In his 1969 academic thesis entitled The Rhetorical Situation, Professor Lloyd F. Bitzer examines the role that context plays in crafting effective discourse. This essay is an analysis of that thesis. Bitzer states that the rhetorical situation determines which rhetorical devices to use, the type of diction that is appropriate and the complexity of the discourse. He discusses the relationship between language and argument; language plays a primitive role, one that links human activity to the message. The essay ends by differentiating between rhetoric and the craft of persuasion.
Lloyd F. Bitzer’s The Rhetorical Situation brings to light an aspect of rhetorical discourse that is often overlooked, the situation that inspires the discourse, or as Bitzer calls it, the context of the discourse. He uses analogies to communicate his theme that context shapes effective arguments:
“A theorist of science might well ask, ‘What are the characteristics of situations which inspire scientific thought?’ A philosopher might ask, ‘What is the nature of the situation in which a philosopher "does philosophy"?’ And a theorist of poetry might ask, ‘How shall we describe the context in which poetry comes into existence?” (Bitzer 1)
The significance of the situation surrounding a rhetorical discourse is revealed when Bitzer mentions introduces some of the most influential rhetorical publications in history, all of which are crafted to complement a particular context. These include the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Winston Churchill’s Address on Dunkirk, and John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (Bitzer 2).
The essayist announces the focus of his thesis before the beginning of Section I.
“This essay…should be understood as an attempt to revive the notion of rhetorical situation, to provide at least the outline of an adequate conception of it, and to establish it as a controlling and fundamental concern of rhetorical theory” (Bitzer 3).
The essay is not an attempt to convey the relationship between speech and context. The author perceives this connection as an inherent part of the human condition. “Meaning-context is a general condition of human communication and is not synonymous with rhetorical situation” (Bitzer 3).