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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Genre and Membership: Enculturation Through Textual Practice

Anthony Pare.

This presentation draws on theories of genre, activity, and situated learning to examine the process by which newcomers to institutional communities become enculturated through their participation in standard documentation practices. Studies of workplace writing have indicated that newcomers often learn about literate practices and associated workplace activities by studying an organization's regular texts under the tutelage of an experienced oldtimer. Those texts serve as windows into the community’s activity: their diction, tone, style, structure, listed readers, and other features anticipate their eventual use and consequence. As a result, guidance in the reading and writing of such texts during the initial stages of professional enculturation allows newcomers to learn about workplace culture and activity while remaining at a safe remove from the hurly-burly of actual work. In addition, this form of genre apprenticeship controls for difference in rhetorical practice within organizations and ensures that newcomers will enter the workplace ready to participate in the collective's social action.

This paper will illustrate this phenomenon by drawing on ten years of research into the process of becoming professionally literate in the field of social work. Excerpts from interviews with newcomers and oldtimers will be analyzed, as will excerpts from tape-recorded revision sessions, during which oldtimers read and respond to the drafts of newcomers' first workplace texts. The focus will be on the ways in which participation in rhetorical practices transforms newcomers into acceptable community members.


Anthony Pare  (Canada)
Associate Professor and Chair
Integrated Studies in Education
McGill University Faculty of Education

Anthony Paré is author of numerous chapters and articles on workplace writing in social work. Recent publications include Transitions: Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings (co-edited with P. Dias) and Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts (co-authored with P. Dias, A. Freedman, and P. Medway).

  • Genre theory
  • Activity theory
  • Situated learning
  • Social work documentation

(30 min Conference Paper, English)