Vatz: "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation"

Vatz, Richard E. "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation." Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol. 6, no. 3, 1973, pp. 154-161.

In response to Lloyd F. Bitzer's "The Rhetorical Situation," Richard E. Vatz offers a new perspective on the creation of meaning in the context of "the relationship between 'situations' and rhetoric" (154). Vatz sums up Bitzer's argument and problematizes it (155-156). Vatz claims that reality is subjective, mediated, and rhetorical in the sense that individuals choose what to discuss or give significance to, especially given the complexity of human experience, social institutions, and global conflict such as the Vietnam War (156-157).  For Vatz, the more important question is how individuals decide what is or is not meaningful (156). Moreover, he notes that discourse uses language, which "is always value-laden"--a point he makes to further his claim that "reality" is mediated and only understood only subjectively (157).

Vatz notes that those who accept the idea that reality is "objective" cannot question who constructs or defines the understanding of that reality by deciding what is "salient" (158). This has ethical consequences, as a rhetor "must assume responsibility for the salience has had created" (158).

In sum, Vatz flips Bitzer's argument entirely: "I would not say 'rhetoric is situational,' but situations are rhetorical; . . . situations obtain their character from the rhetoric which surrounds them or creates them" (159). He goes on to state that "rhetoric is a cause not an effect of meaning" (emphasis in original) (160).

Genre, RhetoricKatie Ancheta