Posted in Discussion Questions

Reading Discussion: Jenny Edbauer (Rice) “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies”

This rhetorical ecologies article is one of my favorites. It is foundational to how I think about, and do the work of being a professional writer. I think it has applications across industries, fields, and areas of study. Look for the moments in this article that are significant to you and the kind of work you want to do.

Jenny (Edbauer) Rice is a scholar in rhetoric who studies public rhetoric and communities. She currently teaches at University of Kentucky. Full disclosure: I am an unabashed fangirl.

In this  reading we will examine:

  1. How public rhetoric and public writing works ecologically—challenging the idea of sender-receiver- text, or audience-exigence- argument. We’ll trace her definition of rhetorical ecology and think about how she theorizes place and public rhetoric as a way to help us create more active working definitions of rhetoric.
  2. What it means to do the work of public rhetoric. This is often synonymous, or at least analogous to doing professional writing.

Some key words to think about here:

  • Rhetorical Situation
  • Rhetorical Ecology
  • Virality
  • Rhetoric (as a verb)

See if you can get a sense of what Dr. Rice means by “rhetorical Ecologies,” and how the “Keep AustinWeird” campaign works ecologically (rather than a series of discrete elements or interactions.)  Keep thinking about how the public work Dr. Rice is talking about here might help you better understand the work of professional writers, or the role public communication and public writing plays in your areas of interest.

Discussion questions:

I want you to write your own discussion questions! Practice for writing these posts, and writing your own discussion questions in the coming weeks.

Weekend homework: Before class on Monday, post one or two discussion questions you would like to explore as we talk about the Edbauer reading this week as a comment on this blog post. 



I am a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition and Purdue University. I currently teach first year composition. My research interests include threshold concepts in composition, invention strategies, service-learning, community engagement, and professional and technical writing.

27 thoughts on “Reading Discussion: Jenny Edbauer (Rice) “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies”

  1. How does rhetoric allow/create “life-as-network”… (10) Is there ever a time or place (kairos) where rhetoric is not part of everyday life?


  2. 1. The text suggests the use of the word “city” as a verb rather than a noun, proposing that rather than the city being a place to be, it is something to be apart of and do. Similarly, are there other terms that can be used similarly as verbs to describe the action of being apart of that something and contributing to its definition? For example maybe the term musician could begin to define the process of collaborating with others and creating new patterns of sound.

    2. Can a rhetoric situation be something that is experienced equally by multiple individuals? Referring to the previous question, if multiple people go to city in Indianapolis, are they each experiencing that situation similarly? is there overlap in these experiences or are they entirely different?

    3. It was discussed in the document that human interaction, history, and geographical location can all contribute to the rhetoric scene, but is it possible for concepts such as scent, touch, temperature, culture, or sound could contribute to the rhetoric situation? If so, can they function on their own as a contribution to the scene, or only in unison with other contributors?


    1. In response to question 3, I think that all the things you listed perfectly fit in to a rhetorical situation. They all are a part of that scene. Now, I’m not really sure if they can function on their own as a rhetorical situation, at least not all of them. I don’t think just “heat” can be its own rhetorical situation, but I think culture definitely can be. I think the sense play a roll in rhetorical situations, but I don’t think they can stand alone.


    2. 3. In my opinion, attributes such as touch, scent, temperature, culture, sound, etc. are absolutely able to contribute to the rhetoric situation. Culture, particularly, may exert much influence over the creation, presentation, and perception of a rhetoric situation. For example, if a United States diplomat is in another country and must deliver a speech, his or her rhetoric should be privy to and/or include cultural conventions of the country in question (a sort of cultural consciousness). This will shape how he or she structures the presentation as well as how it is perceived. Although this may be rather ambiguous to suppose, I am of the opinion that most any factor may contribute to the rhetoric situation. As to the latter question, I agree with Jenny EdBauer’s proposition of a sort of network or ecology, as opposed to an “elemental conglomeration.” Thus, all contributors work in unison with other contributors.


  3. Rice discusses the importance of ‘sites’ and rhetoric and how they interact. How has rhetoric shaped the tropes of place for creating? What makes the hipster coffee shop the place to go study and write? Where does this rhetoric come from?


    1. I think since reading this article, I’m not thinking about audience the traditional sense anymore. An audience is not necessarily a group of people that you cater a particular speech or advertisement to. Rather, your audience can just be the people you meet on the city streets who each come with their own story. Audience can be a single person rather than a group.


  4. In this reading Edbauer discusses the “Keep Austin Weird” phenomenon and how although it was originally created to resist large companies and enforce small business it was later used by AT&T which, obviously, is a huge corporation. Can you think of any other instances like this? Was AT&T’s involvement what caused the originators of “Keep Austin Weird” to alter their own slogans? Is there a way to keep slogans like this out of large corporations hands to twist and take advantage of?

    Schindler’s photoblog is a great example of how we all sum up our experiences, small pieces of sometimes highly unrelated material added together to create assumptions and opinions. How do we use this to our advantage in professional writing?

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  5. Edbauer’s paper seems to expand the definition of rhetoric with the examples it uses, to being written down and received this way, rather than just spoken. This did not seem to be the case in Bitzer. What were your reactions to this? Do you feel it added to the case the paper was making? Did it improve your understanding of rhetoric?


  6. 1. How do the differences between Jenny Edbauer’s article on rhetoric and Lloyd Bitzer’s thoughts on rhetoric come into play with the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign?

    2. Jenny talks the sender-receiver model of public communication and how it develops a paradox in which the way of communicating seems to be very disorganized when usually it would require pre-existing forms of circulation in order to function. How is this seen in the “Keep Austin Weird” story?


  7. In Jenny EdBauer’s “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies”EdBauer challenges the notion of “elemental conglomerations” in which rhetoric is an entity made up of autonomous, unchanging components. EdBauer looks at rhetoric through “a framework of affective ecologies” (9). What is your perspective of this? Do you perceive rhetoric to be as interconnected as EdBauer postulates? Or do you feel Bitzer better encapsulates understanding of rhetoric?


    1. My perception of EdBauer’s case is that she is correct. Rhetoric works on multiple levels. For example, the “Keep Austin Weird” social movement affected multiple audiences in different ways. The author clearly displays how not every rhetorical situation has a one-to-one ratio. I also think that she explored how one’s past changes how they react. There is probably a personal reason that only one big box store started using this slogan. Perhaps its owner saw this and considered the benefits of working with small business from past experiences. I suppose we’ll never know for sure. In any case, I believe that rhetoric is more of a conglomeration than a liner idea.


  8. How have you witnessed the idea of situation being a network rather than a fixed sit in real life? Have you experienced this in different social situations? How does this idea change your thinking of rhetoric?


      1. Several examples come to mind when considering rhetoric as a network rather than a fixed situation. For example, the Women’s March this past Saturday was not based upon the location, physical attributes, or much of the situation itself; rather, it was the network of individuals involved that made up the rhetoric situation. Additionally, GroupMe is a wonderful example of a network being the rhetoric situation itself, rather than a fixed situation (GroupMe is not fixed to a location, particular experience. etc.).


    1. I definitely think we see the idea of situation being a network even more in this day and age. For example, the Women’s March in DC expanded and networked out to the entire world, to the point where it got so big that in most cities it was no longer a march but a rally. A situation can be fixed but in cases such as the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign and the marches this past weekend, it circulates and encompasses more than one fixed location. In terms of this changing my thinking on rhetoric, I guess it becomes to me less response to situation but rather a collective discussion that can come from all different places and multiple situations. It becomes fluid rather than static.


  9. Jenny talks about rhetoric in a sense of conglomeration- series of events that have exigence together. Do you think this rhetoric situation is positive or negative? Why did you choose that?


    1. The rhetorical situation is naturally positive but when used in certain cases produce negative results. I think that when you examine most conglomerations within the topic rhetoric you would find that they are usually a natural response to an issue or unknown part of our world. Rhetoric is entirely a social concept, it stems from each and everyone of us wanting to share our experiences and our thoughts with one another and thus influencing the thought process of others and ourselves along the way. It is natural to be social, it is not natural however for someone to use rhetoric in order to influence others without consensus. A broader example would be governments run by dictators and how media is controlled and used against the people to influence their thoughts and will. This of course is a negative example, this example also is not natural. The “Keep Austin Weird” campaign is a great example of how natural conglomeration of people and ideas and form a movement within a larger conglomeration and make a change for the better.


  10. After going back through Edbauer’s article, I had a question on Jenny’s shift from rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies that I’m not sure I collected due to my own interpretation from the reading or not. Regardless. Can we still use Bitzer’s model of rhetorical situation in this day and age? Or rhetorical ecology more prevalent to society? Do the two go hand in hand or do they address ideas differently?


    1. I think it is definitely possible to use Bitzer’s model in today’s day and age. In the same way, we can also use Edbauer’s model. It all depends on the context of the situation and the different constraints and exigences we are looking at. An ecological model, the model that Edbauer presents in her article, argues that writing is more than sitting at a computer and writing or standing behind a podium and speaking to an audience. Rather, rhetoric is a process, and is distributed across a broad range of different elements. She explains this through the Austin, Texas trend of “Keep Austin Weird.” It started small, but took on different shape as it caught on with more people and rhetoric grew. There are many other examples of this type of rhetoric, such as the “Keep Indy Indie” movement in Indianapolis, or even something bigger like the Black Lives Matter movement. In today’s culture, it seems that we are more aware of the ecological rhetoric because it is so prominent.

      We can still use Bitzer’s model today, though it may not be as noticeable to us. We use Bitzer’s model every time we make an argument with a friend, every time the President gives a speech, every time one writes something academic. Bitzer’s model is simply more traditional- and therefore, I don’t think we notice it as much. We are used to it. It’s what we’ve been learning since language in high school. Though old, it definitely still exists today.


    1. The comparison of rhetorical situation to a virus makes sense. A virus brings upon a change in the body, where the white blood cells will try to fight it off, eventually the host (us) get sick and that prompts us to take action – go to the doctor, take some meds – to do something. This is exactly what rhetoric is meant to do. A discussion is started, it starts small with a few people, then a community, and depending on the topic it can go statewide, nationwide, or worldwide. But no matter how big the discussion becomes action is prompted to happen.


    2. I think this is a very sensible comparison. Our world is ever changing and evolving, and rhetoric would follow the same pattern. Compare this to playing the telephone game, the message passed between people will change over time, in comparison, the way people share rhetoric changes based on opinion or new insight on a topic.


    3. The parallel drawn between rhetorical situation and a virus I think is fairly accurate one. Rhetorical situation is caused by the spreading of a certain rhetorical situation based on contact so the idea of virus does make sense. The only thing I don’t like about this metaphor is that viruses are obviously not initially caused by thought or ideas, I think a more accurate metaphor would be to compare rhetorical situation to a game of telephone. The perfect example of a rhetorical situation behaving like a game of telephone is in the example Edbauer gives on “Keep Austin Weird.” This phrase was initially started by a group of people who were trying to bring awareness to corporate interference and greed as a way to prove the importance of small business. Many other people and businesses heard the phrase and thought it fit their situation and so it spread quickly and eventually even lost it’s intended meaning. Much like a phrase in the game of telephone.


    4. In suggesting that the rhetorical situation is similar to a virus you would be suggesting that the rhetorical situation is contagious. The only problem with this comparison, however, is that no one experiences the same rhetorical situation, and so it is impossible to say that the rhetorical situation spreads like a virus. I would suggest that the concepts that contribute to the rhetorical situation are far more similar to a virus in that those concepts can easily influence the rhetorical situation that a range of individuals experience, and can easily spread from one individual to another.


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