E19: re:blurb - The Rhetorical Situation

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you just had to say something -- where the words came to you so naturally, they almost felt like they were being dictated by your circumstances? Or, have you ever struggled over how to respond when people around you don’t quite see things the same way you do? In each of these instances, you might’ve been reckoning with a rhetorical situation.

In our latest re:blurb mini-episode, Colleen, Calvin, Alex, and Caitlan break down this core concept from rhetorical scholarship. We begin by discussing Lloyd Bitzer’s original framework, in which he lays out the three key components of a rhetorical situation: exigence, audience, and constraints. Then, we chart the ways in which Richard Vatz’s rejoinder to Bitzer’s model challenges its assumptions about the origin point of meaning, introducing the idea that speakers and their rhetorics control how we understand situations, and not the other way around. Then, we discuss two attempts to reconcile the Bitzer-Vatz disjunct: Barbara Biesecker’s integration of Derrida’s concept of différance and Jenny Rice’s “rhetorical ecologies” framework, both of which are designed to further problematize our assumptions about rhetoric, language, and communicative responses to exigent circumstances.

Finally, we put the concepts we’ve discussed into practice through an analysis of three different responses to the recent attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand: from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Australian Senator Fraser Anning. We show how each of these public figures frame the situation facing New Zealand (and the world) differently. In the case of the latter two speakers, we examine how an “affective ecology” of white nationalist and Islamophobic sentiments emboldened them to circulate discourse purporting to mourn the loss of life in Muslim and immigrant communities while also blaming them for other problems -- including, absurdly, the attack itself.

Works & Concepts Cited in this Episode:

Biesecker, B. A. (1989). Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of 'Différance'. Philosophy & rhetoric, 22(2), 110-130.

Bitzer, L. F. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy & rhetoric, 1(1), 1-14.

Edbauer, J. [now Rice, J.] (2005). Unframing models of public distribution: From rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 35(4), 5-24.

Vatz, R. E. (1973). The myth of the rhetorical situation. Philosophy & rhetoric, 6(3), 154-161.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s initial statement on the Christchurch attack: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/15/one-of-new-zealands-darkest-days-jacinda-ardern-responds-to-christchurch-shooting

U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on the Christchurch attack (both his tweets and his press conference) can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/mar/15/christchurch-shooting-injuries-reported-as-police-respond-to-critical-incident-live?page=with:block-5c8c218fe4b016d23425cef2

Fraser Anning’s official statement on the Christchurch attack can be found here: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/new-zealand-mosque-shooting-outrage-as-farright-australian-senator-fraser-anning-links-massacre-to-a4092421.html

Transcript of this episode

Alex Helberg