Vatz, Richard "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation

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Richard Vatz’s article, “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation” was written as a reaction to Lloyd Bitzer’s article “The Rhetorical Situation.” Bitzer claimed that situations are made up of characteristics that influence how rhetoric plays into it. Vatz argues that there is no absolute truth with surrounding characteristics about an event or situation; situations are created by the communication about them. In other words, people perceive situations idiosyncratically and communicate them uniquely, so the audience is given the rhetor’s truth not an absolute one.


This is a reactionary piece written by Vatz in response to Lloyd Bitzer's article "The Rhetorical Situation". Bitzer stated that a rhetorical situation is the collection of exigence, audience, and constraints. Vatz believes that Bitzer’s claim of exigence being a situation where a positive outcome is possible is not applicable to rhetoric’s role in society. There are items that cannot be categorized into having positive and negative. Vatz claims that situations are not defined by objective facts and events, but that facts and events are chosen by the rhetor. The rhetor decides the facts and aspects he or she will give significance to and determines how to communicate that significance. Meaning is objective and universal. It is created by the person that gives exigence to it.

Vatz’s theory places more importance on values and morals. The rhetor has a greater obligation of acting morally when bringing salience situations through rhetoric. Vatz uses examples of the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis to illustrate how rhetorical choices created political and military situations. His argument implies that had Kennedy not declared a crisis with Cuba, there would have been no crisis.

Possible Implications

Glossary Terms


Related Links

Bitzer's and Vatz's Rhetorical Situation

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