Medium as an Ecology of Genre:
Integrating Media Theory and Genre Theory

Davis Foulger
Visiting Professor
SUNY Oswego


The study of types of messages has its roots in Aristotle's Poetics and Rhetoric, a time when phonetic writing was fairly young, the range of media was fairly restricted, and written media remained rudimentary. The range of communication media has, of course, expanded substantially in the 2400 years that separates Aristotle's work from that of Frye (1957), but "genre theory", the commonly used English language name for this critical research tradition, did not. For Frye, twentieth century genre theory was "stuck precisely where Aristotle left it" (Frye,1957, p. 13), with the principle genres defined as "drama, epic, prose fiction, and the like". Frye notes a series of critical problems that derive from this stagnation, including a range of media whose content doesn't fit into the categories of the the Aristotelian tradition. While Frye notes this as a problem, no attempt is made to resolve the issues raised by the diverse message types of modern media. Literature is a big enough problem without taking on "aesthetic problems outside poetics" (p. 15).

The need for a more general approach to the genres of diverse media is already apparent in the research literature. "Genre" analysis has been applied to an increasingly diverse set of media. In addition to poetry, theater, and speeches (the subject matters addressed by Aristotle), the concepts of genre theory of been recently applied to such media as musical performance (Jones, 1992; Mann, 1999; Stevens, 2001; Butterfield, 2002; Coyle, 2004) and film (Reed, 1989; Lopez, 1993; Tasker, 1993; Guttmacher, 1995; Clarens, 1997; Chandler, 1997; Gehring, 1999; Crisp, 2002; Lyden, 2003; Smith 2003). Genre analysis of written media applies not only to literature (Frye's subject matter), but to magazines (Bleiler, 1998; Machin and Van Leeuwin, 2004) and newspapers (Ungerer, 2004).

Genre is used to describe art (Bickford, 1996; Crookshank, 2002; Han, 2002; Bailey, 2003), broadcast media like radio (Smujlyan, 2002; Dunn, 2003) and television (Larka, 1979; Bilandzic and Rossler, 2004) and interactive media like speech acts (Bahktin, 2000; Walter, 1988; Blum-Kulka et al, 2004), telephone conversation (Hopper, 199x), and videoconferencing (Spinuzzi, 2003). Most recently it has been applied to a range of computer and network-based media, including video games (Nutt and Railton, 2003; Lucas and Sherry, 2004), Internet Chat (Zitzen and Stein, 2004), web sites (Gregory, 2004; Nantz and Hirsch, 2004), and computer conferencing (Foulger, 1990; Baym, 2000; Pope, 2001).

There is no reason to believe that genre theory cannot be usefully applied to any of the hundreds of media that are identified by McLuhan (1963), Bretz (1971), Ciampa (1989), Foulger (1990, 1992, 2002a, 2005a), and Hoffman and Novak (1996). Indeed, there is every reason to believe, following Foulger (2002a), that a consistently applied genre theory would enhance our understanding of the ways in which we use different media and, in so doing, provide a powerful tool for making useful (and potentially predictive) comparisons between different media. A requisite of any such comparison, however, is a theoretically consistent approach to genre analysis that can can be uniformly applied across media. This paper seeks to develop such an approach through an approach to genre theory which explicitly extends media theory. Specifically, it is proposed that a medium can be usefully viewed as an ecology of uses and that genre are expressions of those uses that evolve competitively within a medium.

Existing Approaches to Genre

While the concept of genre has been applied to a growing variety of media, the methods of analysis used have not, in general, been consistent. The most common approaches, as documented by Feuer (1992), include the "theoretical" approach associated with Aristotle and Frye, an "aesthetic" approach that arguably reproduces the method of Aristotle without wedding itself to a predefined set of categories, "ritual" and "ideological" approaches that tie types of content to the exercise and maintenance of power, and an evolutionary approach that suggests that genres change in response to the competitive pressures from other genre and media. All of these commonly used approaches are consistent with the commonplace definition of a genre as a type of message or message series that recurs within a medium (books, theater, musical performance, radio, television, instant messaging, etc) of communication, but none of these methods, as documented to date, provide a consistent method of comparing genre across media or media based on their respective genres.

Other approaches provide even less consistency. Barnes (2003), for instance, treats a channel infrastructure that supports many media, the Internet, as a medium and then proceeds to describe a a series of Internet media, including instant messaging, electronic mail, computer conferencing, and web sites, as distinct genres. Within limits, even this usage fits the commonplace definition outlined above. The content of each of these media tent to be very different from one another. It remains, however, that each of these systems enable a range of content content types or genres, each different than the others. Appeals to such common usages as sub-genre provide a partial resolution to such usages, but the usage reflects a general failure in the field to differentiate the terms medium, channel, and genre. Foulger (1990) has an extended discussion of the distinction between medium and channel that is extended in Foulger (2005b). Foulger's (2002a) discussion of the distinction between medium and genre is considerably extended in this paper.

Among the principle approaches to genre theory, ritual approaches and ideological approaches are primarily concerned with the effects of genre on social systems. Ritual genre theory, which has roots in cultural theory and, to some extent, ideological theory, attempts to analyze content for generic elements of the presentation, including characterizations and common plot elements, that act to reinforce the existing status quo. Ritual genre theory can be seen as a functional approach to genre that identifies ritual elements in content and assess how they normalize social behavior by asserting a set of cultural roles and an associated set of rules of behavior. Perhaps the most important lesson of cultural genre theory is that genres occur not only within media, but within the cultures that use those media. Genre, it would assert, is structurated (following Giddens, 1981, structuration theory) by the society within which content is constructed and consumed. These cultural influences are undeniable, but often occur in the detail of a more general genres expression. It remains that most genres that occur within media can be observed across a range of cultures. In the end, ritual genre theory is more compelling as a means of comparing cultures based on their cultural sub-genres rather than a means of comparing genre across media or media using genre.

Ideological, genre theory provides a more extreme view of genre as a mechanism of social normalization. Genre, it would contend, normalizes inequities in social power by celebrating the existing social, political, economic, and cultural status quo and socializing the disadvantaged to accept their secondary status within the social system. Here the issue is less one of roles and rules of behavior as it is of the importance and value of accepting ones place within a social system; the issue is less the nature of a particular culture than it is the nature of generalized types of social, political, and economic systems.. More extreme ideological theorists advocate the development of genres that destabilize existing power structures by presenting desirable alternatives. To the extent that ideological genre theorists constrain themselves to describing what is rather than might be, it remains that ideological genre theory is more compelling as a means of comparing generalized social and economic systems than it is as a means of comparing media or genre across media.

Each of the other three variants offer a more direct path comparing genre across media and media based on their genre. Indeed, it can be argued that theoretical, aesthetic, and evolutionary genre theory build on each other such that they can be discussed as a unit. Theoretical genre theory has to often been described in terms of its category system as originated by Aristotle and developed by scholars up to and including Frye. The categories of traditional genre theory, including the elaborated category system of Frye, have become the tail that wags the methodological dog. Aristotle was, by any reasonable standard, simply trying to describe the types of content that could be observed in the media of his time and he did so using the time honored method of systematically typologizing that which he observed.

There were only a few media that could be studied. Aristotle divided his discussion of those media between two texts that we know of, The Rhetoric and The Poetics. The cultural overlays on the content of those media necessarily restricted the range content that he could observe. Greek plays, in particular, were performed in support of religious observances (one of the reasons why these plays are populated with both gods and people who, as a result of both personal flaws and the meddling of the gods, fail in their social and religious obligations. It should not be surprising, given the nature of our world, that we can readily identify many other kinds of plays, including dramas, black comedies, musical comedies, and the absurd. There are more of us. We live within very different and much more varied social and religious constraints than Aristotle might have imaged.

Aesthetic genre theory can be reasonably viewed as an attempt to recover Aristotle's method without getting trapped in his categories. The aesthetic genre theorist focuses on identifying genres of content, the devices (or characteristics of content) that are commonly used within each specific genre, and the instrumental value or effects associated with use of those devices. Viewed this way, Aristotle's original genre theory describes the aesthetics of recurring content types within the primary media of his time: speeches (the types of rhetoric), theater (tragedy and comedy), and literature (lyric and epic). May of the studies outlined at the beginning of this paper are doing exactly the same thing: selecting a medium, identifying distinctive genres within that medium, identifying recurring devices that are used within those genres, and asserting a set of effects that follow from the use of those devices.

The usual hit on aesthetic genre approaches is that they often seem to presume that they treat genres as if they were immutable entities, much as Aristotle's traditional categories are often treated as immutable categories. A medium is selected. Genres are observed. Devices are identified. Effects are documented. No attempt is made to identify how the device was invented and selected for reuse. It simply exists within a genre because it has an effect and is presumed to be an immutable characteristic of of genre that is similarly immutable, at least within the scope of the medium studied. There is, however, considerable evidence that genres change. Old devices dissatisfy as new devices are adopted. The television sitcom of the 1950's evolves into something else in the 1960's, and something very different by the 1990's. Some of those changes are cultural. Others represent reactions to the successes of other genres, both within the television medium and in other media, including movies, radio, and (most recently) web sites and streaming media.

Enter evolutionary genre theory, which presumes that genres change in response to changes in their competitive environment. For Tynianov (1925), the Russian formalist who first describes the approach, a genre is defined by the functions that it serves rather than the devices that recur across content instances. Devices aren't just a way of provoking certain kinds of reactions. They are the product of attempts to provoke those reactions; of audiences desire to be provoked in that way. Form does not simply serve a function, it is the result of the desire to use a medium to satisfy a particular need or desire. The resulting theory of literary evolution uses Darwin's theory of evolution as metaphor for describing the process by which form evolves to serve function. Function becomes the engine that drives specialization (or speciation) of genre into specialized niches. It becomes the canvas on which competition between genres is drawn.

This inversion of the relationship between device and effect may be the most important distinction between aesthetic genre theory and evolutionary genre theory. Devices (e.g. form) recur in a genre because they are functional in advancing the uses and/or gratifications associated with the genre. If a device stops working it will be abandoned and, if the function still matters, replaced with something else that works. Generic devices aren't written in stone. They are are simply things that work in accomplishing such varied goals as attracting an audience, manipulating its emotions and behavior, controlling the cost of content, and maximizing the value of the medium for its participants.

The details of Tynianov's approach are probably less important than the general theoretical approach it sets up, in which genre is viewed as changeable over time, subject to competitive pressures from other genre, and "defined in relation both to the genres that surround it, and to the previous manifestations of that genre" (Duff, 2000, p. 8). These approaches to genre can be readily applied to genre in any medium. Indeed, in today's media rich age, they explicitly suggest the possibility (which is not addressed by Tynianov) that competition is not limited to a contest between genre within a medium (liked books), but to contests between genre in different media. Such contests may have been difficult for Tynianov to observe, but as we consider a single function, news, that recurs with differing generic characteristics across such diverse media as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, web news portals, and blogs, it becomes quickly obvious that the success of the television news genre puts competitive pressure on the radio, magazine, and newspaper news genres; that the success of blogs puts competitive pressure on web news portals, the television news genre, and so on.

Generalizing Genre

Extension of Tynianov's competition from 'between genre within a medium' to 'between genre across media' is a potentially useful move at two levels. First, it broadens the scope of evolutionary genre analysis to encompass such changes as a new medium's co-opting the existing genres of an established medium, much as happened in the 1950's when television coopted a number of genres of radio, movie, and magazine content and established genres that competed with the primary genres of newspapers. The radio and movie industries survived this predation through a variety of strategies, but the most important entailed extending and optimizing their remaining genres while developing new genres to replace those it had lost. Newspapers adapted to the new competition from television by changing their focus from "scooping" television's live coverage to providing the in-depth coverage that television generally lacked sufficient time to match. Along the way, the number of newspapers in most markets declined precipitously and the afternoon newspaper virtually disappeared. The magazine industry adapted, at least in part, by cutting its losses. Virtually all of the largest circulation magazines in the 1950's were out of business during the 1960's as the industry focused on niche markets.

Second, it establishes an interrelationship between media and genre, previously described by Foulger (1990, 2002a), in which media shape possibilities for content that are expressed in genre and genre realize those possibilities in ways that reshape the medium. Foulger (1990) observes, based on long term ethnographic observation of the emergence of genres of content within a successful new medium, that genres emerge directly from and as a natural consequence of a medium's use. In generalizing from these observations, it is proposed that generic practice not only moderates and optimizes the effects of a medium's use, but can result in changes to the structure of the medium. Foulger (2002a) refines and extends these observation by proposing that genre is structured through a circular interaction between three "spheres of invention": uses, effects, and practices. A medium, in this view, can be usefully regarded as a collection of genre, with genres emerging and evolving in response to the ways in which participants use a medium and the medium itself shaped and changed by the evolving and emergent genres.

These observations are broadly consistent with Tynianov's view that genre encompasses both form and function but extends and differentiates both elements into into two important constituents. Tynianov's "form" encompasses the recurring elements that allow content to be readily identified as belonging to a genre. Foulger's "practice" describes these forms in terms of the behaviors that produce them, but concepts are mirror each other. Form is the result of what Foulger describes as "generic practice". From a practical perspective the presence of a signature and the behavior that creates the signature are indistinguishable. Foulger differentiates form into two constituents, however. "Generic practice" optimizes a medium for a particular use. Any device that works in achieving a particular effect such that it is emulated by others can be regarded as a "generic practice". Form follows from function for the simple reason that its "what works". Devices are a product of imitation. That which works in one message is likely to recur in others.

A second kind of practice, "regulative rules", serve a different role and are generally arrived at in a different manner. Regulative rules, which most often describe things that aren't done (and which are therefore often invisible until such time as the rule is enforced) minimize the problems that users experience as they make use of the medium and genre. Such rules may be of little consequence when considering a genre within the scope of a medium, but may be rather important to understanding the differences we see when we compare genre across media.

This variations in practice or form mirror different aspects of Tynianov's "functions" and are described, by Foulger (2002a), as the uses and effects of genre and media. We "use" media to accomplish specific goals or satisfy specific gratifications. Genre emerge as optimizations of the medium to those uses. We rarely use a medium, however, without having "effects", at least some which are likely to be unanticipated and, in at least some cases and for some audiences, undesireable. It is in this distinction of what might be regarded as two aspects of function (or with perhaps equal validity regarded as a fusion of the effects associated with aesthetic genre theory with the functions of evolutionary genre theory) that Foulger (2002a) explicates the process through which generic devices are both invented/discovered and evolved; through which the process of genre structuration and evolution can be merged with the process of media structuration and evolution.

Medium, Genre, and Cycles in the Spheres of Invention

It is here that we arrive at the fundamental claims of this paper. First:

Proposition One: Communication content is constructed within a medium of communication.

Every message we create is built within the context of a system of communication. That system may be as simple as air and an ability of communicators to both subtly manipulate and observe minute variations in its movement, as would be the case for people talking in a dark room. We would not, or course, generally think of talking in a dark room as being indifferent from face-to-face communication. But if we don't, its not because it isn't different. A dark room removes the visual from our messages in much the same way that a telephone does, yet preserves the directionality of sound in ways that a telephone does not. We don't think of talking in a dark room as a different medium because we do not routinely interact with people in dark rooms unless we are blind, and if we are blind, interacting in dark rooms is face-to-face communication.

There is an infinite range of possibilities for defining media. While we encounter many variations, we routinely avoid most of them. We generally avoid talking in a dark room. We avoid it in part because we like to be able to see the people are talking to, in part because many of us fear the dark and the actions of others in the dark, and in part because we have lived our whole lives regarding the visual as a normal part of our face-to-face communication. There is a price we pay, however, for avoiding talking in dark rooms. We don't understand the medium. Inexperience almost always translates to a lack of skill, to not understanding "what works" for a particular purpose within that medium. There is no real possibility of genre within a medium that isn't used.

Our routine use of a medium, by contrast, all but ensures the development of a variety of different genres. Creative adaptation of existing tools to new purposes is an almost defining quality of being human. When we make regular use of a medium for one purpose we inevitably learn about, imagine, or discover other uses of that medium. Sometimes we discover those uses through the unintended effects of the medium. There is, in this process of discovery through use, a necessary interaction between the medium and the genre that we create and use within that medium. Our use of any particular medium is predicated on our belief that it will be effective for a particular use. That belief may be predicated in prior use, knowledge that an intended audience make uses of that medium, a belief that we can make money creating a message in that medium, medium attributes that make it particularly effective for the message we envision, or any of dozens of other reasons. It remains, however, that we almost always have a choice of media when we create a message; that our choice of media is strategic. Inevitably, media and genre develop together.

This interdependency of medium and genre is documented in Foulger's (2002a) Sphere's of Invention (see Figure 1), which proposes that media are invented and subsequently evolve in five interrelated spheres of invention, including mediators, characteristics, uses, effects and practices. Two of those spheres, mediators and characteristics, correspond to the constituents and and attributes of Simon's (1968) "inner artifact" and describe the inner workings of the medium as system that supports messages. The remaining three spheres, operating in Simon's "outer environment", describe the activities that are associated with using a medium. Genre, it is proposed, evolve as a function of the interaction of these three spheres and what Foulger (2002a) refers to as the cycle of genre. Foulger (1990), which this perspective extends, had already noted that new genre emerge as collections of devices or "practices" within new media, with highly competive new media (like 1950's television) stealing genres from existing media (like 1950's radio, movies, magazines, and newspapers), with changes in one medium affecting the structure of the genres in other media.

Figure 1: A summary view of the processes of invention associated with media and genre.

Genre, in the earlier (1990) perspective, was the result of a social learning process in which users reused devices that seemed to have been effective in achieving the result desired by the message creator. It provided an extension of aesthetic genre theory that could be applied to any medium. Genre, in the latter (2002a) perspective, is transformed into an integral part of the processes by which media are invented, evolved, and become successful. Indeed, the cycle of genre allows a medium of communication to evolve substantially even where the underlying structure of the medium remains unchanged. The medium is regarded, in some sense, as a slowly changing substrate in which messages are composed, from which messages are consumed, and within which genre is evolved and optimized to particular uses. This substrate quality of media is summarized in a second proposition:

Proposition Two: Different media have different characteristics such that they are useful for different purposes.

The substrate quality of a medium is principally enacted in two spheres of invention, mediators and characteristics. The sphere of mediators describes both the construction materials from which a medium is built and the way in which that construction materials are combined. Mediators correspond to what Simon (1968) called "constituents". They are the constituent parts from which the whole of a system of communication, or any system or artifact, is built. They are the systemic structures within which those parts are organized. The sphere of mediators is very much the locus of systems approaches to the structure of media; the place where the whole emerges as being more than the sum of its parts.

The parts that enable broadcast radio and Citizens Band radio are, in their essentials, indifferent. Both entail microphones, speakers, amplifiers, channel selectors, antennas, and a radio-wave channel of transmission. But the parts of Citiaens Band radio are arrainged very differently than the parts of broadcast radio such that the former allows interactive communication over moderate distances (a few miles) while the latter enables one-way broadcast transmission over long distancess (tens or hundreds of miles). A relatively small difference in the arraingement of parts has huge implications for what Lazlo (1972) called the "personality" of the system, and the organization of parts is so powerful that it is possible to change the parts within the organization without changing that personality.

This personality is expressed in a second sphere of invention in media. The sphere of characteristics is an expression of this personality. Different media are able to transmit messages over varying distances, preserve them for different amounts of time, and enable messages that involve different combinations of human modality, These are just a few of the relatively stable characteristics that can be attributed to media. Simon (1968) refers to the constituents of this second sphere of invention as attributes. Lazlo (1972) refers to them as properties, characteristics, and elements of personality. Regardless of the name we apply, it is characteristics, more than mediators, that provide the stable definition of a medium. In Lazlo's words (p. 7), "It is not that they are immune to change themselves, but they do not change with changes in their membership. It is as though they had a life and personality of their own."

Genre and Purpose

It is this distinctive personality, expressed as set of characteristics, that not only distinguishes one medium from another, but which makes two media useful for very different things. If you want to understand the big picture for traffic across an entire city, the most reliable source is likely to be the traffic report on a local broadcast radio station. If you want to know why traffic has just slowed or stopped on the road you are on or know where a speed trap is, a Citizens Band Radio will almost certainly be more useful. The reasons for these differences in effect between media that are very similar in their construction materials but very different in their construction are rooted in the personality of a medium, as expressed through its attributes.

The broad coverage of broadcast radio makes it more useful as the big picture medium, as the broad geographic scope of its signal encourages traffic coverage that encompasses much of its listening area, but that very scope limits the detail it can provide about any given situation. Its centralized one to many structure results in a capacitative news bureaucracy almost inevitably delays reporting on new traffic situations. The limited distances (a few miles) associated with C.B. transmissions and the pretense of a microphone on every radio set makes the medium far more useful for getting the details of things that have just happened. An eyewitness with a C.B. can provide immediate detail on a local traffic event and even answer questions.

The attributes of a medium do not cause anything, but they do enable different sets of possibilities which we, as communicators, realize in the uses we make of different media. When a medium proves useful for a particular purpose, we tend to "retain" (following Weick's, 1995, sensemaking approach) the solution, to to use the medium repeatedly for that purpose. That repeated use opens the way to a cycle of sensemaking processes which, over time, produce genre. Hence a third proposition.

Proposition Three: The different purposes of media are expressed as distinctive genre, with each genre an optimization of the medium to a specific set of purposes.

Mitell (2001) makes a parallel proposal as a first principle of cultural genre analysis: "Genre analysis should account for the particular attributes of the medium." Proposition three extends Mitell's principle by proposing that genre starts in the characteristics of a medium and the attribute-based suitability of a medium for a particular use.

Foulger (2002a) describes a cycle by which use is converted to genre. The cycle of genre (see Figure 1) starts with the use of a medium for a particular purpose. People invent things that they need or want to do or accomplish in the sphere of uses. Use of the medium for a given purpose results in effects. If the effects are minimal the medium may be abandoned for the use. If the effects meet or exceed the hopes of the message creator, it will probably be used again. As it is used repeatedly, the most effective message elements are adopted as practices.

This sphere of effects describes another layer of invention in media. Effects are also inventions, and it is here that genre becomes interactive. There can be many effects of a particular use of a medium. The purposes of a message creator are just a starting point. Any participant in a medium can perceive effects. Uses and effects that seem effective to creators or distributors of messages may not be appreciated by consumers of messages. Uses and effects that would be of little concern to message creators may be extremely important to producers and distributors of messages. There will be some message elements that are very effective in accomplishing the purposes of one or another of these. Among these, some will be highly regarded by message consumers which others will be found problematic.

This divergence of effects is generally resolved in the sphere of practices, a layer of the media invention process in which describes behavior that is either encouraged or constrained within the medium. Constraints, in general, involve the creation of social norms, informal rules, formal rules, and, in some cases, laws that discourage or outlaw behavior that is regarded as problematic. In some cases, these constraints will make a medium unsuitable for a particular purpose. More often they simply set limitations on behavior such that the problematic effects of using a medium for a particular purpose are minimized. Encouragement, by contrast, is realized in the devices that we associate with genre. A generic device is simply a practice that makes a medium more effective for a particular purpose. In doing so, they close the cycle of genre. Most often generic practice makes a medium more effective for a particular use, but in some instances, especially in interactive media, they may make the medium less effective for a particular use.

Genre is a negotiation between the interests of all of the participants in a medium, and most participants approach a medium with multiple purposes. Our purpose in making a phone call is likely to be very different than our purpose in picking up the phone. A caller may want to sell something, buy something, solicit a contribution, arrange a meeting, or simply socialize. The person who picks up the phone (the callee) may expect to take an order, provide information, close a sale, or simply discover who is calling. The purpose of the callee is likely to change once they know who is calling and what they want. Once they know what the call is about they may want to learn more about the product or charity, get off the phone as quickly as possible, make a sale of their own, arrange a meeting, or simply socialize.

Genre is born in the midst of these diverse purposes. Aristotle routinely describes the purposes of genre in the course of describing the devices that are associated with a genre. Tragedy in intended to stir feelings of fear and awe and is most effective with it evokes catharsis in audience members. Devices such as "Deus Ex Machina" help those associated with the production (the author, director, players, and others) to achieve the effect. It is this effect in the service of a purpose that drives the recurrance of devices within a genre. The first time "Deus Ex Machina" was used in a play, it was not a device. It was simply a plot twist. Once it proved effective in winning the audiences applause, or better, the festival prize, it was reused (retained in Weick's vocabulary) and, as it was used in many subsequent Greek tragedies, took on the status of a device.

We encounter the same thing in telephone conversation. In the absence of caller ID information or other information that constrains the possibilities, a person who answers a telephone cannot know for certain who is calling or why they are calling. This sets up what is now called the canonical opening (Hopper, 1992), a series of standard dialog elements which predictably occur at the beginning of most telephone calls. There are four element of this canonical opening: a summons and answer; identification and recognition; a greeting sequence; and an initial inquiry and answer. Each of these elements serves a particular set of purposes. Each reflects a compromise between purposes of the caller and the person who receives the call (the callee).

The first element, the summons/answers sequence, is at least partially built into the medium. The summons takes the form of a "ringing" phone. The answer, which is most often limited to a single word, "Hello", is the product of considerable negotiation, starting the the original proposal of "Hello" as the proper greeting in a telephone call (Bell prefered "Ahoy", but Edison's "Hello" prevailed). The single word greeting is itself a choice, however. Some people prefer to identify themselves immediately during a phone call ("Hello, this is ..."), but many people regard immediate identification as risky. They would argue, in general, that if somebody knows you, they already know who you are, but if they don't, that you are giving away personal information that could be used against you. The single word answer negates this problem, but creates an identification problem.

Hence the second element, identification and recognition. The caller needs to know they are talking to the right person. They may be able to guess from the single word "Hello", but they more commonly identify themselves and ask to speak to a particular person ("Hello, this is ... Can I speak with ...?). This dual identification of caller and intended callee sets up a recognition slot ("Oh, hi ..., this is ...). With identification and recognition done, the phone call then proceeds through the pleasantries of mutual greetings and then moves to the purpose of the call (initial inquiry). Phone calls don't always start this way, but personal phone calls between people who know each other most often do.

This opening changes significantly when a call is made to a business. The purpose of a business, in answering the phone, is to sell products or services. Hence while it remains that a person who answers the phone cannot know who is calling, the who is much less important than the much more predictable why. The presumption, when answering a business phone, is that the call will be related to the businesses products and/or services, and the tendency is to cut through the identification rituals of the canonical opening. Most businesses open a phone call by immediately identify the callee and/or the business and creating an opening for a request to be made. Recognizable examples include "Rick's Pizza. Can I take your order?" and "Hello, this is ... at <company>. How can I help you?"

Other genres and sub-genres of telephone interaction, including telemarketing calls, charity appeals, and telephone surveys, each have recognizable devices associated with them. Telemarketing provides an interesting view of the ongoing negotiation associated with genre when the purposes of callers and callees are at odds. People with difficult to pronounce names have an advantage here, as they can often recognize a telemarketer from the pronunciation of their name in the identification/recognition sequence, but the intent of the caller is usually clear by the end of the initial inquiry/answer sequence. People resist telemarketing by coming up with standard lines for getting the telemarketer off the phone. Telemarketers adapt by creating scripts that at least attempt to counter these standard lines. Indeed, a telemarketer will probably work adaptively from a script during most of the call, jumping from one point in the script to another depending on the response of the callee. The fact that such scripts as used recurrently in telemarketing makes them a device the telemarketing genre. The standard responses that people develop to counter telemarketers also count as a device. Indeed, we can, in many cases, identify a phone call as a telemarketing call through the recognizable use of such devices..

Genre and Changes In Use

This pattern of change as a function of use leads to a fourth proposition, one which is rooted in Tynianov's (1925) evolutionary genre theory but given structure by Foulger's (2002a) cycle of genre and extended in this papers assertion (Proposition Three) that the different purposes of media are expressed as distinctive genre, with each genre an optimization of the medium to a specific set of purposes. :

Proposition Four: Genres change in response to the competitive pressures of use.

Proposition Four directly extends Proposition Three. Changes in our use of a medium should require a response in the form of changes in the genre associated with that medium. More generally, however, it states that our uses of a medium change as a function of that use, and that the genre that are an expression of those uses change with them.

The multidimenionality of our use of media has been repeatedly demonstrated in the Uses and Gratifications research tradition (Blumler and Katz, 1974; Chandler, 1994; Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch, 1974; Killborn, 1992; Lull, 1990; McQuail, 1987; McQuail, Blumler and Brown, 1972; Severin and Tankard, 1997) and related traditions. Uses and gratification approaches, which assume that people actively use media to fulfill a variety of needs and gratifications, often in parallel, tie the use of both media, and specific categories of media content, to diverse gratifications within such generalized categories as personal identify, personal relationships, surveilance, and diversion.. It presumes media consumers are active agents that select content based on their needs and wants. Would has not been adequately explored (perhaps surprisingly given Proposition Three, is the effort this use has on the genres of content consumers select or the media they select them in.

Consumption of media content is not the only pressure of use that leads to changes in genre. There may be other participants associated with media (Foulger, 2002b) whose gratifications need to be satisfied, including common carriers, advertisers, and regulators. Advertisers will seek particular demographis and audiences such that even successful shows and genres may not succeed in the media marketplace. Common carriers will seek to control costs with "trivial" technical changes that can have large unanticipated effects on the structure of the medium and media content. New technologies can open new possibilities for content providers to both control costs and create content in new ways. All of these kinds of change have the potential to change the structure of a genre and, in some cases, to make new genres of content possible. Consider that there has probably always been a demand, as evidenced in long running shows like Candid Camera and televised beauty contests, for reality television. Cost effective and highly portable video recording technology allowed a new genre, reality television, to move out of the studio and into "the real world". The effects on more traditional genres of television remain in play, but the "real world" look of otherwise traditional sitcoms like "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" is evidence that cancellations aren't the only effect that reality television has had on traditional television genres.

This cycle of change, in which an array of genre compete for use and the successful generic practices are imitated (Foulger, 1990), sometimes in other competitive genre, enables a range of additional insights, the most important of which, perhaps, extends Proposition Four in a manner that is consistent with the relationship of Foulger's (2002a) cycle of media and cycle of genre:

Proposition Five: Media change in response to the competitive pressures of use, much as genre do, but much more slowly.

With this proposition this paper's integration of a theory of evolutionary genre with the theory of media presented in that Foulger (2002a) is complete. The same influences thtat lead to changes in genre also lead, albeit more slowly, to changes in media. Examples of such change, within the scope of telemarketing, can be found in the sequence of events that led to a telephone line device called the telezapper. Telephone companies, at least partly in response to the system load associated with random number calling, implemented a tone associated with a telephone number that was not in service. The telemarketing industry, with the encouragement of the telephone industry, started using that tone to detect with phones were not in service and optimize their telemarketing efforts. Someone noticed, and developed the telezapper as a simple device that replicates the phone not in service tone on regular telephones, thus fooling telemarketers into hanging up on a phone line that is, in fact, in service. The telezapper, much like the tone, is not a generic device. It is a change in the medium that makes telemarketing much more difficult to do.

Medium As an Ecology of Genre

There are, of course, many genres of telephone call. We make telephone calls to talk to friends and family, buy things (pizza), coordinate plans, sell things (vacations), provide status information, extend birthday and holiday greetings, interview people, get information, spread and receive news, to console each other in things of need, and for other purposes. These uses of the telephone are sometimes comingled in a single call, but they more often are not. Each variant of these uses can be associated with specific message elements that differentiate them from the others. They represent genres of use that change as our use of the telephone changes. When viewed from the general perspective of Uses and Gratifications research, the uses associated with many of these genres overlap, yet it is easy to discriminate the specific purposes associated with each of these genres of telephone call. From that perspective, the simple existence of an identifiable genre within a medium are probably a much stronger indication of the uses we have for a medium that the general gratifications that the Uses and Gratifications research supplies.

Our principle motiviation in watching television news may be surveilance, but the fact that we also watch the news for entertainment is not lost on the television industry, which has increasingly shown a preference for entertaining news over other important news. Our principle motivation in watching late night variety talk shows and news satire ("The Daily Show") may be diversion, but one can get a sense of the most important current events from these shows. Surveilance is also a motivation. Each of these dimensions of personal motivation matters to why we use a medium, but these gratifications are expressed in the content we choose within the medium. Those choices shape the genres that emerge and evolve within a medium. Gratifications are a measure of people, not media. Genre are the specific manifestations of those gratifications within a medium.

Indeed, it is entirely reasonable to assert that, at least within the scope of Simon's (1968) outer environment, genre may be the best measure of a medium's impact on a society. A medium is, in some sense, an ecology of genres. We may, following Foulger (1990, 2002a), be able to estimate the prospective uses of a new medium, at least in the relative terms, by understanding a medium's characteristics. We may, by comparing the characteristics of media, be able to assess a new mediums prospects for success or project media that might succeed in the open spaces of what Foulger (1992) refers to as "media space". It remains, however, that genre provide what may be the gold standard for understanding the reality of a medium's success. This leads to a sixth proposition:

Proposition Six: Media can be useful characterized by their genre.

Indeed, there is every reason to believe, following Foulger (2002a), that a consistently applied genre theory would enhance our understanding of the ways in which we use different media and, in so doing, provide a powerful tool for making useful (and potentially predictive) comparisons between different media. A requisite of any such comparison, however, is a theoretically consistent approach to genre analysis that can can be uniformly applied across media.


There is a necessary relationship between medium and genre that needs to be reflected in the way we use the terms. A medium is a system that enables communication. A genre is a pattern of behavior within a medium that supports a particular use of that medium. A genre of communication cannot emerge without the support of a supporting medium. Recurring content presumes a system in which that content can be created and consumed. No medium can survive and flourish, moreover, without the development of a diverse set of supporting genre. Indeed, it can be reasonably asserted that the long term success of a medium is contingent on the development of multiple uses and associated genres. Single use genre (like Telewriting, a medium that supported a competitive industry from the 1890's to the early 1980's) die when new and more general media usurp their uses. Media with a strong inventory of genre survive in the face of withering competition, much as radio and movies survived the predations of a television medium that stole most of their pre-1950's genres.

The view of genre outlined here has the potential to allow us to make studied comparisons of genres, especially those genres that serve clearly parallel functions, across multiple media. There are many such parallel functions in addition to those (like news) that were cited in this article. A generalized romance function finds parallel, but distinctively different, expressions in such media as poetry (love poems), novels (romance novels), movies (chick flicks), getting cards (Valentines), broadcast radio, television (at least a subset of the content of WE! and Lifetime channel), and interpersonal interaction. A generalized entertainment function finds varied expression in an equally broad variety of media. The same can be said for such varied functions of media a humor, competitiveness, argument, and many more. Different media are good not just for different functions, but for very different expressions of parallel functions. The ability to draw such comparisons in a systematic way can only be a good thing.

The potential to allow us to make studied comparisons of media based on the genre they support may be just as powerful. Foulger (1990, 1992) provides a method (based on the characteristics of media) that is suggestive of ways in which we can understand what media are mostly likely to compete for genres. That method may be suggestive of ways in which we can compare media based on their genres such that we can compare the genre-based reality of media. Comparisons of media based on their genres provides a much more direct method of selecting media to fit ones purposes and, perhaps, to reach the kind of theoretical base may make comparisons of media use in different cultures more powerful. Genre is one o several places in which a culture, in the general and non-regulatory sense, shapes a medium to meet its needs. Genre are likely to provide the best measure of how media vary, within the scope of their inherent possibilities, across cultures.

What may matter most, however, is being able to exploit the interrelationships between and medium and the genre it supports to help those who develop and market new media to understand the strategies that are most likely to make a new medium successful. The success of a new medium is likely to be predicated not just on the fact that it is useful for some purpose, but that it can be readily adapted by its users to new and unanticipated purposes. The development of genres is, in a very real sense, the place where the potential of a new medium becomes its reality.