Workshops on Real World Writing Genres: Writing, Career, and the Trouble with Contemporary Genre Theory

Plotnick, Jerry
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My article reports on an annual series of workshops I launched as director of my writing center. This ongoing initiative, titled Workshops on Real World Writing Genres, aims to introduce undergraduates to genres they will practice in their prospective careers. It is part of a larger effort at the University of Toronto to support students as they think ahead to life beyond their degrees. Drawing on material from workshops covering print journalism, law, public policy, medicine, and fiction, the article reflects on how well our theoretical presuppositions about genre help us prepare students to apply in their professional lives those critical thinking skills we seek to foster in our teaching. By regarding all knowledge as socially situated, contemporary genre theory has raised doubts about the capacity of our students to transfer even knowledge from one context to another. Insofar as genre theorists focus on the social creation of meaning, their account of genre, like their account of knowledge, must, I argue, remain incomplete. An exclusive focus on writing as social practice reflects a problematic division of labor in the academy between the sciences on the one hand and the social sciences and humanities on the other. The notion of writing as radically situated has always posed a problem for writing centers, since we do not typically find ourselves situated in the same communities of practice as our students. The recent interest in transfer in writing center scholarship reflects a promising shift towards a vision of the disciplines as interconnected.