Kairos and the Rhetorical Situation

Rhetorical criticism views discourse as situated: occurring in a particular tome and place, responding to a particular exigence, by way of a particular mode, addressing an audience or public that participates in the message... This is to say that what a rhetorical message can be made to mean and how it operates is determinable or constrained by the elements of the rhetorical situation.


The general occasion and the surrounding conditions for the discourse. Conditions may include cultural, politicalo, economic, technological, ... conditions: those that are active in the particular artifact.

These conditions present opportunities and constraints for the rhetor.

Just as useful to our work in e-rhetoric is this aspect of kairos:

"immediate, moment-by-moment opportunities and constraints that can arise as the discourse itself progresses" (Longaker 10).

Consider, for instance, what occasions a move from one web page to another - what instigates that click - on a web site. Or consider what has happened to instigate an initial tweet, and then how that tweet modifies the situation to instigate a second from a reader. These are examples of the kairotic moment being modified.

Elements of the Rhetorical Situation

These are the elements to consider when considering the rhetorical situation. They are the elements you should seek to describe when describing the situation, and they are elements that can play into your analysis and interpretation of a rhetorical message. Not all will apply in every case, but you only discover which will and which won't by putting them through their paces.

As a starting point, describing these elements of the rhetorical situation will help you closely read the message for features that are instrumental to rhetorical criticism.

Complete knowledge of the rhetorical situation is impossible by rhetor, audience, and rhetorical critic. However, a sound description, analysis, and interpretation will take the active elements into account. They are the affordances and constraints of your work with the messages.

The Changing Rhetorical Situation

The rhetorical situation unfolds, changes, evolves, devolves ... as the addressee moves through the discourse. Some elements will change, others will not.

Exercise: SomeTechniquesForObserving where these elements are put to use. AspectsOfTheRhetoricalSituationExercise.

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