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Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Discourse

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Denise is a communication student, a poet and a book lover. She enjoys watching documentaries and film.

Blitzer on Rhetorical Situation

Blitzer (1968) has pointed out on his essay that there is only a little attention given to discuss the definition of "rhetorical situation" as it is for most considered, not necessarily important in the discussion of "rhetorical discourse." He argues that instead of giving little attention to discuss the meaning and definition of "rhetorical situation," we must first consider it. This is because he wants to make it as "a controlling and fundamental concern of rhetorical theory" (Blitzer, 1968 p. 3).


" No major theorist has treated rhetorical situation thoroughly as a distinct subject in rhetorical theory: many ignore it." - Blitzer (1968), page 2



In his essay, Blitzer has elaborated that meaning-context is not synonymous to rhetorical situation. He continually argues that rhetorical discourse obtain its character as rhetorical from the situation which generates it.


According to Blitzer (1968), when someone says rhetoric is situational, it means:

(1) rhetorical discourse comes into existence as a response to situation, in the same sense that an answer comes into existence in response to a question, or a solution in response to a problem;

(2) a speech is given rhetorical significance by the situation, just as a unit of discourse is given significance as answer as solution by the question or problem;

(3) a rhetorical situation must exist as a necessary condition of rhetorical discourse, just as a question must exist as a necessary condition of an answer;

(4) many questions go unanswered and many problems remain unsolved; similarly, many rhetorical situations mature and decay without giving birth to rhetorical utterance;

(5) a situation is rhetorical insofar as it needs and invites discourse capable of participating with situation and thereby altering its reality;

(6) discourse is rhetorical insofar as it functions (or seeks to function) as a fitting response to a situation which needs and invites it.

(7) Finally, the situation controls the rhetorical response in the same sense that the question controls the answer and the problem controls the solution.

Three Constituents of a Rhetorical Situation

1. Exigence

In every rhetorical situation, there will be at least one controlling exigence which functions as the organizing principle; it specifies the audience to be addressed and the changed to be effected. Exigence in simpler terms is a problem addressed by rhetorical discourse; an imperfection, defect, obstacle, unaccomplished task, or something that is other than it should be. However, not all exigences can be considered rhetorical. If an exigence cannot be modified, it is not a rhetorical exigence (i.e death, weather, etc.). If an exigence on the other hand is capable of positive modification and when positive modification requires discourse or can be assisted by discourse, it is rhetorical.

Ex. "The pollution of the air is a rhetorical exigence because its positive modification --- reduction of pollution --- strongly invites the assistance of discourse producing public awareness, indignation, and action of the right kind." (Blitzer, 1968, p. 7)


2. Audience

It is the second aspect of a rhetorical situation. Rhetoric must always have an audience.It only consists of people who are capable of being influenced by discourse and of being mediators of change. Audience can be any audience from anything but rhetorical audience must be distinguished from a body of mere hearers or readers. Rhetorical audience must be capable of serving as mediator of the change which the discourse functions to produce.


3. Constraints

The last aspect of every rhetorical situation. It is made up of people, events, objects, and relations that have power to influence the decisions and actions of the audience in order to modify the exigence. When the orator enters the situation, his discourse not only utilizes constraints given by the situation but it also provides additional relevant and of value constraints. Constraints is classified into two:

  • those originated or managed by the speaker
  • other constraints arising out of the situation

In addition to that, Blitzer has shown the different sources of constraints. The following are;

  • beliefs
  • attitudes
  • documents
  • facts
  • traditions
  • images
  • interests
  • motives


"These three constituents --- exigence, audience, constraints --- comprise everything relevant in a rhetorical situation." - Blitzer, 1968, p. 8

Issues in our society today that entitle rhetorical discourse

1. Amazon Fire

Even though Brazil is miles away from the Philippines, the Amazon fire is an issue we, everyone in this planet is and will be immensely affected by the aftermath. I personally believe that this issue deserves rhetorical discourse so to prevent and stop the possible negative outcome and the worsening of climate change.

2. Red Tagging of Student Activists

I am not an activist but I support these people from doing what they are doing not because I am an anti-government person or a leftist. Actually, they are not anti-government as well, they are just supporters of truth, freedom and justice.

There is nothing wrong about participating a rally or so. It is just an exercise of our freedom of speech. These students or people are fighting for what the people deserve, what we deserve. To be clear, these people are not rebels or what they call in the Philippines as New People's Army (NPA). They are simply citizens of this nation who stand for truth and justice. How can we let other people understand them and not misunderstand? Let's put it in a discourse so people would in turn, realize the essence of these people in the society. This is a personal view and also an exercise of my freedom of speech.

Identifying Rhetorical Situation

Video 1: Storm Surge Hits Tacloban City

The first video is a news report from ABS-CBN's TV Patrol during the strike of typhoon Yolanda. It was a video taken from Umagang Kay Ganda's exclusive report made by Atom Araullo

Exigence/s: Typhoon Yolanda, storm surge

Audience: TV Patrol's night viewers or the public

Constraints: There was no signal and electricity in Tacloban City because of the typhoon which made it impossible to contact Atom Araullo and ask about the situation in the place.



Video 2: Film Director Speaks Out in a Rally

The second video is the speech of film director, Joel Lamangan with regards to the Martial law during Marcos regime and his opposition upon the burial of the former president in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Exigence/s: burial of former President Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani

Audience: participants of the said rally and possibly, viewers online

Constraints: The legal tortures and killings during Marcos regime under martial law.

Lamangan speaks about his experience/s during martial law.

He has also spoken about the idea that burial of the late president in

the Libingan ng mga Bayani should instead be in his terms, "Libingan

ng mga Taksil sa Bayan."


The first video's exigence (storm surge, typhoon Yolanda) is clearly cannot be modified because it is a natural phenomenon. In the definition above, exigence is not rhetorical if it cannot be modified. Since this video does not contain rhetorical exigence, we can immediately say that it does not contain rhetorical situation. On the other hand, the second video clearly contains rhetorical situation. They both have the three constituents of a rhetorical situation --- exigence, audience, constraints --- but not all of those are rhetorical.

Review Time

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which video do you think contains rhetorical situation?
    • Storm Surge Hits Tacloban City
    • Film Director Speaks Out in a Rally
  2. What is a rhetorical situation?
    • an imperfection, defect, obstacle, unaccomplished task, or something that is other than it should be
    • it calls the discourse into existence
    • consists only of those people who are capable of being influenced by discourse and of being mediators of change
    • the art of persuasion
  3. What are the three constituents or aspects of a rhetorical situation?
    • exigence, audience, constraints
    • exigence, audience, discourse
    • audience, news, constraints
    • none of the above
  4. The following are sources of constraints except:
    • attitudes
    • traditions
    • editing
    • beliefs
  5. Which is true about a rhetorical audience?
    • it is capable of doing a lot of things
    • he or she must be a good listener
    • he or she is responsible for bringing the discourse into existence
    • people who are capable of being influenced by discourse and of being mediators of change

Answer Key

  1. Film Director Speaks Out in a Rally
  2. it calls the discourse into existence
  3. exigence, audience, constraints
  4. editing
  5. people who are capable of being influenced by discourse and of being mediators of change

© 2019 Dens Yang