Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reading :: Writing the Economy

Writing the Economy: Activity, Genre And Technology in the World of Banking
By Graham Smart

Graham Smart conducted an ethnography at the Bank of Canada spanning two decades (1984-2004), and the result is this book, which uses events over those two decades to develop genre theory within the context of activity theory. Smart agrees with McCloskey that economics is rhetoric all the way down (p.22), and accordingly his rhetorically-oriented ethnography examines how the BOC performs its three functions in its monetary policy: knowledge-building, policy-making, and external communications. During his exploration of these functions, Smart develops extensive lists of oral and written genres.

He also develops and adapts tools for analyzing them. After surveying the landscape of analytical tools that attempt to link assemblages of genres, Smart adopts three: genre sets for describing "a provisionally stable discursive system for creating, negotiating, circulating, and applying specialized knowledge" (p.12); genre systems for describing "an inter-organizational realm of discourse comprising genres used by two or more organizations to interact communicatively and develop knowledge mutually relevant to them" (p.12); and genre chains for describing "sequences of genres that exhibit what Fairclough refers to as 'systematic transformations from genre to genre'" (p.12).

The organization Smart describes changes relatively slowly: "relatively new" genres have "emerged in the last decade" (p.141).

What emerges from this is a fairly detailed understanding of the BOC's practices and how genres mediate them. Just as importantly, Smart moves toward a more integrated framework of analytical tools for genre, a timely endeavor.

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