Edbauer – Unframing models of public distribution: From rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (2005): 5-24. Print.

In this article, Jenny Edbauer further expanded the theory of rhetorical situation by urging readers to rethink notions of public and location that had been thought of as static and fixed. She situated her own assertion that rhetorical scholars and pedagogues might benefit from using the framework of a rhetorical ecology as opposed to the traditional rhetorical situation among Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation and its critiques. According to Edbauer, Bitzer and the critiques all work to “create a body of scholarship that stretches our own notions of “rhetorical publicness into a contextual framework that permanently troubles sender-receiver models.” Additionally, she drew upon scholarship on public communication to demonstrate the limits of oversimplified communication and rhetorical situation models that examine either sender- receiver-text, or rhetor, audience, context as discreet, objective elements.

Edbauer also drew on Louise Wetherbee Phelps to argue that rhetorics should not be read as elemental conglomerations, but as always in a state of flux. For Edbauer, there is no fixed location, but exigence is an amalgamation of processes and encounters. Contrary to Bitzer and some of his critics, like Richard Vatz, exigence is not located in any element of the model (8). Edbauer asserted that “indeed, that we dub exigence is more like a shorthand way of describing a series of events. The rhetorical situation is part of what we might call, borrowing from Phelps, an ongoing social flux” (9). Instead of using the terministic screen of conglomerate elements, Edbauer advocated for using a framework of affective ecologies that recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes: “While one framework does not undermine the other, I argue that this ecological model allows us to more fully theorize rhetoric as a public (s) creation.”

Edbauer explicated how this ecological shift can unframe or expand the way in which we understand rhetorical production. She highlighted how the Latin root of “situation”, situs, implies a “bordered, fixed location” (9) and the incompatibility with embodied and networked nature of rhetoric: “the social does not reside in fixed sites, but rather in a networked space of flows and connections” (9). Edbauer discussed Margaret Sylverson’s emergent ecological process of writing as an example of a rhetorical ecology framework applied to composition that doesn’t just focus on the “writer” “audience” or “text” at a time. For Edbauer, this also has real implications for the classroom:

“Bringing this logic into the realm of our own rhetorical pedagogy, we are reminded that rhetorically-grounded education can mean something more than learning how to decode elements, analyze texts, and thinking about public circulations of rhetoric. It can also engage processes and encounters. Not “learning by doing,” but “thinking by doing.” Or, better yet, thinking/doing—with a razor thin slash mark barely keeping the two terms from bleeding into each other” (22-23).

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