One of Grant-Davie’s major critiques of Bitzer’s “Rhetorical Situation” in “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents” is that it is noticeably vague. He defines them as “persons, events, objects, and relations which are parts of the situation because they have the power to constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence” (8). He compares them to Aristotle’s “artistic” and “inartistic” proofs. Grant-Davie argues that this definition is limited and offers his own interpretation: “I refer to the kind that support a rhetor’s case as positive constraints, or assets, and those that might hinder it as negative constraints, or liabilities” (272) In addition, Grant-Davie believes that many positive constraints (artistic proofs in this case) exist within the rhetor. As such, he “excludes” the rhetor, banishing her from the Land of Constituents to her own private island of Rhetopia (my apologies to Booth for the plagiarism).
Though I believe Grant-Davie’s distinction between positive and negative constraints is a wise and necessary one, I disagree with the valuation of rhetor as its own constituent category. In Bitzer’s original depiction, I kind of enjoyed the fact that the rhetor seemed like an afterthought: “When the orator, invited by situation, enters it and creates and presents discourse, then both he and his speech are additional constituents” (8). To Ibtissem’s point about winning arguments, it seems to me that much of the misconception that rhetoric and the teaching of rhetoric is all about winning arguments stems from the fact that we place too much emphasis on the rhetor. From the Progymnasmata to Process Theory to many present day pedagogies, it seems the rhetor is foregrounded, and Grant-Davies does it again. While the rhetor is important, I think it’s important to idle a moment and think more about the other involved “constituents” involved in any given situation For example, see Foss and Griffin’s “Invitational Rhetoric”–a delightful piece of feminist rhetoric that never really gained any traction, which is a gol’ dern shame IMHO.
Q1: What about the “unimportant” conversations of daily life? Do those not exist in a rhetorical situation? Bitzer made me think they did. Grant-Davie made me think they did not.
Q2: How do we see rhetorical situations as related to Discourse Communities? I’m thinking specifically about Grant-Davie’s baseball game on 270.