Keith on Rhetorical Situations

To be honest I was a little apprehensive about this piece because the title “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents” didn’t really speak to me, but I was actually quite interested while I was reading Keith’s piece. I had never really considered what a rhetorical situation was and it was surprising to learn it’s quite complicated and hard to define.

Some of the key ideas of Keith’s article are:

– A situation consists of exigence, audience, and constraints. Exigence is the goal that someone tries to achieve through discourse. Audience is those who help accomplish the exigence. Constraints are the things (people, events, objects, relations) that can restrict decision and action needed to change the exigence. (as defined by Bitzer) This point was particularly interesting to me because I never really considered constraints before in my writing. I saw words as the only constraint on my ability to accomplish my writing goal, that the success of my piece only depends on how I present my ideas and how receptive the audience is to my ideas. Even more interesting was the idea that constraints can be positive and that they can “harness the audience to take on the desired action/point of view.” Constraint naturally has a negative connotation, but it may actually be helpful in creating focus and influence; I’m interesting in learning how to do this effectively.

– Keith believes a fourth constituent should be considered. Rhetors are as important for a rhetorical situation as the audience is and there may be more than one of either/both. I agree that the audience is not the sole decider of success. The creators have a lot of control over how exigence is resolved. I thought it was particularly interesting that he noted rhetors must be conscious of their identity in every situation, as it may vary, and that each rhetor may play several roles. These ideas remind me of Consigny’s analogy (mentioned earlier in the article) to carpentry, that rhetoric is both static and fluid. I have my basic roles in life as a daughter, friend, student, etc., but as I live my life and develop more relationships, my network grows and I definitely think that affects how I create and respond to rhetorical situations.

– There are many different kinds of audiences and many people offer definitions. The one idea that stood out to me was Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s that the writer can never be sure who their audiences are. We may know who our intended audiences are however we can’t be sure of other audiences that may influence the rhetorical situation or that intended audience would be receptive. Many factors influence how and what we think and as a result, our audience is never homogenous. I guess that’s a risk writers must take. I’m always afraid that my writing will be ineffective or misconstrued by my audience because I never know how readers will respond; for example, I don’t know what my classmates will think of this blog post. Will you guys agree? Disagree? Were you even intrigued enough by my ideas to reach the end? It’s hard to tell.

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