Reading Notes: Swift Ed Lessor
Key terms and Concepts
Swift discusses exigence, constraints and audience in a very pragmatic manner here. These crucial concepts from Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation” are often difficult for students to grasp, so it is nice to offer them a grounded example of this type of analysis. I think that Swift does a strong job of demonstrating that the Planned Parenthood T-Shirt is an appropriate response to a rhetorical situation. Particularly useful is her discussion of exigence—she demonstrates that the exigence for the writing is a compound one that responds to an upcoming national march by women, a recent ruling on partial-birth abortion, and an upcoming national election that will result in the appointment of several Supreme Court judges. She also demonstrates the cyclical nature of this type of exigence—the issue is bound to heat up whenever the potential for appointing new Supreme Court justices arises. Swift also does a nice job demonstrating the complexity of the speaker here—the actual writer of the text will tend to be displaced by the wearer of the T-Shirt. Even though it would be highly unlikely for the wearer of the T-shirt to be the actual writer of the claim, they are automatically associated with each other due to the nature of the message. Swift also discusses the constraints built into this rhetorical situation. You will be expected to defend your position if you wear this shirt. Would you wear it to church? To school? Would a sequined halter top version make sense? While these constraints can be viewed as limiting factors, they also serve positive functions for the wearer of the shirt. If you do choose to wear the T-shirt into certain public settings you are calling for a kind of dialog that could then be turned in a constructive way. The shirt also includes a web-address for further information—thus complicating the very simple message of the discourse.
I have to admit that I was a little concerned about teaching an essay with the title, “I had an Abortion: the Rhetorical Situation of a Planned Parenthood T-Shirt.” After having worked with this for several semesters, however, I can say that the focus of our discussion has always been so directed towards the strategy and context of the writing that the controversy over the hot button issue of abortion that I had expected has not arisen. I have not found discussion of the topic of abortion to lead to fruitful discussion in the past, but my students seem to be quite capable of taking the discussion on its own terms here. With that said, I should say that I teach this essay both as a practical demonstration of the potential for an analysis of the rhetorical situation as well as a limitation for understanding the rhetorical situation in analyzing an argument.
Swift outlines several implications to her analysis of the rhetorical situation here—she finds the T-Shirt to be an appropriate response according to the principles of the Rhetorical Situation as outlined by Bitzer, and suggests that this piece of rhetoric has set a precedent for further interventions within the issue. What she does not really get into here is an analysis of the merits of the actual argument. For me, this is a good example of the limitation of this approach as a form of actual analysis. Bitzer suggests that a great deal can be learned about a specific rhetorical act by analyzing the rhetorical situation out of which it arises, but this is the beginning of a process of analysis rather than an endpoint. We read this essay just before students begin to craft the Rhetorical Context section for their Unit I papers. This sets the bar fairly high for what can be accomplished in this section, while reminding students that critical response and evaluation will require much more analysis and support for their claims about a given essay.
Course Goals: This essay aligns well with several of the larger course goals for CO 300:
Extend knowledge of rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:
- Read and discuss theoretical texts from rhetoric, discourse studies, communication, and related disciplines
- Analyze texts reflecting disciplinary/professional/specialized discourse
- Reflect on the synthesis and communication of knowledge in alternate modes of composition
Extend mastery of argumentative conventions, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:
- Adapt genre, mode, and other compositional choices to meet audience and purpose
- Focus and sustain arguments in different modes using effective arrangement
- Select, evaluate, and integrate appropriate evidence for multiple genres, modes, and rhetorical situations
- Use audience appeals, including pathos, ethos, and logos
- Anticipate and address audience questions and objections
Extend the application of advanced rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:
- Adapt content and style to respond to the needs of specific audiences and rhetorical situations
The assignment: write a dialectic essay on the topic of your choice, it should be about 2 double-spaced typed pages (600 words maximum). Follow the structure and clearly label each section of your essay.
As far as you know, academic essays can be different. Being a student, your task is to understand the difference between all essay types clearly. So, when you are asked to write a dialectic essay, there are several nuances you should keep in mind.
Dialectic essay is a sort of argumentative dialogue or debate, where a writer should make a thesis and use different arguments and counterarguments to prove this thesis’ verity.
Why do you need it?
If your teacher gives an assignment to write a dialectic essay, it means he wants to check your ability to clarify your thoughts on some particular subject. Dialectic essays help you present a subject from different sides, taking into account all positive and negative aspects, and making a conclusion based on them.
Such a task is given to teach you see all arguments for and against some thesis, and it helps you explore a subject in depth. Thanks to dialectic essays, you will understand that even opposite points of view on your thesis have their merits too.
What is the structure of a dialectic essay?
The structure of dialectic essays reminds a basic 5-paragraph essay: it consists of an introduction, where you present your argumentative thesis, a body of 3 parts, and a conclusion. So, let’s take a look at each part of dialectic essay and try to explain how to organize it properly.
Introduction (a thesis itself)
An introduction of your dialectic essay should present a thesis itself. If your assignment is to choose a topic yourself, just try to come up with a thesis that has two possible interpretations at least. As far as you understand, you will have to present opposite arguments, that is why your topic should be controversial and debatable for your dialectic essay to become good written.
Do not make your introduction too long, and do not divide it into several paragraphs. The introduction of your dialectic essay takes just one paragraph to state a thesis itself.
The first paragraph of your essay’s body presents your single argument for the thesis. Give some reasons for the thesis, and try to make them quite obvious for a reader to agree with them. Do not forget about the fact, that this very paragraph should support the thesis by all means.
Here you should respond to the argument given in the previous section and provide an objection to it. Pay attention to the fact, that this objection should not show the thesis as a false, but rather a previous argument as a false. Give some reasons, why the argument for the thesis can’t be accepted as monopoly on the truth, making your essay a kind of debate where two people express opposite points of view on the same topic.
The third paragraph of your dialectic essay’s body should be a response to the objection. But do not give the same arguments you had in the very first paragraph! This section should be a response to the specific objection given in the second paragraph (as in a debate actually). You do not need to present a new argument for the thesis here: your task is criticizing section two.
As a rule, the only true argument of your debate is the one given in the first paragraph of a dialectic essay. Other two paragraphs serve to demonstrate the fact you understand the thesis in depth, and you see its all possible interpretations.
The purpose of conclusion is to support your original thesis or state a new thesis, a kind of your arguments and counterarguments’ combination. The point is, you should not change your initial thesis completely: it should be a kind of its modification supported by more ideas, but not its complete reversal.
Here is a sample of dialectic essay for you to understand its structure and nature better:
Three Opposing Viewpoints on Abortion
by Amy Geiger
So, what is the result?
After you’ve got an assignment to write a dialectic essay, your actions are the following:
- Choose a controversial and debatable topic, and set this thesis in the introduction of your essay.
- Think about all possible pros and cons of the thesis, organize all your ideas clearly to come up with both arguments and counterarguments.
- Provide 3 sections (paragraphs) of your essay, each of which will be a response to a previous one and will object it.
- Come up with a conclusion, that will support your thesis and your initial argument.
- Keep in mind the fact, that your counterarguments should not object the thesis itself, but arguments given in previous sections of your dialectic essay.