Disability as Socio-Rhetorical Action: Towards a Genre-Based Approach

Rick Carpenter


In many respects, the reconceptualization of genre over the past few decades mirrors that of disability.  Just as disability scholars and activists reject rigid categories of fixed difference based solely on individual deviations from some supposedly neutral norm, so too have contemporary genre theorists rejected the traditional view of genre as static categories of discourse that share certain objective conventional features. Such a view is unsatisfactory because, in casting genres as decontextualized, ahistorical forms or receptacles, it fails to adequately reflect the inherently social nature of discourse and texts. Instead, genre theorists now (re)conceive genres as dynamic sites of social action. Disability is also a form of social action, a rhetorical convention used to construct and regulate human actions and interactions, and, as such, can be viewed and analysed in generic terms. Conceiving disability as genre (and metagenre) provides an additional theoretical lens for examining and transcending, among other things, the reductive and oppressive categorization deployed by the medical model of disability. A perspective informed by genre theory helps to shift critical attention from description to explanation, a necessary step in deconstructing hegemonic discourses.


Disability; genre theory; metagenre; rhetoric; social construction

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v31i3.1666

Copyright (c) 2011 Rick Carpenter

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