How Do Genres, Media, and Platforms Shape Our Perception and Our Communication?

Room 42 features conversations with academics about implications of techcomm research for professional and technical writers.

In this episode, we will be exploring genres, media and platforms with Dr Carolyn Miller. Dr Miller is particularly interested in discovering how genres originate and how they shape the ways we think, perceive, act, and communicate.

Scheduled release date: Wednesday July 5, 2022

In this episode

Dr Carolyn Miller is SAS Institute Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Technical Communication, Emerita. She is the founding director of NC State’s Ph.D. in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media, and of the M.S. in Technical Communication; she also proposed and taught the first graduate courses for the M.A. option in Rhetoric and Composition, Dr Miller served as Director of Professional Writing and as coordinator of the undergraduate concentration in Writing and Editing (now Rhetoric and Professional Writing). She established and directed the Center for Communication in Science, Technology, and Management and co-directed its successor, the Center for Information Society Studies.
Her professional service includes terms on the governing boards of the American Society for the History of Rhetoric, the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the MLA Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition, and the Rhetoric Society of America. She is a past president of the Rhetoric Society of America and was editor of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. She has served on the editorial boards of College Composition and Communication, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Philosophy and Rhetoric, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and Written Communication.

When we name things—trees or tennis or smiles—we are categorizing recognizable patterns: plants, sports, expressions. In categorizing entertainment, we use genre names like thriller, science fiction, or hip-hop to think about film, literature, or music. Genres also describe everyday categories of communication, like thank-you notes, obituaries, or challenge videos, as well as professional communication like progress reports, specifications, and user manuals.

Genres are the names we give to the shared patterns of communicative interaction. They are cultural patterns of getting things done together. Calling something a genre involves an assumption that other people will recognize it in the same way, that there’s some social agreement and social utility to sharing that recognition. Digital media have spurred increasing interest in genres because of the possibilities for doing new kinds of things. We did new kinds of things after the invention of the printing press, the telephone, the radio, and probably all communication media.

These are the kinds of questions I’ve been exploring: How do genres shape the ways we think, perceive, act, and communicate? How do they affect our resources and constraints as communicators? Where do new genres come from? How do people come to these shared recognitions? How do the social functions of new media emerge from the specific capabilities and limitations of the technology? How are new genres related to old genres—the conventions and habits of expression and interaction that are sedimented in familiar patterns of communication?


Contact information:

Professional webpage:

A useful introduction to my work by the NC State University News Service:

“Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog,” by Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd (2004). A fairly accessible example of my thinking.

“Genre as Social Action,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70:2 (1984), 151–167. Often cited as the seminal work in rhetorical genre studies. PDF from ResearchGate.

“Where Do Genres Come From?” In Emerging Genres in New Media Environments (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 1–34. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-40295-6. Not available online.

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