Blurred genres and fuzzy identities in Hong Kong public discourse: Foundational ethnographic issues in the study of reading

Ron Scollon, Vijay Bhatia, Chor Shing David Li, Vicki Yung

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports a series of ethnographic studies conducted in Hong Kong to address the problem of divergence between school-based genres and genres of public discourse, with the goal of laying a foundation for addressing the question of what genres of discourse we should be teaching. Our main concern is to locate our students' writing within the highly complex matrix of genres of public discourse in Hong Kong. Based on the concept supported by our research findings that reading is a diverse, heterogeneous and changing social practice, a complex and interdiscursive research methodology has been employed in the project. Using four interpretive methodologies: genre analysis, ethnography of communication, contrastive rhetoric, and interactive sociolinguistic or ethnomethodological analysis, we have completed five studies comprising a participant-observation study, a pager survey, a scene survey, an event survey and a readership study. These studies show the complexity of relationships among the participants within the audience and in relationship to the texts of public discourse. The results, thus, lead us to the discussion of five key theoretical issues: (1) audience roles, (2) sites of engagement, (3) reading as social practice, (4) implied readership and (5) multilingual code mixing. Regarding practices of our students, our studies indicate that their non-school world of discourse practices is highly intertextual, polyvocal and polyfocal. Our research suggests that many of our traditional academic concepts of genres and communication are in need of revision and focusing pedogogical goals on fixed genres may limit our students' productivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-43
Number of pages22
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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