Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (Fall 2005): 5-24. Print.


In this article, Edbauer explores and critiques the limits of focusing on the rhetorical situation. Echoing the concerns of other writers like Barbara Biesecker and Louise Wetherbee Phelps, Edbauer argues that the model of the rhetorical situation, while useful for talking about rhetoric as contextual, is still limited because it treats rhetoric as a conglomeration of discrete elements like audience, constraints, exigence, rhetor, etc. Edbauer further argues that the model of the rhetorical situation focuses on rhetoric as “taking place” and that this place-based model treats rhetoric as being more static than active. Because she believes that the rhetorical situation can be a useful framework, Edbauer does not advocate that we do away with this model, but rather that we shift our thinking about the rhetorical situation to account for the ways rhetorics circulate and shift in meaning through various social networks. Edbauer thus advocates a shift in focus from a more static rhetorical situation to more varied, shifting, and evolving rhetorical ecologies. Edbauer believes that the model of rhetorical ecologies extends what is most useful about the rhetorical situation, while reminding us of the importance of both history and of the way rhetorics move through lived space and social networks and argues that “this ecological model allows us to more fully theorize rhetoric as a public(s) creation” (9). The framework of rhetorical ecologies encourages us to think about rhetoric as moving through “open networks” and reminds us that rhetoric is created (as Edbauer puts it, we “do” rhetoric) within publics that are continually shifting and evolving. This is important because it means that rhetoric does not enter a public fully formed and static, but is rather constructed through the influence of various factors within the social field and is similarly transformed by these changing factors. Rhetoric doesn’t exist outside of these open networks, but is produced, circulated, and transformed within them.


Edbauer demonstrates the way rhetorical ecologies open up new possibilities for analysis through her discussion of the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign. Edbauer explains that  the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan developed as a response to the influx of chain businesses in areas of Austin known for the prevalence of unique local establishments. Edbauer argues that the framework of rhetorical ecologies helps us better contextualize this campaign within the larger context of capitalism in the US and helps us understand the multiple, and sometimes contradictory ways, that the slogan has been taken up. In other words, rather than allowing us to see the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign as a singular moment of resistance against an influx of chain businesses, the framework of rhetorical ecologies allows us a deeper understanding of the rhetoric of the campaign by placing it within a larger historical and economic framework and by allowing us to trace the multiple shifts in meaning as the slogan is appropriated by different groups with different political and rhetorical aims. The example of the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign is also an excellent illustration of how often rhetorics circulate and shift, and a reminder of the importance of analytical frameworks that can account for these ongoing movements.


Key Quotes:

“[W]e find that networks involve a different kind of habitation in the social field. To say that we are connected is another way of saying that we are never outside the networked interconnection of forces, energies, rhetorics, moods, and experiences. In other words, our practical consciousness is never outside the prior and ongoing structures of feeling that shape the social field.” (10)

“Consequently, though the rhetorical situation models are undeniably helpful for thinking of rhetoric’s contextual character, they fall somewhat short when accounting for the amalgamations and transformations–the spread–of a given rhetoric within its wider ecology. Rather than replacing the rhetorical situation models that we have found so useful, however, an ecological augmentation adopts a view toward the processes and events that extend beyond the limited boundaries of elements.” (20)

“When we approach a rhetoric that does indeed engage with the living, hooking processes that are already in play, then we find ourselves theorizing rhetorical publicness. We find ourselves engaging a public rhetoric whose power is not circumscribed or delimited. We encounter rhetoric.” (23, emphasis in the original)