Constraints: Definition and Examples in Rhetoric

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In rhetoric, those factors that restrict the persuasive strategies or opportunities available to a speaker or writer. In "The Rhetorical Situation" (1968), Lloyd Bitzer notes that rhetorical constraints are "made up of persons, events, objects, and relations which are part of the [rhetorical] situation because they have the power to constrain decision or action." Sources of constraint include "beliefs, attitudes, documents, facts, tradition, image, interests, motives and the like."

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From the Latin, "constrict, constrain." Popularized in rhetorical studies by Lloyd Bitzer in "The Rhetorical Situation" (Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1968).

Examples and Observations:

"A rhetorical situation is the context a rhetor enters in order to shape an effective message that can resolve an exigence and reach an intended audience. A rhetorical situation creates a call for change (an exigence), but that change can be brought about only through the use of language, whether visual, written, or spoken text. For instance, by asking a question, your instructor creates a call for change in the classroom. The question just hangs there--until someone provides a fitting response. If the company you work for loses online business because its Web site is outdated, that problem can be resolved only through the appropriate use of text and visuals. Once the fitting response comes into being, the call for change ('I need an answer' or 'We need to update our Website') is either partially removed or disappears altogether; then it is satisfied." (Cheryl Glenn, The Harbrace Guide to Writing. Wadsworth, 2009)
"Working on different target audiences at different times, the activist group attempts to chip away at the various supports underlying its opponent's position. It makes a series of gradual and small moves [the tactic of incremental erosion] designed to maneuver opponents into a position where they have no more rhetorical options. This is done by establishing rhetorical exigencies--needs, conditions, or demands to which the opposition must respond--while simultaneously establishing rhetorical constraints that limit the strategies available for a response (Bitzer, 1968). The rhetorical exigencies might include the need to produce counter-rhetoric to forestall regulation or to defend challenged actions in public (e.g., by publicizing oil spills or automobile recalls). The rhetorical constraints might include legal or financial limitations on the channels the opponent could use or the language and claims available to be made (e.g., the Federal Trade Commission's regulation of the truth content of advertising)."
(Elizabeth L. Toth and Robert Lawrence Heath, Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations. Routledge, 1992)