The heterogeneity of discourse genres: Implications for development

Julie A. Hengst, Peggy J. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In contrast to traditional views of genre as relatively homogeneous and rule-ordered forms, situated theories of communication conceptualize discourse genres as powerful and durable resources that are fully situated in the complexities of communicative interactions. From this perspective, discourse genres must be understood within complex and dynamic cultural practices. In this article we focus on such generic practices by tracing the pervasive heterogeneity and the distributed nature of discourse genres-in-use. We explore three examples from our research: a father and his two daughters playing Cindy Magic—a family-created, verbal game; a family’s engagement with their two-year-old’s creative retellings of the tale of Peter Rabbit; and a woman with aphasia playing a barrier game in a research setting with her teenage son. These analyses point to ways that histories of generic practices are sedimented in and distributed across diverse resources, and to the ways that participants weave these traces into specific patterns. It is the pervasive heterogeneity of situated interactions, we argue, that is the ground of the ongoing development of this distributed communicative competence—the development of persons, resources, and practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-342
Number of pages18
JournalWorld Englishes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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