The rhetorical situation is any event in which a person relays a message or an idea, and the way that that message or idea is relayed. Rhetorical situations take many forms, which are known as the medium and design, including anything from text-messaging and speech-making to song- and paper-writing to art-making. The rhetorical situation is composed of many elements. Genre is the type of idea or message that is being relayed in the rhetorical situation, such as analysis or arguments. The intended audience of the rhetorical situation is the group of people who will be most affected by or interested in the idea or message–this can be a signifying feature of people, such as age, gender, or race, or a specific organization or group of people. The purpose of a rhetorical situation is what the writer hopes to accomplish with his message, and in many cases why he hopes to accomplish it. The stance is the opinion that the writer has about the rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation should be situated within a larger, worldly context. These elements are influenced by and influence each other. For instance, the intended audience will determine the medium and design that the writer chooses to present a rhetorical situation: to inform a friend about an upcoming party, a writer might send out a text message inviting the friend; to ask permission from his parents to use the car to go to the party, the same writer might prepare a short speech encouraging his parents that he is responsible enough to use the car. It is important for a writer to consider the elements of a rhetorical situation when he or she wishes to convey a message or an idea.
I use the rhetorical situation every day in my life. When I choose to call my parents instead of texting them or sending them an email, I am considering my intended audience and my purpose in order to determine my medium. When I write a paper for class, I observe the genre of writing in order to determine my tone of writing, as well as taking into account the fact that my intended audience is a teacher and not a friend. I frequently write notes to my roommates about what groceries are needed or whether I will be in town over the weekend: in these situations, I determine the length of my notes by the medium available (post-its require shorter, bulleted notes), and the tone of my notes by which roommate they are directed towards and my stance on the situation (perhaps I am sad that we are out of icecream or angry that someone left the front door unlocked). I often include my purpose for writing the note to situate my feelings in a larger context. When I need to have more important discussions with my roommates, I choose to have them face-to-face: this is a decision which considers the rhetorical situation because it involves a choice of medium and stance. The speech I make to begin the discussion will be directed at an intended audience and have a specific purpose. Often, the decisions I make, which are actually based off of the rhetorical situation, I make subconsciously. I have an innate knowledge that I will speak to my roommates in a certain way because they are my roommates.
On Dumpster Diving and Dumpster Dinners: An Ethnographic Study of Freeganism are two written works which take note of a similar phenomenon: repurposing garbage for use in everyday life, particularly for consumption. The authors of both works participate in dumpster diving, and therefore write from an “insiders” perspective. While Dumpster Dinners is an academic study on the “freegan” lifestyle and proudly purports that it is ethnographic, On Dumpster Diving is a work of creative nonfiction that makes no claims to a scientific basis–only personal experience. Lars Eiglmer, who wrote On Dumpster Diving in 1993, does not provide pictorial evidence of his forays, nor does he treat his dumpster diving as an act of exploration into a new realm, two things that Victoria C. More does in Dumpster Dinners. He also does not conduct or cite interviews or previous studies in the field of dumpster diving. Rather, Eiglmer writes about dumpster diving with poetic language, in an almost journalistic format as opposed to a studious one. This is consistent with Eiglmer’s methodology: he is not a student participating in a lifestyle for the purposes of an academic study–he is a homeless man who dumpster dives to feed, clothe, and otherwise protect himself. However, despite the difference in language and technique, On Dumpster Diving is still an ethnographic study, if a quite informal, broad one. Because he is an observative person, and because his survival depends on it, Eiglmer notices patterns in the habits of himself and those around him. His writing documents an ethnographic study on not only those who “scavenge” through dumpsters for the necessities of life, but on “can scavengers” who recycle for enough money to buy more drugs, as well as on the people who create the garbage in the first place (which includes many subgroups, such as students, homeowners, and restaurateurs).