Sign Systems Studies

Volume 29, Issue 2, 2001

Paul Cobley
Pages 479-502

Analysing narrative genres

There can be little doubt that human consciousness is now suffused with narrative. In the West, narrative is the focus of a number of lucrative industries and narratives proliferate as never before. The importance of popular genres in current narrative is an index of the demise of authorship in the face of new media and has necessitated the renewal of the term "genre" in narrative analysis over the last hundred years or so. However. this article attempts to make clear that the concept of genre and the notion of a textual formula in narrative are not the same thing. Genre, in contrast to formula, is concerned precisely with the issue of how audiences receive narrative conventions; however, much genre theory has treated genre as a purely textual entity. The current article argues that genre should properly be considered as an "idea" or an "expectation" barboured by readers and identifies in textual-based genre theory of the last two thousand years the perpetuation of ahistoricality and canonisation.