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C o nc e p t 2 Writing Speaks to Situations through Recognizable Forms DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c002 2.0 Writing Speak s to Si tu ati o ns through Reco g ni zable F o rm s Charles Bazerman A fundamental problem in communication precedes the choosing of any words or shaping of any message: identifying the situation we are in and the nature of the communication we wish to make. Are salespeople offering us a deal and do we want to accept? Are our acquaintances amusing each other with jokes and are we amused? Are our trusted advisors asking us to reconsider our behaviors and do we resist? The situation frames our understanding of the communicative action of others and gives us the urgency and motive to respond because somehow we sense our words will satisfy our needs in the situation or otherwise make the situation better for us. In face-to-face life, this problem is solved through our recognizing the geographic locale we are in, the people we are talking to, our relationship to them, the events unfolding before us, and our impulses to do something. Through long practical experience we learn to recognize spontaneously what appears to be going on around us and how it affects us. Our impulses to act communicatively emerge as doable actions in the situation, in forms recognizable to others—we accept the offer, we laugh at the joke, we agree to change. Conscious thought is warranted only if we have reason to believe things are not as they appear to be, if confusions arise within the situation, or if we want to suppress our first impulse and pursue a less obvious strategic path—laughing to appear congenial though we find the joke offensive. Writing, as well, addresses social situations and audiences organized in social groups and does so through recognizable forms associated with those situations and social groups. But with writing we have fewer hereand -now clues about what the situation is, who our audiences are, and how we want to respond. Written messages can circulate from one material and social situation to another, and in fact are usually intended to. 36   Part 1 : Threshold Concepts of Writing A newspaper report about events in one city is read in another, even in another country, and further events have evolved between writing and reading. A poem written for a small circle of friends is read centuries later in a literature classroom. The technical concept of rhetorical situation brings together recognition of the specifics of the situation, the exigency the situation creates, and our perception that by communication we can make the situation better for ourselves (Bitzer 1968). Awareness of rhetorical situation is the beginning of reflection on how we perceive the situation, what more we can understand about it, how we can formulate our goals, and what strategies we may take in our utterances. It helps us put in focus what we can accomplish in a situation, how we can accomplish it, and what the stakes are. But this awareness also puts a reflective distance between our perception of the situation and our responses, which may disrupt spontaneous impulses and our sense of being in the moment. This disruption can thus can be troublesome and require a fundamental reorientation toward our experiences, which we may at first resist. Recognizing we are being accused of misdeeds may make us aware we need to answer but also aware that we must frame our words carefully so as to defend ourselves persuasively and so as not to lead to further trouble or accusations. With writing, the need for understanding the rhetorical situation is even greater than in speaking because there are fewer material clues with which to locate ourselves spontaneously. To engage in a disciplinary discussion in chemistry, we not only need to know the chemistry, we need to know how each text is entering into a debate or accumulating past findings or projecting future plans (see 2.3, “Writing Is a Way of Enacting Disciplinarity”). It is through genre that we recognize the kinds of messages a document may contain, the kind of situation it is part of and it might migrate to, the kinds of roles and relations of writers and readers, and the kinds of actions realized in the document (see 1.2, “Writing Addresses, Invokes, and/or Creates Audiences,” and 2.2, “Genres Are Enacted by Writers and Readers”). Genre recognition provides a necessary clue for locating and making...


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