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Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents Author(s): Keith Grant-Davie Reviewed work(s): Source: Rhetoric Review, Vol.

15, No. 2 (Spring, 1997), pp. 264-279 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/465644 . Accessed: 20/08/2012 14:33
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Situations TheirConstituents and Rhetorical

viewers film,The Civil War,has mesmerized Ken Burns'sdocumentary are sinceit first airedon PBS in 1990. Amongits moreappealingfeatures the and like ShelbyFoote and BarbaraFields, interviews withwriters historians necessaryto information and interpretation who provide the background and letters from historical data intoa human dry transform battles, speeches, and In their commentaries intentions, limitations. effect, dramaof characters, situations the events, of out factors pointing influential explainthe rhetorical contexts thathelp explainwhydecisionswere made and within the broader of situations turned as they out did. Theiranalyses theserhetorical whythings while the out show us thatsome eventsmighteasilyhave turned otherwise, when seen in lightof the outcomesof othereventsseem all but inevitable in When we study our situations whichtheyoccurred. history, first question the whose but question, question maybe "whathappened?" themoreimportant for as the offers answer hopeof learning thefuture well as understanding past, the level, then, understanding is "why did it happen?"At a fundamental rhetoricalsituationsof historicalevents helps satisfyour demand for the to causality-helpsus discover extent whichtheworldis not chaoticbut and thingshappenforgood a ordered, place whereactionsfollowpatterns as students examine to rhetorical situations sets reasons.Teachingourwriting in whichrhetoric and whichrhetoric turn ofinteracting influences from arises, is things can do. Writers we one influences, therefore of the moreimportant have a better method examining of who knowhowto analyzethesesituations basis formaking decisions and are composing causality. Theyhavea stronger writers havemade. to the other better able, as readers, understand decisions of have used thetermrhetorical situation Scholarsand teachers rhetoric it the concepthas remained since Lloyd Bitzerdefined in 1968. However, and theresponses it by to sinceBitzer'sseminalarticle underexamined largely in Vatz and ScottConsigny the 1970s. We all use theterm, what but Richard in do My exactly we meanby it and do we all meanthesame thing? purpose the definitions theterm of and its constituents, thisessayis to review original and to offera more thoroughly developedschemefor analyzingrhetorical I situation readingor to situations. will apply the conceptof a rhetorical as or and situations, to whatI situations well as to writing speaking listening


Vol.15,No. 2, Spring 1997 Rhetoric Review,

Rhetorical Situations Their and Constituents


rhetorical of call "compound" situations-discussions a single subject by rhetors audiences.1 and multiple in as generally "the context which Bitzerdefines rhetorical a situation he discourse" (382).2 More specifically speakersor writers createrhetorical an objects,and relations presenting defines "a complexof persons,events, it or removedif actual or potential exigencewhichcan be completely partially into humandecisionor can discourse, introduced the situation, so constrain aboutthesignificant modification theexigence" of actionas to bring (386).3 In a situation a situation is wherea speaker writer or sees a other words, rhetorical through need to change realityand sees thatthe change may be effected understanding situation important the is rhetorical discourse. Bitzerarguesthat invites and largely determines form therhetorical the of becausethesituation workthat to "rhetorical discourse comesintoexistence responds it.He adds that in as a responseto situation, the same sense that an answercomes into in to or to existence response a question, a solutionin response a problem" (385-86). Richard Vatz challenges Bitzer's assumptionthat the rhetor's He that do response controlled thesituation. contends situations notexist is by withoutrhetors,and that rhetorscreate ratherthan discover rhetorical Vatz argues that rhetors not only answer the situations (154). In effect, also ask it.4 question, they thateach of themis ScottConsigny's replyto Bitzerand Vatz suggests but both rightand wrong,that a rhetorical situation partly, not wholly, is thattheartof rhetoric created therhetor. Vatz,Consigny argues by Supporting set abilityto apply a standard of strategies should involve"integrity"-the to the mayface.On theother hand,supporting effectively anysituation rhetor to he shouldalso involve"receptivity"-the ability Bitzer, arguesthatrhetoric To situations. draw an respond the conditions to and demandsof individual has inasmuchas carpenters analogy,we could say that carpentry integrity witha limited of common tacklemostprojects set tools.Theydo not have to new task(although evolution traditional tools the of buildnew toolsforevery is andthedevelopment newones suggest integrity nota static of that property). also be said to havereceptivitythelimited of if set Conversely, carpentry might tools does not limitthe carpenter's perception thetask.A good carpenter of the time. does notreachfor hammer every we Vatz,and Consigny together, might Lookingat thesearticles Bitzer, by a situation a setofrelated as define rhetorical factors whoseinteraction creates and controlsa discourse. However, such a general definition better is if understood we examinethe constituents situation. of Bitzeridentifies three: Exigenceis "an imperfection markedby exigence, audience,and constraints. an it which something waiting be done,a thing to urgency; is a defect, obstacle, exigence somekindof need or is is other thanit shouldbe" (386). A rhetorical rhetorical discourse. Eugene problem can be addressed that and solvedthrough


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but a out Whitehas pointed thatexigenceneed not arise from problem may (291). Happy eventsmay create exigence, insteadbe cause for celebration Bitzerdefinesthe audienceas thosewho can rhetoric. callingforepideictic who are capable of beinginfluenced persons helpresolvetheexigence:"those are of and of beingmediators change"(387), while constraints by discourse whichare partsof thesituation because and objects, relations events, "persons, the decisionand action needed to modify theyhave the powerto constrain (388). exigence" but of situations beenvaluable, to has division rhetorical three-way Bitzer's I we situations, think need to develop of revealthe fullcomplexity rhetorical as I First,I believeexigence, his schemefurther.proposethreeamendments. forcebehind a discourse,demands a more comprehensive the motivating are thatrhetors as mucha part we Second,I think need to recognize analysis. in situation the audienceis. Bitzermentions passing that as of a rhetorical of constituents becomeadditional whena speechis made,bothit and therhetor in thesituation (388), buthe does notappearto includetherhetor thesituation we thatany the that existsbefore speechis made.And third, needto recognize of of the constituents be plural.Bitzerincludesthe possibility multiple may and rhetor a single but and exigences constraints, he seemsto assumea solitary including there maybe severalrhetors, In rhetorical situations, audience. many may addressor encounter and groupsof peopleor institutions, the discourse several audiences with various purposes for reading. The often complex What rhetors audiencesshouldbe considered. and of interaction thesemultiple I of and follows, then,are definitions discussions thefourconstituentssee in and rhetors, audiences, constraints. exigence, situations: rhetorical EXIGENCE-The Matterand Motivation theDiscourse of

both sensethata situation rhetorical as Bitzerdefines exigence therhetor's calls for discourseand mightbe resolvedby discourse.Accordingto this would the the addressing exigenceof a situation question definition, essential in needed?"However, myschemeI proposethatthis be "Whyis thediscourse is what the discourse be question the second of threethatask, respectively, I whyit is needed,and whatit shouldaccomplish. derivethe logic for about, from versionof stasistheory the explainedby Jeanne thisorderof questions and Marie Secor, who argue that the stases providea natural Fahnestock a sequence of steps for interrogating subject.This sequence proceedsfrom that the subject exists and (establishing questionsof fact and definition the of (identifying source questions cause and effect it) characterizing through of the subjectand its consequences)and questionsof value (examiningits what of (considering or importance quality)to questions policyor procedure and Literary Argument" shouldbe done about it) ("The Stases in Scientific

Rhetorical Situations TheirConstituents and


428-31; "The Rhetoric Literary of Criticism" 78-80). SharonCrowley, has too, stasistheory a good toolforanalyzing suggested as rhetorical situations (33). What is thediscourseabout? This question addresses first stases, the two factanddefinition, askingwhatthediscourse by concerns. question The maybe at the answered quitea concrete level by identifying mostapparent topic.A speechby a politician duringan election yearmaybe aboutmandatory school an or uniforms, Medicare, antipollution thefight bill, againstterrorism, anyof a hostof othertopics.However, whatthe discourse aboutbecomesa more is if and and a sourceof exigence, askedat more interesting important question, abstract levels-in otherwords,if the questionbecomes "Whatfundamental or issues are represented the topicof the discourse?" "Whatvalues are at by more stake?"Politicalspeechesoftenuse specifictopicsto represent larger, issuessuchas questions civil rights, of free enduring publicsafety, enterprise, constitutionality, separationof church and state, morality, familyvalues, progress, equality,fairness,and so forth.These larger issues, values, or motivate principles people and can be invokedto lead audiencesin certain on school directions morespecifictopics.A speechon the topicof requiring in uniforms publicschools may engage the largerissue of how muchstates shouldbe freefrom federalintervention-an issue thatunderlies manyother In besidesschooluniforms. thefirst topics episodeof The Civil War,historian BarbaraFields drawsa distinction between the superficial matter the war of and what she sees as the more important, issues that gave it underlying meaning: is For me, thepicture the Civil War as a historic of phenomenon noton thebattlefield. notaboutweapons, notaboutsoldiers, It's it's except to the extentthat weapons and soldiersat that crucial momentjoined a discussion about somethinghigher, about abouthuman freedom. humanity, abouthumandignity, to has On thebattlefield, side's ability selectthe groundto be contested one In often beencritical the outcome theengagement. thesame way,rhetors to of who can definethe fundamental issues represented a superficial by subject matter-andpersuadeaudiencesto engage those issues-is in a position to maintain decisivecontrol overthefieldofdebate.A presidential candidate may be able to convince electorate the thatthe moreimportant issues in a debate of abouta rival'sactions notthelegality thosespecific are actions questions but as theyraise aboutthe rival's credibility leader of the nation("He mayhave in beenexonerated a courtof law,butwhatdoes thescandalsuggest abouthis do to character?"). Attorneys the same kind of thingin a courtroom, trying the of induce jurytosee thecase in terms issuesthat favor their client.Granted, these examples all represent rhetoric-theverbal traditional, manipulative


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I equivalent a physical of contest-but believethesame principle critical is to thesuccessof thekindof ethicalargument TheresaEnos describes, wherethe aim is notvictory overtheopponent a stateof identification, but wherewriter and readerare able to meetin the audienceidentity writer the has created within the discourse (106-08). In these kinds of argument, establishing acceptable issueswouldseemto be an essential stage,creating agendathat an readers agreeto discuss. can I am proposing stasistheory used as an analytic be tool,an organizing principle thesequenceof questions in thatexplore exigence a situation, the of butdefining issuesof a discourse the also involves the determining stasesthat in will be contested the discourseitself.The presidential candidatein the above is abandoning stasisof definition choosing the and examplementioned whatthediscourse about, instead takea standat thestasisofvalue.Asking to is or involves the matter topicat themostobviouslevel, then, identifying subject but also determining issues thatunderlieit and the stases that should be addressed-in short,asking "whatquestionsneed to be resolvedby this discourse?" Why is the discourse needed? The second questionabout exigence boththethird and fourth stases(cause and value). It addresses addresses cause whathas prompted discourse, whynowis theright the and by asking timeforit to be delivered. This aspectof exigenceis related, Bill Covinoand David as Jolliffe observed, theconcept kairos-"the right opportune to have to of or time speak or write"(11, 62). Exigencemay have been createdby eventsthat and for precedethediscourse act as a catalyst it;and thetiming thediscourse of mayalso havebeen triggered an occasion,suchas an invitation speak.A by to presidential speech on terrorism may be prompted bothby a recentact of terrorism also by a timely but to opportunity make a speech.In the case of the is letters the editorof a newspaper, forum alwaysthere-a standing to invitation addressthe newspaper's to readership. However, letter writers are event by the need to reply someoneelse's or to usuallyprompted a recent by letter. While addressing stasisof cause, the question"why the discourse the is needed?" also addressesthe value stasis in the sense thatit asks why the the and discourse it matters-why issuesareimportant whythequestions raises The answer thisquestionmaybe thattheissues to reallyneed to be resolved. for the areintrinsically important, perhaps moralreasons. Alternatively, answer not whathas maylie in thesituation's implications. Exigencemayresult from that is about to happen, or from already happened but fromsomething thatmighthappenif actionis not taken-as in the case of many something speechesabouttheenvironment. What is the discoursetrying accomplish? Finally, to exigencecan be at Whatare the revealedbyaskingquestions thestasisof policyor procedure.

and Rhetorical Situations Their Constituents


goals ofthediscourse? How is theaudience supposed react thediscourse? to to I includeobjectives partof theexigencefora discourse as becauseresolving the exigenceprovides powerful motivation therhetor. rhetor's for The agendamay also includeprimary secondary and objectives, some of whichmightnot be statedin the discourse. The immediate objective a presidential of campaign speech mightbe to rebutaccusationsmade by a rival, while a secondary objective might to clarify candidate's be the stance one oftheissuesor help on shape his image,and thebroader objective would alwaysbe to persuadethe audienceto votefor candidate the whenthetime comes. RHETOR(S)-Those People, Real or Imagined, Responsible for the Discourseand Its Authorial Voice Bitzerdoes notinclude rhetor a constituent therhetorical the as of situation he beforethe discourse produced, is although includesaspectsof the rhetor of underthe category constraints. Vatz only pointsout the rhetor's role in defining situation, it seemsto me thatrhetors as muchconstituents the yet are of theirrhetorical situations are theiraudiences. as Theirroles,like thoseof or but audiences,are partly predetermined usuallyopen to some definition whothey in a particular are and redefinition. Rhetors needto consider situation be awarethattheir to Neither Bitzer identity varyfrom may situation situation. the in norVatz explores roleofrhetor muchdepth, an exhaustive and analysis of possible roles would be beyondthe scope of this essay,too; but in the I on variations. following paragraphs,willtouch somepossible I for as First,although syntactic convenience oftenrefer the rhetor to singular in this essay, situations often involve multiple rhetors.An advertisement be sponsored a corporation, written designed an and may by by advertising agency,and delivered an actorplayingthe role of corporate by Well-known actorsor athletesmay lend the ethos theyhave spokesperson. established their actorsmayplay the roles of through work,while unknown or in corporaterepresentatives even audience members offering testimony of We thosewho originated discourse, the support theproduct. can distinguish and who mightbe held legallyresponsible the truth its content, for of from to the all thosewho are hired shapeand deliver message, arguably ofthem but in involved thesales pitch sharetheroleof rhetor, a rhetorical as team. addresses situation a Second,evenwhena rhetor alone,theanswerto the we question"Whois therhetor?" maynotbe simple.As rhetors mayspeakin in or some professional capacity, a volunteer role,as a parent, in some other role that may be less readilyidentifiable-something, perhaps,like Wayne Booth's"implied author" "secondself"-the authorial or that identity readers can inferfroman author's makes a contrast writing (70-71). RogerCherry betweenthe ethosof the historical authorand any personacreatedby that


Rhetoric Review

author(260-68). Cherry's distinction mightbe illustrated the speechof a by whobrings it theethoshe has established presidential candidate to through his and usesthespeechto createa personaforhimself president career political as in thefuture. Thenagain,a rhetor's ethos will notbe thesameforall audiences. It will depend whatthey on knowand think therhetor's actions,so the of past "real"or "historical" author not a stable"foundation" is identity depends but on Like exigence, partly theaudiencein a particular rhetorical situation. then, of audience influence identity therhetor. can the Rhetors playseveralrolesat once,and evenwhenthey to playjust may try one role,theiraudiencemay be aware of theirotherroles.A LittleLeague baseball umpiremight, dependingon his relationship with local residents, from at receive fewer challenges parents thegame if he happensalso to be the local police chief.The range of roleswe can play at any given moment is constrained theother constituents therhetorical of certainly by situation by and we the identities bringto the situation. However,new rhetorical situations changeus andcan lead us to add newrolesto ourrepertoire. use Consigny's To rhetors createethospartly terms, through integrity-ameasureof consistency to situation situation on theytake from insteadof putting a completely new maskto suittheneedsofevery newaudienceand situation; theyalso need and to receptivity-the ability adaptto newsituations notrigidly and playthesame rolein every one. AUDIENCE-Those People, Real or Imagined, with Whom Rhetors Discourseto Achievethe Rhetorical Negotiate through Objectives as has Audience a rhetorical the concept transcended idea of a homogenous in and bodyofpeoplewhohavestablecharacteristics are assembled therhetor's A and presence. discourse may have primary secondary audiences,audiences that are presentand those that have yet to form,audiences that act or audiences aboutwhomtherhetor knowslittle, collaboratively as individuals, or audiences thatexistonlyin therhetor's mind.ChaimPerelman and Lucie writers who cannot certain be Olbrechts-Tyteca outthatunlikespeakers, point their audiences are, and that rhetorsoften face "composite"audiences or either several of factions ofindividuals whoeachrepresent consisting several different groups (214-17). In Bitzer's schemeaudienceexistsfairly as simply a groupof real people within situation to a external boththerhetor and the discourse. Douglas Park this four has broadened perspective offering specific of by meanings audience: or (1) anypeoplewho happento hearor read a discourse, a set of readers (2) who rhetorical situation listeners form ofan external to part (equivalent Bitzer's of interpretationaudience),(3) the audiencethatthe writer seems to have in and (4) theaudience rolessuggested thediscourse itself. The first two mind, by

Rhetorical Situations Their and Constituents


meanings assumethattheaudienceconsists actualpeople and correspond of to whatLisa Ede andAndrea Lunsford havecalled "audience addressed" (Ede and Lunsford156-65). Park's third and fourthmeanings are more abstract, corresponding Ede and Lunsford's to "audienceinvoked."Park locates both thosemeanings audiencewithin text, I would suggest of the but thatthethird residesnotso muchin thetextas in thewriter before and during composing, while the fourth derivedfromthe textby readers.Since writers also is are readersof theirown texts,theycan alternate betweenthe thirdand fourth meanings audience of whilecomposing rereading; they and so with might draft a sense of audiencein mind,then rereadto see what sense of audienceis reflected thetextthey in have created.In some instances writers maybe their own intended audiences.One example would be personaljournals,which writers maywrite themselves readers thefuture, forthemselves for in as in or thepresent with moreawareness audienceas separate no of self from thanthey havewhenengaging internal in dialogue. Instead asking"Whois theaudience?", of Parkrecommends ask howa we discourse"defines and creates contexts readers" for (250). As an exampleof such a context, offers he Chaim Perelman's notion the universal of audience, whichPerelman in defines TheNewRhetoric an audience"encompassing as all reasonableand competent men" (157). Appealingto the universalaudience createsa forum whichdebatecan be conducted. in Likewise,Park argues,a particular publication createa context can thatpartly determines nature the of theaudiencefor discourse appearsin it. a that Like theother constituents rhetorical of the situations, rolesof rhetor and audience are dynamicand interdependent. a numberof theorists As have readerscan play a varietyof roles duringthe act of readinga observed, rolesthatare notnecessarily discourse, playedeither before after or reading. These rolesare negotiated withtherhetor the through discourse, they and may the changeduring process reading of (Ede and Lunsford 166-67;Long 73, 80; Park249; Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca Phelps 156-57; Roth182-83). 216; Negotiation thekeyterm is here.Rhetors' conceptions audiencesmaylead of themto createnew roles forthemselves-oradaptexisting roles-to address those audiences.Rhetors may inviteaudiencesto accept new identities for readers visionnotofwhothey butofwho they a themselves, offering are could be. Readers whobeginthediscourse one rolemayfindthemselves in persuaded to adopta newrole,or they the mayrefuse rolessuggested thediscourse. I by mayopen a letter from charity read it notas a potential a and donorbutas a rhetorician, analyzing rhetorical the strategies usedbythe letter writer. that In case I would see my exigencefor readingthe letter,and my role in the as negotiation, quite different from whatthe writer appearedto have had in mindforme.5


Rhetoric Review

only by then, are not phenomenaexperienced Rhetoricalsituations, have argued,readingand rhetors. StephenKucer and MartinNystrand As negotiation meaning of involving writing may be seen as parallel activities readers writers. reading a rhetorical and If is activity then has its too, it between to situations. if we prefer use writing situation a more as So, own rhetorical when we teach (as some textbooks accessibletermthan rhetorical situation to have-e.g., Pattowand Wresch18-22; Reep 12-13),we shouldnotneglect which may have theirown teach students also about "readingsituations," exigences, roles,and constraints. the CONSTRAINTS-Factors in the Situation'sContextThat May Affect Achievement the RhetoricalObjectives of components define to are of situation Constraints thehardest therhetorical Bitzerdevotes just things. neatly because theycan includeso manydifferent them "persons, as to and events, objects, relations one paragraph them, defining because theyhave the power to constrain which are parts of the situation the decisionand action neededto modify exigence."Since he assumesthat and of "the power controlled situations sincehe observes by rhetors largely are a constraints response" (390), his use of theterm situation constrain fitting to to or on has usually been interpreted meanlimitations therhetor-prescriptions whatcan be said, or how it can be said, in a given proscriptions controlling A of situation. rhetoris said to workwithinthe constraints the situation. thiscommonly held view of constraints obstaclesor restrictions as However, moreas aids to therhetor constraints has obscured factthatBitzerdefines the themso as to constrain audience the The rhetor "harnesses" thanas handicaps. seems to take the desiredactionor pointof view. This view of constraints I either or againsttherhetor's for so objectives. useful, I see themas working or case as positive constraints, assets, a refer thekindthatsupport rhetor's to it hinder as negative or andthosethat constraints, liabilities. might Bitzergoes on to divideconstraints axis. Some,whichhe along another These inartistic are proofs, "givenby the situation." equateswithAristotle's images, interests, documents, facts,traditions, mightbe "beliefs,attitudes, held and attitudes bythe including beliefs motives and the like"-presumably audience. Other constraints, equivalentto Aristotle'sartisticproofs,are "his personalcharacter, logical proofs, his and his developed the rhetor: by Bitzer definesconstraints verybroadlyas all style"(388). To paraphrase, the factors thatmaymovethe audience(or disincline audienceto be moved), in Such an allfactors the audience,the rhetor, and the rhetoric. including the as of wouldseem to threaten usefulness constraints a inclusive definition of so the distinct constituent rhetorical situations, I proposeexcluding rhetor constituents making and of and theaudienceas separate the explicit possibility

and Rhetorical Situations Their Constituents


I bothpositiveand negative constraints.woulddefine constraints, then,as all factors thesituation, in aside from rhetor the audience, the and thatmaylead moreor less sympathetic thediscourse, theaudienceto be either to and that may therefore influence rhetor's the responseto the situation-stilla loose definition, constraints anything but defy tighter. With the rhetor and the audience excluded from the categoryof it to constraints, is tempting exclude the otherartistic proofstoo, thereby simplifying category the further drawing distinction by a between rhetorical the situation thatarises from However, it. and the discourse clearly situation the continues after pointat whichthediscourse the it. beginsto address A rhetor continues define, to and to situation shape,reconsider, respond therhetorical the and throughout composing process, at anygivenpointduring thatprocess, If therhetor constrained theemerging discourse. we are to be maybe highly by whatwe havealready written must what write we next. coherent, constrain in If constraints thoseother are factors rhetorical besidesrhetors situations, thatcould help or hinder discourse, be? I and audiences, the whatmight they have alreadyincludedthe emerging textof the discourse a constraint as on whata rhetor add to it. To thiswe can add linguistic can constraints imposed of bythegenreof the textor bytheconventions languageuse dictated the by situation.Other constraints could arise fromthe immediate and broader contexts the discourse, of its and historical perhapsincluding geographical Such constraints or events thatthe couldincluderecent imminent background. call to readers' discourse might minds, other discourses thatrelateto it, other people, or factorsin the cultural,moral, religious,political,or economic climate-both local and global-that might make readersmore or less receptive thediscourse. to Foreigntradenegotiations, domestic a recession, a crimeor accident-events like hardwinter, civil disturbances, sensational a on these might act as constraints the rhetorical situation an election of situation campaignspeech, suggesting appealsto makeor avoidmaking. Every of ariseswithina context-a background time,place, people,events, and so is forth. all ofthecontext directly Not relevant thesituation, rhetors to but and audiencesmay be aware of certainevents, withinthe people, or conditions context are relevant shouldbe considered ofthesituation that and because part on theyhave the potentialto act as positiveor negativeconstraints the The challengefortherhetor to decidewhichpartsof the context is discourse. bearon thesituation to and enough be considered constraints, whatto do about them-for instance,whetherthe best rhetoricalstrategy for a negative wouldbe to addressit directly try disarmit-or even try to constraint and to turn intoa positive it constraint-or say nothing to aboutit and hope thatthe it audience overlooks too. Some of myexampleshave complicated rolesof rhetor audience, the and in and assumed butall so farhavelookedat discourses isolation thatsituations


Rhetoric Review

It s are finite. seemsclearthata situation of beginswiththerhetor perception exigence, whencan itbe saidto haveended?Does itendwhentheexigence but has beenresolved simply or I whenthediscourse beendelivered? favor has the latter becauseit establishes simpler a boundary markand it limits to rhetorical to and situations thepreparation delivery discourses, of rather thanextending themto their whichI consider be partof theaudience's reception, to rhetorical situation. Also, as I havetried show,exigence to can be quitecomplex and the at The point whichitcanbe said to havebeenresolved maybe hardto identify. same exigencemay motivate discoursesin many,quite different situations without everbeingfully resolved. Major sourcesof exigence, like civil rights, can continue motivate to of generations rhetors. To say that a rhetorical situationends when the discoursehas been delivered still leaves us withthe questionof how to describediscoursein a discussion.Dialogue challengesthe idea of rhetorical situations havingneat Whenparticipants meetarounda tableand taketurns boundaries. the playing rolesof rhetor audience, there many and are as rhetorical situations there as are rhetors-or turns?Or should we look at the whole meetingas a single And whathappenswhenthe participants a discussion in rhetorical situation? are notgathered at together one place and time, engagedin thequickgive and takeoforal discussion, instead but debatea topicwitheach other overa period of weeks-for example, sendingand replying letters the editorof a to to by newspaper? lookat a meeting a singlerhetorical To as that situation recognizes many theconstituents thesituation of werecommon all participants, it and of to view thatsituations external therhetor; emphasizes Bitzer's are to whereasto look at each personinvolvedin the discussionas having his or her own rhetorical situation-or each contribution the discussionhavingits own to seemto lean toward situation-would Vatz's viewthatrhetorical are situations Both views,of course,are right.Each rhetor constructed rhetors. has a by different and the in time perspective enters debateat a different (especially the case of a debatecarriedon through newspaper's a editorial pages), so each different addresses a slightly rhetorical situation;but the situationsmay withthoseaddressedby otherrhetors the interlace overlapextensively or in discussion.It may be useful,then,to thinkof an entirediscussionas a rhetorical madeup ofa groupof closely individual related compound situation, situations.Analyzing a compound situation involves examining which constituents common all participants whichwerespecific one or were to and to two. For example, some sources of exigence may have motivatedall and participants, in these commonfactors may lie the hope of resolution, On or agreement, compromise. the otherhand,the divisiveheat of a debate may be traced to a fundamentalconflict of values-and thus of exigence-amongtheparticipants.

and Rhetorical Situations TheirConstituents


situation can be found Examples of this kind of compoundrhetorical pagesof a local in as publicdebatearises, it did recently theeditorial whenever The debate was in in newspaper a ruralcommunity the RockyMountains. resort story abouta nearby a printed front-page whenthenewspaper sparked illuminated Best Western hotel,SherwoodHills, thathad erecteda 46-foot, would highway Such a signon a four-lane to signat theentrance itsproperty. but be not normally remarkable, the settingmade this one controversial. off SherwoodHills lies hiddenin trees at the end of a long driveway, a or of There are no otherresidences scenic stretch the highway. particularly a and zone, designated forest-recreation businesses nearby, thearea is officially earlier, the signs.Severalmonths businesses their and whichusuallyprohibits and councilfora permit beentoldthat had appliedto thecounty resort owners had not be some kind of sign on the road might allowed,butthe application up. beenresolved whenthesignwent the owners'rationale The newspaper severalstoriesreporting resort ran (theyfelttheyhad applied in good faithand waitedlong enough)and the the had flouted reaction felt that (they indignant theowners councilmembers' The rather thanpermission). newspaper forgiveness law and werenowseeking have beena the actionsin an editorial. Whatmight owners' also berated resort into a town resolvedbehindclosed doors turned matter minorbureaucratic in to printed theweeksthatfollowed. withat least15 letters theeditor debate, I questionis why the perspective, thinkthe interesting From a rhetorical sincenotall controversial sucha brushfire publicopinion, of incident sparked Looking to letters theeditor. elicitso many covered thenewspaper by incidents situation examining constituents and its rhetorical at thedebateas a compound that question. helpsanswer the included resort the council, owners, county The rhetors audiences and the the the countyplanningcommission, Zoning Administrator, newspaper about the staff,and assortedlocal citizens. Their debate was nominally and sign-whetherit was illegal (a questionat the stasisof definition) what were at shouldbe done aboutit (a question thepolicystasis).These questions in sourcesof exigencesharedby all participants the debate.However,even greaterexigence seems to have come from questions at the stasis of mightthe sign createfor otherbusinessesto precedent cause/effect-what at local ordinances?-and thestasisofvalue-were thesignand theact ignore thatmade thatact illegal) it a of erecting without permit (and theordinance around issue the the revolved writers, debate good orbad? Formostoftheletter issuesin thewestern and contested oflanduse,one ofthemorefrequently hotly use land is very where appropriate ofbothpublicand private the United States, muchopento argument. wilderness. Criticsof thesigngenerally placed a highvalue on unspoiled of the beauty development natural For themthe sign symbolized commercial


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and challenged laws protecting appearance other the of forest-recreation zones in the area. Those in favor the sign,on the otherhand,saw it not as an of in eyesore as a welcomesymbol prosperity but of erected a bold and justified challenge slow-moving to bureaucracy unfair and laws,andas a blow struck for private property rights. Underlying issue of land use in this debate,then, the and providing powerful was theissue of individual local freedom or exigence, versusgovernment interference-another witha strong issue tradition the in western (as in thecase ofthe"sagebrush US attempts rebellions"-unsuccessful to establish local control overpubliclands). The tradition justified-or at of leastrationalized-rebellion againstan oppressive establishment of course can be traced backto theAmerican and Revolution, in the 1990s we have seen it sourceof exigencein a number antigovernment of appear as a fundamental in disputes various parts thenation. of and Exigence constraints be closelyrelated. thecritics Sherwood can For of Hills, thebreaking the law was a sourceof exigence, of motivating themto protest, thelaw itself but in was also a positive constraint thesituation, giving them a reason to argue for the removal of the sign. Certainlythe law constrained council'sresponse thesituation. theother the to On hand,thelaw was apparentlyless powerful a constraint theowners Sherwood for of Hills and formanyof theirsupporters who feltthatthe law, not the sign, shouldbe For changed. manyon thatside ofthedebate,thetradition rebelling of against whatareperceived be unfair to government restrictions provided bothexigence and a positive constraint. feeling The thatprivate had property owners'rights beenviolated was whatmotivated them join thediscussion, it also gave to but theman appeal to make in theirargument. The rhetor's sense of exigence, when communicated successfully the audience, can become a positive to the a factor helpsmovetheaudiencetoward rhetor's that constraint, position. Precedents constraints. theSherwood In Hills debate,several alwayscreate mentioned participants comparablebusiness signs, includingone recently erected another at local resort, in a forest-recreation The existence also area. of thatsignwas a positive constraint supporters theSherwood for Hills sign. of it constraint since theother However, was also a negative resort had followed thecorrect and procedure received permit itssign,and sincethesignwas a for smaller and lowerthantheSherwood Hills sign,had no illumination, had and beendesigned harmonize to the with landscape. Other constraints The emerged from local history. highway past Sherwood Hills had recently been widened,and the dust had not yetsettledfromthe and dispute between developers environmentalists thatthree-year over project. Even before the road construction, which had disrupted traffic and limited accessto Sherwood had to Hills,theresort struggled stayin business, changing hands severaltimesbeforethe present owners acquiredit. The sign, some was the supporters suggested, neededto ensure newowners' success,on which

Rhetorical Situations Their and Constituents


theprosperity others thecommunity of in too. The owners depended werealso praised as upstanding members the community, of having employedlocal peopleand contributed local charities. to Two letter writers arguedfrom this constraint thecommunity that shouldnotbitethehandthat feeds. This analysis the Sherwood of Hills sign debateas a compound situation but onlyscratches surface, understanding thismuchaboutthesituation the even goes a longwaytoward explaining whytheincident generated suchan unusual waveofpublicopinion. The conclusion a compound of rhetorical situation may be harder determine theend of a single-discourse to than situation, particularly ifthesubject discussion perennial. of is This particular endedwhenthe dispute exchange of lettersstopped and the Sherwood Hills owners reached a compromise thecounty with council:Boththesignand theordinance remained in place,butthesignwas lowered tenfeet. by As mydiscussion and exampleshave shown,exigence,rhetor, audience, and constraints interlace can witheach other, thefurther delvesintoa and one situation moreconnections the between themare likelyto appear. However, whiletheboundaries between constituents seldombe clearand stable, the will I do think that pursuing them initially ifthey as werediscrete constituents helps a rhetor a rhetorician at a situation or look from variety perspectives. a of My in efforts thepreceding pageshave beento discussthepossiblecomplexities of rhetorical situations. Teachingstudent writers and readersto ask the same and are will help themrealize questions, to understand they askingthem, why theiroptions, choose rhetorical and stancesforgood reasons,and strategies each roles.6 beginto understand other's
Notes 1 thank Rhetoric Reviewreaders John GageandRobert Scott, L. whosecareful reviews earlier of drafts this of essay helped improve greatly. me it 2 Bitzer's definition notdistinguish does situation from context. The two terms maybe used but to the interchangeably, I prefer use contextto describe broader background againstwhicha rhetorical situation and it develops from which gathers someofitsparts. see situation, as a subset I then, ofcontext. 3 In "The Rhetorical Situation? "Rhetoric Public Knowledge," and and Bitzeruses theterms and exigency I haveused exigencein thisessaymostly reasons habit exigence synonymously. for of and consistency theoriginal with I Bitzer/Vatz/Consigny discussion. consider an abstract it nounlike or Whilecohesion be locatedin textual diligence, can influence, coherence. coherence a is features, perception thereader. thesameway,exigence in In seemsto me to describe so muchan external not circumstance a senseofurgency motivation as or within rhetors audiences. is they or It who recognize (or failto recognize) exigence a situation so theexigence, the meaning literary in and like in works, must reside therhetor audience theresult interaction external in or as of with circumstances. Although Bitzer callsthose circumstances I exigences,prefer think them sourcesofexigence. to of as 4 This fundamental between disagreement Bitzerand Vatz parallelsthe debatewithin literary theory thelocation meaning: over of whether in meaning exists thetext, independent thereader, of or it or whether is largely entirely brought thereader thetext. by to Bitzer's viewlookstoward formalism, Vatz'stoward reader-response and the that theories, minetoward position meaning a perception is that occurs thereader is (orshould quitehighly in but be) constrained the by text.


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5 Taking poststructuralist approaches theroles rhetor audience, to of and LouiseWetherbee Phelps and Robert Rothfurther challenge assumption a static, any of divided relationship between two. the Phelpsuses MikhailBakhtin's idea of heteroglossia deconstruct idea of a boundary to the between authorand audience.She arguesthatthe othervoices an authorengagesthrough reading and conversation whilecomposing inevitably are present thetext, in inextricably wovenwith author's the voice,andthat intertextuality text theauthor this ofthe and makes simple a separation text author of and from audience impossible (158-59). Rothsuggests therelationship that between writers readers and is not a senseofaudience takes form a shifting often the of cooperative, adversarial (175), andthat writer's setofpossible reading rolesthat writer try (180-82).Neither the may on Phelps Rothargue we nor that should abandon terms the rhetor audience.Phelps and acknowledges although that author audience and that retain maynot divisible, routinely as ifthey be we act were(163), andsheconcludes we should the value "as a usefullyloose correlate for an authorial conceptof audience for its heuristic or an turns Rothrecognizes that orientation-whoeverwhatever utterance toward" (171). LikePhelps, "is thefreeplay of rolesneedsto be grounded. "Whatwe really need,"he concludes, a continual of to of readers a monitoringterms a and in balancing opposites, openness a widerange potential both of at or particular ofaudience anyonemoment phaseinthe sense composing process" (186). 6 1 havesummarized analysis a list questions might usedbywriters adapted in of that be for my (or a use byaudiences) guidethem they to as examine rhetorical situation. list Spacedoes notallowthis to be included but me here, I willsenda copytoanyone mails a request. who

WorksCited Situation." Bitzer,Lloyd F. "The Rhetorical Philosophyand Rhetoric1 (1968): 1-14. Rpt. Ed. L. New Contemporary TheoriesofRhetoric: Selected Readings. Richard Johannesen. York: Harper, 1971.381-93. Ed. . "Rhetoric PublicKnowledge." and Rhetoric, Philosophy, Literature: Exploration. and An Don M. Burks. WestLafayette, Purdue 1978.67-93. IN: UP, C. U 2nd Booth, Wayne TheRhetoric Fiction. ed. Chicago: ofChicago 1983. of P, in Cherry, Roger D. "Ethos Versus Persona: Self-Representation Written Discourse."Written Communication(1988): 251-76. 5 Consigny, Scott. "Rhetoric ItsSituations." and Philosophy Rhetoric (1974): 175-86. and 7 Covino,WilliamA., and David A. Jolliffe. Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries.Boston: Allyn, 1995. Crowley, Sharon. Ancient Rhetorics Contemporary for Students. York:Macmillan, New 1994. "Audience The Role of Audience in Addressed/Audience Invoked: Ede, Lisa, and AndreaLunsford. and Composition Theory Pedagogy." College Composition Communication (1984): 155and 35 71. Golden as Audience Rhetor." as Kirsch Roen and Enos,Theresa. "AnEternal Braid: Rhetor Audience, 99-114. Criticism." and of Textual Fahnestock, Jeanne, MarieSecor."TheRhetoric Literary Dynamics the of U Professions. Charles Ed. Bazerman James and Paradis. Madison: ofWisconsin 1991.76-96. P, . "TheStasesinScientific Literary and Argument." Written Communication 5 (1988): 427-43. Florentine 1990. Barbara. Interview. CivilWar.Dir.KenBurns. Fields, The Films, Communication. Kirsch, Gesa, and Duane H. Roen,eds.A Sense ofAudiencein Written Newbury CA: Sage, 1990. Park, as L. Written Kucer,Stephen "The Makingof Meaning:Readingand Writing ParallelProcesses." 2 Communication(1985): 317-36. C. FactorFiction?" Kirsch Roen73-84. and Long, Russell "TheWriter's Audience: is Communication theChallenger and Accident." "WhenPoliteness Fatal: Technical Moore,Patrick. Journal Businessand Technical Communication 6 (1992): 269-92. of "A Written Martin. Social-Interactive ModelofWriting." Communication 6 (1988): 66-85. Nystrand, of 44 Park, Douglas."TheMeanings 'Audience."' CollegeEnglish (1982): 247-57. A TechnicalInformation: Guidefor the Pattow, Donald, and WilliamWresch.Communicating NJ: 1993. Electronic Age. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice,

Rhetorical Situations Their and Constituents


A Trans. Griffin-Collart Perelman, Chaim.TheNewRhetoric: Theory PracticalReasoning. of E. and 0. Bird. The GreatIdeas Today.Chicago:Encyclopedia Britannica, 1970. Rpt.Professing Inc., Enos andStuart Brown. C. A Ed. NJ: theNew Rhetorics: Sourcebook. Theresa Englewood Cliffs, 1994. 145-77. Prentice, Trans.John and The Wilkinson Purcell Perelman, Chaim,and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. New Rhetoric. Weaver.U. of NotreDame P, 1969: 1-26. Rpt.Contemporary Theories Rhetoric: of Selected L. New 1971. 199-221. Readings.Ed. Richard Johannesen. York:Harper, and Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. Audience Authorship: Disappearing and The Boundary. Kirsch Roen 153-74. 2nd and 1994. Reep,Diana C. Technical Writing: Principles, Strategies, Readings. ed. Boston: Allyn, G. A Post-Structuralist Kirsch Roen175-87. and Roth, Robert DeconstructingAudience: Rereading. Vatz,Richard. "TheMyth theRhetorical of Situation." Philosophy Rhetoric (1973): 154-61. and 6 White, Eugene E. The Context Human Discourse: A Configurational of Criticism Rhetoric. of U Carolina 1992. Columbia: ofSouth P,

at KeithGrant-Davie an assistant is professor UtahState where hastaught he University, rhetoric, in reading theory, technical and writing. articles His have appeared JAC:A Journalof Composition and Theory, Journalof TechnicalWriting Communication, Reader. His current The research and and projects include rhetoric silence, the of grammar style and of analysis software, theprocess grant writing review biological and in research.

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