A solid theoretical view of the idea of genre and generic classing systems is offered here by John Frow. For those reading this who have no idea who John Frow is he is a professor at Melbourne University (which I do not attend by the way but could have if I'd wished). Either way this book is an insightful look into the theory of genre.
Frow's overall argument is that genre is not limited to merely looking at entertainment forms such as books, films or music items. He argues that genres and generic structures are interlinked with our various cultures and that as such different genres take on meaning in different contexts. But he also questions whether genres are set in concrete or whether they are fluid. He uses the example of a newspaper headline:
When looked at this headline requires understanding of the context and therefore additional texts to understand. For instance you may need to understand that the judge referred to gave an earlier lenient sentence to a tried rapist. You may also need to understand the connotations of various words such as the fact that storm here is not referring to a literal storm but a metaphor for the outrage at the idea that the same judge is giving more lenient sentences.
There are also various suppositions imposed about the genre this headline belongs to. As part of an article it is therefore supposed that it is a factual and real-life story being explored rather than a novel with a fictitious judge. Although however in the context of a narrative this headline may become fictional and therefore will need to be understood differently.
Again Frow points out that were he to write:
and that this was to appear "in an anthology of poetry" it would be called a poem. He therefore indicates that the genre which anything belongs to relies heavily on already known knowledge and context. That when similar ideas are placed in different contexts the genre they belong to may change.
He also discusses genres as taxonomical structures. He refers to them as a frame for understanding the world, that they provide a "horizon of expectations." He uses the example of shops as different genres. That when I go to a supermarket I expect to be able to buy different produce than at a delicatessen or a pharmacy. In the same way when I pick up a romance I have different expectations to a science fiction or fantasy novel and understand that novel within the context of its genre.
All in all Frow makes a convincing argument that genre is connected to culture, context and requires knowledge external to the genre itself to understand. In this way all texts are not bound to one genre but belong to one main genre, under which they may be part of a sub-genre (for example Dracula belongs to the horror genre and in particular the Gothic sub-genre). His idea that genres provide a "horizon of expectations" helps the reader to observe that generic structures are not limited to the artistic field but are culturally bound. It is also interesting to think of how context alters the way we perceive genre. In this way it is possible to see that the iconography of a text helps us to perceive which genre it belongs to. Fantasy novels have particular lands and characters that are different to sci-fi but perhaps if we were to add technology into The Lord of the Rings it may appear more as a sci-fi.
This is a very worthwhile discussion on genre if you are interested in analysing it and a convincing argument. John Frow certainly knows his area of expertise and makes many valid points about genre and most importantly allows the reader to think for themselves about the nature of genres.