writing further allied Ron with his passion for making, hacking, and tinkering. These early alliances also seemed to pull Ron away from his engineering-specific writing, although he worked hard and always completed his assignments to the best of his ability. Crucially, Ron’s growing maker-writer orientation seemed to distance him the most from the kinds of technical genres associated with his engineering degree, although it is not possible to say that this would continue to be the case.

This case has important implications for understanding the relationship between uptakes, genres, and the deep background within which genres circulate. These implications come especially from two mistaken assumptions that researchers and theorists often bring to their understanding of uptake, background, and learning: one, the assumption that how Ron learned to encounter genres developed within that genre’s related domain or discourse community or along a chronologically predictable path; and two, that the uptakes informing his genre performances were purely instrumental, accruing as sets of right and necessary genre-related knowledge uninflected by his rich, varied, and dynamically motivated life. Rather, lifeworld analysis of the uptakes, the spaces and histories between genre performances, and their impacts on genre revealed a complexity in terms of how genre learning functioned over time. It showed how genre learning was centered around two recognitions: (a) that structures of perception preceded conventional divisions of temporal or spatial writing contexts, thereby challenging conventional reliance on literacy domains to teach genre; and (b) that “the [writer’s] horizon of perception, orientation, and action” (Honer and Hitzler 545) is the more capacious sphere of accumulating uptakes. My understanding of these under-observed features of genre learning were revealed by sussing out Ron’s mundane, everyday perceptions of and responses to his social worlds as they manifested in unofficial cultures and beyond institutionally designated times, spaces, and rationales for learning. For this study, I tracked carefully the various social worlds that Ron emphasized during interviews, but made the decision to focus most directly on maker culture during our third year of interviews, when it became clear that Ron spent a lot of time participating in and thinking about maker culture. At this point, I made the active decision to focus the remaining study on maker culture over other potential lifeworlds. Such an approach, following Ron’s invitation to his most meaningful lifeworld experiences, reveals uptake influences that are often eclipsed, given that the everyday life-world is often the most taken-for-granted (Schutz).

Ron’s story expands the types of relationships that can take place between uptake and genre learning and shows the porousness and malleability of spheres of writing activity. It also hints at the consequences of such perceived malleability. Lifeworld analysis as demonstrated through Ron’s case moves beyond the well-policed borders of a discipline, home, or workplace. Considering Ron’s case study, it seems appropriate to wonder if the conventional metaphors of boundaries, elsewheres, and domains, when translated into a priori analytical categories, can reveal the complex relationships between genres and “the interconnections, translations, and pathways between genres” (Reiff and Bawarshi, Genre and the Performance 3). Rather, lifeworld analysis facilitates both a parsed and a holistic perspective on those relationships. This method reveals factors that accrue into writer’s perceptions of uptake residues and interact with genres. At the same time, lifeworld analysis reveals the on-going integration of backgrounds, uptakes, and genres across spheres of activity.

Overall, what these insights suggest is that writers come to understand genres both through processes of disciplinary enculturation and through lifeworld movement. Thus, the perceptive apparatuses that frame genres are drawn from discourse community norms and each writer’s broader trajectories of memory, movement, sense of futurity, and ruling passions. Lifeworld analysis revealed that the always engaged undercurrent of knowledges drawn from across other times and places merge (radically or subtly) to shape and motivate genre performance. Perceived convergences and divergences across lifeworlds leads writers to make multiple and ongoing interconnections between backgrounds, uptakes, and genres. Due to shifting experiences over time, the perceptions that make up uptake residues are constantly in play and in flux; from a phenomenological point of view, how genres will be treated by writers is never a completely settled matter.

Worlding Genre: Genre Pedagogy for Uptake Awareness

Just as genre scholars have turned to uptake to examine what surrounds and informs genres and genre performance, inverting conventional approaches to genre scholarship, teacher-scholars also have begun asking how uptake can matter for genre pedagogy. For instance, in her study of individual genre uptake in first year writing, Heather Bastian suggests “that disruption [of habituated uptakes] is potentially a useful pedagogical tool in the writing classroom.” As Bastian argues, such interventions allowed her and her study students “to observe an individual’s own intention and design, so that we can more clearly see the role that context plays in uptake processes.” As she found, when faced with this disruptive methodology, “students turned to their own creativity (or perceived lack thereof).” Bawarshi suggests that “strategic knowledge and brokering of uptakes shifts the locus of agency from the genres themselves (which is often implied when explication of genres is the pedagogical goal and when genres are treated as sites of access) to their users, who are constantly having to negotiate genre uptakes across boundaries” (Beyond the Genre Fixation 248). For Bastian, the focus of a writing classroom shifts to uptake intervention. For Bawarshi, the focus shifts to genre performance and includes what goes on “between and around genres” (247) and not just the genres themselves.

My work with lifeworld analysis and Ron’s case contributes to this emerging effort to develop an uptake-focused pedagogy for the genre-focused writing classroom. Specifically, I suggest that life-world analysis can translate to a lifeworld pedagogy where students access, document, and experiment with the worlds they move through to discover how they impact their shifting cognizance around inventing, drafting, valuing, and imagining uses for genres. The goal here is to elevate uptake and promote uptake awareness. Writing classrooms that foreground students’ theories of uptake as pulled from encounters in daily life help make visible writers’ most taken-for-granted perceptive and evaluative apparatus—their lifeworlds—as the “unquestioned foundation of all everyday lived experience and action, and of all dreams, phantasms, and theories” (Honer and Hitzler 545). Importantly, although Ron’s case foregrounded participation in a single lifeworld, students could draw from across multiple mundane experiences rather than focusing on a specific culture or lifeworld. Therefore, this is not a formulaic pedagogy that stems from predetermined evaluations of students’ lifeworlds. Rather, an uptake awareness pedagogy starts with students’ histories, residues, and current experience; a lifeworld’s viability depends on students’ own determination of its meaningfulness. As Ron’s case demonstrated, mundane experiences across daily life seep into and inform genre learning in subtle but significant ways. Given this, a lifeworld orientation in teaching promises to help students develop a critical relationship with their most commonplace attitudes toward, assumptions about, and approaches to certain genres. Such personal theories, built of students’ lifeworlds, seek out the quieter, more ordinary, and more routinized sources from which writers assign value and orient toward genres.

Further, “worlding” a genre means teaching students how to pay attention to and make use of the lifeworlds that surround and inform genre performance. Like the research methods employed in this article, classroom practices also can draw from phenomenology and lifeworld analysis and work to transform student’s lived experiences into literacy assets that come from lifeworlds and ruling passions (Barton and Hamilton). In describing how phenomenology intersects with teaching and educational research, Tone Saevi notes that “A basic concern is how to keep the unspoken, or tacit, qualities of educational situations open to further questioning. This is different from other methods, in which the aim is to solve problems and provide definite answers.” Here, a classroom goal is for students to embed genres in their subjective worlds and histories, worlds that are in-formation rather than already formed. Worlding a genre is not about learning to write a particular genre. Rather, what I propose is that writing classrooms facilitate students’ access to the broad world of consciousness that surrounds and informs attitudes, values, dispositions, and motivations toward genres. Course work and assignments should emphasize the lifeworlds that mediate between genres.

For example, narrative inquiry-based and ethnographically oriented assignments that prompt students to trace a genre’s diachronic and synchronic paths through their own histories and spheres of activity are likely productive for mapping out unspoken and tacit uptake factors. For instance, students might develop an autoethnography of lifeworld experience as linked to genre performance. Like ethnographic work, autoethnographies also seek thick description to “selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity” (Ellis). Writers use artifacts and memories from their own lives, which may be retrieved through textual analysis, interviews, or reflection, and they “view themselves as the phenomenon and write evocative [and analytical] narratives specifically focused on their academic, research, and personal lives” (Ellis). Currently, several valuable genre approaches recommend ethnographic discourse community analysis, which involves asking students to focus on how genres work in and across school or workplace settings (Devitt, Reiff, and Bawarshi; Wardle and Downs). There is precedent for qualitative work on genres in writing classrooms. Autoethnographic projects that examine the worlds between genres complement such existing assignments.

Students might also experiment with tracing process through participant accounts of lifeworlds (Prior) to externalize the material, affective, and sensorial dimensions of uptake, which might reveal writers’ “goals, their contexts, their processes, their feelings, the meanings they see in their texts, the influences they are aware of or can reflectively construct” (Prior 179). Prior also suggests both concurrent and retrospective methods for this work. For instance, he advises think aloud protocol assignments that ask students to narrate their thoughts while writing and to then transcribe and code these verbalizations. Such a process reveals surprising or commonplace perceptions and assumptions that writers bring to the composing process. Students can then trace assumptions to other times and other places, initiating a research project into their own spatial-temporal uptake context. Similar methods such as screen-casting or keystroke logging might also be used for similar purposes: to find traces or residues of taken-for-granted uptakes within genre performance. Writers can practice retrospective inquiry by keeping process, uptake, and uptake history logs or sketching out writing environments and writing histories (Prior) that visualize the mundane influences on genre performance. In all of these examples, the goal is to help writers reveal to themselves the lifeworld influence on genre. Such uptake awareness can extend current genre awareness pedagogies.

What can happen if or when students start to verbalize their lifeworld’s impact on genre learning and performance? Why would a focus on the process by which students come to genres be as important as how to produce the genre itself? Ultimately, I contend that if writers gain awareness of their personal uptake histories as developed within salient lifeworlds, they might also be able to identify elements of a subjectively-derived knowledge. With this agency and knowledge, students are provided with flexible entry points for examining how and why they invent, value, become motivated by, or craft genres. They are given the chance to build synergies and resonances between genres and lifeworlds or to ignore those linkages altogether. Rather than feel always subordinate to the sedimented forces of uptakes and genres, writers might gain agency to choose which uptakes to follow, which to disregard, and which to strengthen. Recalling Ron’s case, during his senior year, while deep into writing as an electrical engineer, he started to experience difficulty with technical genres and became increasingly alienated from the everyday writing of engineering. From interview comments, his frustration with engineering genres was motivated in part by those genres’ perceived distance from maker culture and maker values. The pedagogy I outline here might have been a timely way of helping Ron become more conscious of needing to create boundaries of his own (ironically) to help him understand and differentiate domain-specific conventions of engineering writing as apart from maker culture. With an increased background-uptake-genre awareness, Ron and other student writers might move closer to understanding why what appears like chance and serendipity in writing has a history and a motive that can be shaped to their benefit.


  1. All names are pseudonyms. (Return to text.)

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