Consigny – “Rhetoric and its Situations”

Consigny, Scott. “Rhetoric and its Situations.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 7.3 (1974): 175-86. Print. 

In this article, Scott Consigny critiqued Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz’s theories of the rhetorical situation. He asserted that the two theories represent an antinomy that arose from partial views of rhetorical theory which failed to account for actual rhetorical practice. Consigny suggested that the antinomy would disappear in light of a complete view of rhetorical practice where rhetoric is considered an art. According to Consigny, there are two conditions that such an art must meet to allow the rhetor to effectively engage in particular situations – integrity and receptivity. He defined integrity as the ability of a rhetor to “disclose and manage indeterminate factors in novel situations without his [or her] action being predetermined.” This stance is in contrast to Bitzer’s requirement for a rhetor to respond in a “fitting” manner. Recognizing that a rhetor’s creativity is not without constraints, Consigny called for rhetors to also maintain receptivity, the ability to become engaged in individual situations and open to the particularities of the individual situation in a way that he can discover relevant issues (181).

Consigny proposed that rhetoric be understood as an art of topics or commonplaces to give rhetors the means to negotiate such particularities. In this conception, commonplaces function as both instruments of invention and situations (situs) and satisfy the conditions of integrity and receptivity.

Burke – “Rhetorical Situation”

Burke, Kenneth. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Communication: Ethical and moral issues (1973): 263-75. Print.

In this essay, Kenneth Burke sought to compose a summative definition of rhetorical situation. He asserted that the rhetorical situation is not confined to the resources that help to constitute it. Burke suggested that the rhetorical situation can be better understood through identification and his unofficial subtitle “congregation and segregation.” Burke used the example of a presidential campaign to illustrate his point highlighting that during a campaign the presidential candidates emphasize their differences, but once elected a president then emphasizes unity and identification. Theses emphases fall into categories of competition and cooperation respectively.

With regard to the rhetorical situation, Burke identified three major means of identification: 1- by sympathy, 2- By antithesis, and 3- by inaccuracy/ false assumption/ unawareness (i.e. A person’s mistaken identification with the power of her/ his technologies). Burke claimed that the rhetorical situation hinged on these fluid identifications. He stated that  “… the poignancy of the rhetorical situation attains its fullness in its spontaneously arising identifications whereby, even without deliberate intent upon the part of anyone, we fail to draw the lines at the right places” (271). He concluded that identification can be vague and we don’t know where to draw the line.  Barbara Biesecker would later echo this notion in her theory of rhetorical situation where she argued meaning is found in the fluctuating line of différance and makes the production of identities and social relations possible (Biesecker, “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation”). This fluidity can also impact individual autonomy as illustrated by Burke’s example of the shepherd from Rhetoric of Motives in which the “protective” shepherd is simultaneously identified as the one leading the sheep to its slaughter.

Dias et al. – Worlds Apart and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts

Dias, Patrick, et al. Worlds Apart :Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999. Print. Rhetoric, Knowledge, and Society.

In this text, the authors explored how writing functioned in academic and workplace contexts in order to determine the correlation between academic writing instruction and workplace writing preparation. The study began in 1992 and one goal of the study was to identify commonalities and differences between writing in academic and workplace settings. They selected four matching university and professional settings: public administration courses and Federal government institutions, management courses and corresponding work settings, architecture courses and a firm of architects, social work courses and social work agencies. The different pairs represented different genres of writing.The researchers used a multiple case study approach to study writers and writing across both academic and workplace settings. They stated that they chose case study in order to ensure that participants’ perspective were an integral part of the study.
The Data-gathering activities consisted of:
  1. Inventorying the genres in each domain
  2. Document tracking
  3. Conducting Reading protocols of designated readers
  4. Ethnographic observation of writers involved in tasks of composing
  5. Interviews
  6. Participant validation (12-13)
For data analyses researchers utilized textual analyses of the writing collected , analyses of oral discourse surrounding production of texts using categories based of systematic linguistics, and sociolinguistic analyses of production and reception of texts within the acts of speaking, reading, and writing occurred (13-14).
Two main questions they attempted to answer were:
  • How do university writing practices relate to writing in the workplace?
  • In what sense and to what extend is writing in university a preparation for writing in the workplace? (15)
Concerns emerging from the research:
  • What changes need to be made in university teaching practices in order to exploit more fully the potential of writing as a tool for learning, and to prepare students to enter more easily into workplace writing practices?
  • Can universities prepare students to write for work?
  • What workplace practices inhibit the full development and use of writing for productive work? What practices support the use of writing to promote workplace goals?

The researchers used a combination of several theoretical frameworks that emphasize the situated nature of writing, including: Genre Studies, Activity Theory (AT), Situated Learning within Communities of Practice (COP), Distributed Cognition, and Semiotic Theory.

Genre studies helped the authors to frame written discourse as “regularized, but not fixed; fluid, flexible, and dynamic; emerging and evolving in exigence and action; reflecting and incorporating social needs, demands, and structures; and responsive to social interpretations and reinterpretations of necessarily shifting, complex experiences” (23).
In this study, language, and writing in particular, are understood as mediating tools:
“Language as mediational means or tool is not a mere neutral conduit; it also puts its own mark on mediated action. Thus, in our case the genres that constitute the mediating communicative means of a community may affect thinking by constraining the sort of thought that can be expressed (and by creating a need to have certain kinds of thoughts in order to fulfill the requirements of the genre). And in general we concur with his insistence on regarding agent, means, and actions as integrally bound and irreducible.” (36)
The authors argued that it is fair to expect academic institutions to prepare students for workplace writing, but that in order to do so, we must acknowledge that there are differences in the act of writing in academic and workplace settings.
“Because with few exceptions writing is a medium deployed in both worlds, such preparation is not an unreasonable expectation. And it is precisely such an expectation that makes acting, the second term in our title, critical. Writing is acting; but in Activity Theory terms, writing at work and writing at school constitute two very different activities, one primarily epistemic and oriented to accomplishing the work of schooling, and the other primarily an instrumental and often economic activity, and oriented accordingly toward accomplishing the work of an organization. In that light, one activity, writing in school, is not necessarily preparation for successfully undertaking the other activity, writing at work.” (223)
These differences can be seen in  real ways, such as through the types of feedback given in response to writing in both contexts: “What seem radically different are the other sorts of consideration that inform the supervisor’s commentary. Whereas the professor’s sense of what is necessary and appropriate derives from ‘the literature,’ or from the curriculum, or from a sense of what is currently valued in the written transactions of the discipline, the intertext on which the supervisor draws is more varied and more diffuse” (225).
While functional literacies are portable in the transition from university to workplace, rhetorical literacy is necessary for the transition from the university to work: “Certainly, skills related to portable tools: computer-related skills, including key boarding, word-processing, and spreadsheet skills, language fluency, abilities related to using and designing forms, charts, and other kinds of graphic displays. Oral skills and the social skills valued in group work ought to carry over as well. Again, we meed to remind ourselves that such skills will be modified in transition; for instance, an individual’s fluency will be severely retarded in the workplace if he or she lack rhetorical savvy” (232).
Based on their study, the authors argued that in order for academic writing instruction to translate into workplace writing success, several aspects of workplace writing should be incorporated into academic writing instruction.

“It seems reasonable that the embededness of writing in workplace practices ought to be replicated in school settings as well, if it isn’t for the fact that the process of education does often operate on a model of detaching skills and practices from their workaday settings in order to teach them effectively. Such encapsulation (Engestrom, 1991) of knowledge and skills is quite likely a deterrent rather than an aid to learning to write… If there is one major, obvious-seeming way in which educational courses might prepare people better for the demands of writing at work, it is through constituting the class as a working group with some degree of complexity, continuity, and interdependency of joint activity. Such arrangements will go some way toward realizing the far richer communicative relations that contextualize writing in the workplace.” (235)

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).

Biesecker – Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Differance

Biesecker, Barbara A. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Differance.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 232-246. Print.

In this essay Barbara Biesecker challenged rhetoric theorists and critics to further destabilize Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation. While Richard Vatz inverted Bitzer’s hierarchy between the event and rhetor, but Biesecker questioned the potential for not “simply choosing sides” but using Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction and différance to upset the hierarchy altogether. Biesecker pointed out that deconstruction hadn’t been productively appropriated by critics working in Rhetoric. She, therefore, sought in her essay to do a reading of the rhetorical situation from within the frame of deconstructive practice in order to the possibilities  for useful analysis of rhetorical events. One example of the limitations of prior considerations of rhetorical consideration she gave is that rhetoric was seen as only having the power to influence, but not to form new identities (111).

After taking up taking up text as a constituent element of the rhetorical situation and fleshing out how Derrida’s différance as demonstrated in his essay “Glas” could be used to better understand how meaning can be made in rhetorical discourse, she then focused on “audience” as a constituent element of the rhetorical situation.

“It is in the middle or the suspense of the two previously unjoined texts that meaning can be said to have been made. In fact we might go so far as to suggest that the blithe proposition in Glas is: everything deliberately and unavoidably happens in its crease, in its fold. It is in the structural space between the Hegel column and the Genet column that Derrida’s text would play out its ‘meanings’.”

Biesecker’s application of différance can be understood in comparison to Bitzer and Vatz’s understanding of where meaning is situated in the rhetorical situation. For Bitzer, meaning is intrisic to the event and for Vatz meaning is derived from the creative act of the rhetor. Using Derrida, Biesecker argued that meaning is found in “the fold” or the differencing zone (119): “Derridean deconstruction begins by considering thè way in which all texts are inhabited by an internally divided non-originary ‘origin’ called différance” (120).

Biesecker asserted that use of this framework would lead to a deconstructive displacement of questions of origin to questions of process. In turn, this would free rhetoric theorists and critics from reading rhetoric discourses and their ‘founding principles’ (either seen as “the event” by Bitzer or the “rhetor” by Vatz ) as either the determined outcome of an objectively identifiable and discrete situation (Bitzer) or an interpreting and intending subject (Vatz) (121). “That is to say,” Bieseckers wrote, “neither the text’s immediate rhetorical situation nor its author can be taken as simple origin or generative agent since both are underwritten by a séries of historically produced displacements” (121).

This framework also challenged rhetoric’s understanding/ treatment of the subject and audience.  Biesecker argued that most scholarship, including Bitzer’s on the rhetorical situation included “audience” as a constituent element; however it is simply “named” it and not complicated it. According to Biesecker, the “subject” or “audience” had been discussed as a stable, rational, human being.

But once deconstructed, Biesecker explained that the identity of the subject then was/ is not stable, but deffered. It is deffered by “… virtue of the very principle of différence which holds that an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element in an economy of traces” (125).

Biesecker presented implications for both the rhetorical situation and rhetoric as a field based on this treatment of “audience.”

For the rhetorical situation:

“From within the thematic of différance we would see the rhetorical situation neither as an event that merely induces audiences to act one way or another nor as an incident that, in representing the interests of a particular collectivity, merely wrestles the probable within the realm of the actualizable. Rather, we would see the rhetorical situation as an event that makes possible the production of identities and social relations. That is to say, if rhetorical events are analysed from within the  thematic of différance, it becomes possible to read discursive practices neither as rhetorics directed to preconstituted and known audiences nor as rhetorics “in search of” objectively identifiable  but yet undiscovered audiences.” (126)

For the field of Rhetoric:

“Simply put, the deconstruction of the subject opens up possibilities for the field of Rhetoric by enabling us to read the rhetorical situation as an event structured not by a logic of influence but by a logic of articulation. If the subject is shifting and unstable (constituted in and by the play of différance), then the rhetorical event may be seen as an incident that produces and reproduces the identities of subjects and constructs and reconstructs linkages between them.” (126)

Biesecker argued that the radical potential in this approach to work against essentializing and universalizing claims presented “one possible way to reivigorate the field, not as the first step towards renunciation of it” (127). Biesecker advocated not using deconstruction as a means to get to a singular “truth”, as Bitzer positioned his theory to do, but as a tool to produce more possibilites of rhetoric.

Vatz – The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 226-231. Print.

In this follow -up and critique of Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation, it is clear that Richard Vatz also wants to see rhetoric recognized and valued as a discipline, but for different reasons and through different means. For example, Vatz concluded that “It is only when the meaning is seen as the result of a creative act and not a discovery, that rhetoric will be  perceived as the supreme discipline it deserves to be ” (161). Vatz argued that the notion that a single rhetorical situation can be found in a given event is a myth. He continued to go against Bitzer’s (1974) theory of rhetorical situation which relied on the understanding that the situation or event itself contained meaning and called the rhetorical discourse into existence.

Vatz main critique of Bitzer’s theory is that it reflected a Platonic worldview that not only assumed a “clear” meaning and exigence, but also a “clear” and “positive” modification that should be taken in a rhetorical situation. Vatz used Burke and sociologist Herbert Blumer to demonstrate the subjectivity in all rhetorical situations. Contending that the  world  was not  a  plot  of  discrete  events, he wrote, “the world is a scene of inexhaustible events which all compete to impinge on what Kenneth Burke calls  our ‘sliver of reality'” (156). In any given situation, according to Vatz, a rhetor must take two steps to communicate: 1) choose what facts or events are relevant and 2) translate the chosen material to make it meaningful (157). That being so, Vatz argued that “[n]o theory of the relationship between situations and rhetoric can neglect to take account of the initial  linguistic depiction of the situation” (157).

Vatz further distinguished his theory from Bitzer’s and explicated what the implications for rhetoric are:

“I would not say “rhetoric is situational,” but situations are rhetorical;  not “…exigence strongly invites utterance,” but utterance strongly invites exigence; not “the situation controls the rhetorical response…”  but the rhetoric controls the  situational response; not “…rhetorical discourse…does obtain its character-as-rhetorical from the situation which  generates it,” but situations obtain their character from the rhetoric which surrounds them or creates them.” (159)

Vatz contended that this distinction in the treatment of meaning and rhetoric would determine whether rhetoric was perceived as “parasitic” in relation to disciplines, such as philosophy and the sciences which make and/ or discover meaning, or thrived at the top of the disciplinary hierarchy as the creator of meaning.

Bitzer – The Rhetorical Situation

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 217-225. Print.

In this foundational text, Lloyd Bitzer made the case that rhetorical stuation had not been adequately attended to by theorists, including Aristotle. Bitzer asserted that prior theorists have focused on the method of the orator to address the rhetorical situation, or ignored it completely. He then unfolded his theory of situation. He stated that this essay, originally given as a lecture at Cornell University in November 1966, should be understood as an attempt to 1) revive the notion of rhetorical situation, 2) provide an adequate conception of it, and 3) establish it “as a controlling and fundamental concern of rhetorical theory” (3). Bitzer concluded by drawing comparisons between the role of science in an imperfect world and the need for rhetoric in an imperfect world. He provided the exigence for his own theorization and argument regarding rhetorical situation and argued for the importance  and relevance of rhetoric as a discipline beyond the understanding that it is merely the art of persuasion, which he asserted was necessary to warrant justification as a practical discipline:

…rhetoric as a discipline is justified philosophically insofar as it provides principles, concepts, and procedures by which we effect valuable changes in reality. Thus rhetoric is distinguished from the mere craft of persuasion which, although it is a legitimate object of scientific investigation, lacks philosophical warrant as a practical discipline. (14)

Bitzer distingushes rhetorical situation from context:

Let us regard rhetorical situation as a natural context of persons, events, objects, relations, and an exigence which strongly invites utterance; this invited utterance participates naturally in the situation, is in many instances necessary to the completion of situational activity, and by means of its participa-tion with situation obtains its meaning and its rhetorical character. (5)

Bitzer contended that rhetorical situation should be given priority because of the strong role of plays in a wide range of rhetorical discourse:

So controlling is situation that we should consider it the very’ ground of rhetorical activity’, whether that activity is primitive and productive of a simple utterance or artistic and productive of the Gettysburg Address. (5)

Prior to the creation and presentation of discourse, Bitzer said there are three constituents of rhetorical situation: exigence (an imperfection marked by urgency, an obstacle, something waiting to be done); audience (persons capable of being influenced – even one’s self); and constraints.

Bitzer also outlined six features of rhetorical situations:

  1. Are called into existence by a situation/ invitation (9)
  2. Invite a response that fits the situation (10)
  3. Dictate the purpose, theme, matter, and style of the response.
  4. Are derived from “real” situations and exigencies, not “sophistic” ones (11)
  5. Exhibit structures which are simple or complex, and more or less organized (11)
  6. Come into existence, then either “mature or decay or mature and persist — conceivably some persist indefinitely” (12)