WRD 104: Composition & Rhetoric II Rotating Header Image

Exigence, Audience, Constraints

In “How To Read Social Movement Rhetorics as Discursive Events,” Gerald Biesecker-Mast suggests three specific contexts that readers must take into account when studying social-movement rhetorics, which are helpful for our contextual analyses:


First, the critic must describe the specific historical exigence that makes possible a movement rhetoric, and how that exigence is constituted as an unacceptably desperate and unnecessarily existent need. The critic will seek to understand how this event or circumstance comes to exceed the logic whereby the status quo had previously been understood as acceptable. In so doing, the critic must be attentive to the constitutive hope that defines the future for the movement, the imagined state of affairs in which the exigence would be missing and the movement’s goal(s) accomplished. Considering that there may be numerous exigences that create identification with a movement, the critic should look for a “controlling exigence” that comes to function as a “nodal point” of a resistant discourse — as that central element that gives meaning to other subsidiary concerns. Since the hegemonic formation that constitutes the status quo will also be organized around a nodal point, the critic should give attention to rhetorical strategies used by the movement to dislocate the nodal point for the status quo.


Second, the rhetorical critic should show how a movement rhetoric constitutes its audience as an oppressed or threatened people that is established over and against an oppressing or threatening people or institution. To do so will require attention to the myths and narratives that provide the basis for continuity with a specific past. Such analysis should explain how these narratives are invoked and/or rewritten so as to vindicate the movement’s actions in the present and to invest the audience with a collective identity. Most importantly the critic will seek to understand the means whereby previously acceptable differences between the oppressor and the oppressed are subverted and turned into an unresolved antagonism that comes to constitute the basis of the audience’s identity or, conversely, how harmful social antagonisms (such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc) are disengaged for the sake of plurality and difference (and thus justice).


Thirdly, critics will attend to the specific conditions of possibility for the emergence of an articulating subject, a rhetor (or rhetors) capable of rhetorically rearranging the elements of a social discourse so as to produce a movement whose constituents are opposed to a specific aspect of the status quo. Among these constraints will be the availability to rhetor-leaders of educational and ideological resources for critique, useable traditions of socialization, and media outlets for message dissemination. Additionally, the critic will need to consider what specific forms of ethos can render legitimate a rhetor’s effective constitution in popular rhetoric of a movement-producing chain of equivalences or collection of differences.