Rhetorical stance

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"Rhetorical stance" is the position of a speaker or writer in relation to audience, topic, and situational context. It encompasses the same elements as "rhetorical situation" - which involves an author, speaker and subject, but is a more active concept. One is simply "in" a situation where; the author, audience and subject merely exist. "Rhetorical Stance" involves taking a position, and effectively developing an argument in favor of that position, in order to persuade an audience.[1]


Wayne Booth described rhetoric as "the art of persuasion.” According to Booth, an effective author or speaker of rhetorical stance balances three essential elements within their rhetoric - Speaker, Argument and Audience. A speaker accomplishes this balance by using proper voice that implies character, as well as explicitly stating all pertinent arguments about the subject matter, and by taking into account the audience's distinct characteristics and personality traits.[2]

Aristotle established the classic triad of ethos, pathos and logos that serves as the foundation of the rhetorical triangle.[3] The rhetorical triangle has evolved from its original sophistic model into what rhetorician Sharon Crowley describes as the "postmodern" rhetorical triangle.[4] The expanded rhetorical triangle now emphasizes context by integrating situational elements. It also embodies aspects such as, "movement, flexibility, contingency, and difference." The evolution of the rhetorical triangle has made speakers responsible for navigating increasingly complex rhetorical situations. The modern speaker identifies contextual relationships with their target audience in order to deliver a specific message with great effect.


Authors position themselves in relation to their audience based on the relevant interrelational contextual elements that affect the communication situation. Brian Street and Stephen Levinson are examples of scholars that came up with their own respective definitions of context. Brian Street argues for a broad definition of “context” to include “conceptual systems, political structures, economic processes, and so on, rather than simply a ‘network’ or ‘interaction’”.[5] With this broad definition, he counters Stephen Levinson’s narrower definition, which limits relevant contextual elements to immediate and observable events. When the author or speaker has an understanding of the contextual situation, they can build credibility with their audience. Successful authors experience the building of credibility by having awareness of the relevant contextual circumstances that influence the delivery of the message, along with knowledge of the subject and clear perception of purpose.

Digital Literacy/Digital Contexts[edit]

Traditionally, scholars have concentrated on verbal texts, oral and written, but newer rhetoric scholarship also looks at digital literacy. Jeff Rice argues for a new rhetorical paradigm not only to counter anachronistic conventions for print media, but also to embrace communication technology.[6]
Clay Shirky[7] sheds some light on how communicators use social technology to create and distribute their messages,[8] and he describes how new media contexts, such as the passionate affinity spaces described by J.P. Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes,[9] can help create and connect communities.

The Rhetorical Triangle and the Rhetorical Tetrahedron[edit]

The "rhetorical triangle", a diagram that explains the elements of rhetoric, has evolved into the "rhetorical tetrahedron." The original triangle includes 3 points- the writer, audience, and message. The "writer" section represents the author and any aspects that influence their work. The "audience" is who the author will be putting the point across to. Lastly, the "message" represents what the author writes, such as the claims and information. Each of these three points affect one another. The rhetorical tetrahedron, on the other hand, carries these three points, along with adding context to the picture. Context is included by incorporating medium, design, and genre to the triangle. It is essentially the "how" of the three original pieces. Without these aspects, rhetorical stance is hard to obtain. Alongside the content of the message, the design or medium of something is extremely significant. One can use the rhetorical tetrahedron in analyzing the rhetorical stance of a situation by considering the message of the work, the author, the intended audience, why the medium and genre were chosen, and how it was designed.[10]


Experienced rhetors, according to Aristotle as well as 20th-century rhetoricians such as Golden, Berquist, and Coleman, begin their process of adopting rhetorical stance with an analysis of the audience. Professional authors and speakers utilize their knowledge of the subject and establish credibility to help influence how well their message is received. Scottish Enlightenment rhetorician, George Campbell touches on this matter by explaining how one can gain power over and appeal to their audience by applying argumentative and emotional tones.[11] Aristotle emphasizes the consideration of human nature and emotion in order to achieve a successful understanding of one’s audience and the establishment of the relationship necessary for achieving persuasion.[12] The author creates this impression by demonstrating an understanding of the audience’s needs and by “substantiating”,[13] according to Kenneth Burke, intellectual and empathetic relationships between oneself and the audience. Following Aristotle’s theory, Cicero explains that by adapting to the emotion’s of the audience, one can be successful in gaining their respect and attention.[14] Plato’s “noble aims”[15] of rhetoric require the author to strive for a moral elevation of both author and audience.


Most scholars agree that the persona, audience, and context of a rhetorical piece are all interrelated. It is also accepted by rhetorical scholars that the use of these concepts can help an author to determine which arguments and rhetorical tropes are appropriate to use in the piece that they are composing. According to James Golden, Berquist Goodwin, and William Coleman, authors and speakers can use only the arguments and communication skills available to them to convey their purpose.[1] Aristotle argues that the arguments available for any given topic are specific to that particular rhetorical situation.[12] Lloyd Bitzer contends that the availability of arguments depends on the relationships between author, audience, context, and purpose.[16] For example, some communicators may decide to include or exclude certain points from their argument or will adjust their tone in relation to which audience they may be addressing. Many scholars agree that the utilization of rhetorical stance can help to better the argument presented, leading to a better rhetorical piece.

In Academic Communities[edit]

In academia, several courses offered at institutions incorporate rhetorical stance. Speech and English departments, especially, have implemented this tactic in their educational plans. In speech classes, rhetorical stance is used when the speaker, the student presenting, is addressing the audience, his/her classmates. According to Ross Winterowd, speakers and authors adjust their rhetorical stance to accommodate a particular audience. When the speaker is talking, they alter their rhetorical stance and use various techniques for different audiences based on the particular situation.[17] There are several ways that a speaker or writer can make their audience feel a connection or relation to them. Speakers use anchorage and relay to appeal to their audience. Anchorage uses images to assist the speaker/author get specific points across, while relay uses moving images, such as videos, comic strips, etc. to do the same. A particular pronoun can make the audience feel either included or excluded. If the author says, for example, “All of us Europeans are well traveled,” it implies that all of “us” Europeans agree with the fact that "we" are well traveled. However, if a non-European reads this or listens to it in a speech, they will not feel a connection to the speaker or author, making them feel very antagonistic.[18]

In Non-academic Communities[edit]

An author or speaker takes a rhetorical stance in all communications, not only public address, formal argument, or academic essays. Although one finds the bulk of the discussion on rhetorical stance in academia, myriad “other-than-academic communities,” such as business,[19] the law,[20] journalism/media,[21][22] religious institutions,[23] and politics,[24] utilize and discuss theories of rhetorical stance.

References and Further Reading[edit]

  1. ^ a b Golden, James L.; Goodwin F. Berquist; William E. Coleman (1978). The Rhetoric of Western Thought. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. p. 303. ISBN 0-8403-2916-4. 
  2. ^ Booth, Wayne C. (Oct 1963). "The Rhetorical Stance". College Composition and Communication. 14 (3): 139–145. 
  3. ^ Aristotle. Rhetoric. pp. Book 1. Chapter 3. 
  4. ^ Crowley, S (2006). Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0822959236. 
  5. ^ Street, Brian (2001). Cushman, Ellen, ed. "The New Literacy Studies". Literacy: A Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's: 430–442. 
  6. ^ Rice, Jeff. (2007) The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and the New Media. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
  7. ^ Shirky, Clay (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-311494-9. 
  8. ^ Computers and Writing
  9. ^ Gee, James Paul (2011). Language and Learning in the Digital Age. London & New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-60277-8. 
  10. ^ Morey, Sean (2014). The New Media Writer. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead Press. pp. Pg. 21–24. ISBN 978-1-59871-780-8. 
  11. ^ Campbell, George; Bitzer, Lloyd F. (1988). Landmarks in Rhetoric and Public Address: The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Book I: The Nature and Foundations of Eloquence. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780809314188. 
  12. ^ a b Aristotle. Rhetoric. pp. 1389a–1393a. 
  13. ^ Burke, Kenneth (1962). A Grammar of Motives and A Rhetoric of Motives. Cleveland: The World Publishing Co. 
  14. ^ Cicero. de Oratore. pp. 178–184. 
  15. ^ Plato. Phaedrus. pp. 246a–254e. 
  16. ^ Bitzer, Lloyd (Jan 1968). "The Rhetorical Situation". Philosophy and Rhetoric. 1 (1): 3. 
  17. ^ Winterowd, W. Ross (1981). The Contemporary Writer. San Diego, CA: Harcout. 
  18. ^ Lunsford, A; Connors, R (1999). The New St. Martin’s Handbook. Boston, Massachusetts: Marilyn Moller. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0312167448. 
  19. ^ Ghaziana, Amin and Marc J. Ventresca.(2005) "Keywords and Cultural Change: Frame Analysis of Business Model Public Talk, 1975-2000". Sociological Forum. 20(4): 523-59.
  20. ^ Phillips, Scott and Ryken Grattet. (2000) "Judicial Rhetoric, Meaning-Making, and the Institutionalization of Hate Crime Law". Law & Society Review 34(3): 567-606.
  21. ^ McLuhan, Marshall; Fiore, Quentin (1967). The Medium is the Massage. New York: Random House. pp. 1–157. ISBN 1584230703. 
  22. ^ Vinson, Jenna. "Covering national concerns about teenage pregnancy: A visual rhetorical analysis of images of pregnant and mothering women". Feminist Formations. 24 (2): 140–162 – via Fusion. 
  23. ^ Burke, Kenneth. (1970) "The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology". Berkeley: U of California Press.
  24. ^ Holihan, David B. (2004) "He's Stealing my Issues! Clinton's Crime Rhetoric and the Dynamics of Issue Ownership". Political Behavior. 26(2): 95-124.