Rhetorical Situation

The context of a rhetorical act, made up (at a minimum) of a rhetor, an issue (or exigence), and an audience.

Put another way, a rhetorical situation occurs when a rhetor, an audience, a medium (such as a text or speech), and a context converge to create a rhetorical act, such as writing or speaking.

Agency: Rhetors are agents of change; a rhetorical act carries with it the burden of agency.

The Importance of Audience and Context

  • video time! (Let me preface this...)


  • 5-10 minute freewrite, based on the video.
    • Start by describing the discourse communities involved in it.
      • What conflicting norms are at play here?
      • What role does Smith's audience play in constructing meaning in this context?

Putting It Into Practice

  • Consider who would benefit most from your narrative and why context is significant to your telling of it.
  • Keep in mind the Murray article that you read. Why is it important to see things like Kev & Lou's news story as autobiographical?
  • In small groups, discuss the example genre that you brought (or have in mind) and how different audiences might perceive it.
  • For the rest of our class time, we'll share examples that stood out to you most significantly.
  • As a writer, you've developed your discourse skills, i.e. literacy, throughout your life. These experiences may have been explicit forms of practice, like school essays or job-related forms and texts, but they may also have been implicit, like learning to use a computer or reading comic books for the first time. Any time you've negotiated a new situation for developing meaning through language, you've developed a particular literacy. Your challenge in the invention stage of your Literacy Autobiography is to determine which of these situations has been most significant to you.
  • List your literacy experiences, as many as you can think of, in ten minutes.
    • Do this on a blank piece of paper.
    • Try to think about your literacy in terms of the "languages" you speak:
      • All of you should have some literacy with academic writing
      • Most of you will have some kind of vocational literacy (even if you've never had a formal job, you've surely done work for your parents, neighbors, etc.)
      • Some of you will have specific hobby-related literacy (with games, sports, extracurricular activities, etc; just be careful that you are describing a writing literacy!)
  • Once you had time to put this list together, we'll get into groups of 5 and each of you will read your list to your group.
    • When one group member is reading their list, check off any literacy that you've got in common on your list.
    • On Friday, we'll discuss which forms of literacy are most valuable for including in this project.


  • Read Deborah Brandt's "Sponsors of Literacy" on pages 331-344 (or here)
  • Continue your list of literacies! You'll need to bring your list, as a complete page of ideas, on Friday (it counts as a homework grade!)