Exigence is a rhetorical concept that can help writers and readers think about why texts exist. You can use the concept to analyze what others’ texts are responding to and to more effectively identify the reasons why you might produce your own. Understanding exigence can lead to a better sense of audience and purpose, as well: When you know why a text exists, you will often have a clearer sense of to whom it speaks and what it seeks to do.
The rhetorical concept of exigence, sometimes called exigency, is attributed to rhetorical scholar Lloyd Bitzer. In his essay, “The Rhetorical Situation,” he identifies exigence as an important part of any rhetorical situation. Bitzer writes, exigence is “an imperfection marked by urgency … a thing which is other than it should be.” It is the thing, the situation, the problem, the imperfection, that moves writers to respond through language and rhetoric. Bitzer claims there can be numerous exigencies necessitating response in any situation but there is always a controlling exigency—one that is stronger than the others (6–8).
- In contrast to Bitzer’s idea of exigence, which suggests writers and texts respond to exigence and that exigence is, perhaps, pre-existing to language and rhetoric, Richard Vatz argues that writers and texts create exigence for audiences (159). How might this perspective change the way you look at writing?
- Jimmie Killingsworth states that writers may be moved to write “by something another writer has said,” “by a discovery” of something, “by an event requiring interpretation and reflection,” or “by an attitude the author would like to change” (27). Of course, there are many more exigencies. The more detailed account of the exigencies influencing writing in any given situation the better.
- What has moved the writer to create the text?
- What is the writer, and the text, responding to?
- What was the perceived need for the text?
- What urgent problem, or issue, does this text try to solve or address?
- How does the writer, or text, construct exigence—something that prompts response—for the audience?
Exigence, entry in the Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms, by Richard Nordquist
Introduction to Exigence, a student-developed website with applications, by Taylor Brooks
Bitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1.1, 1968: 1-14.
Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Appeals in Modern Rhetoric: An Ordinary Language Approach. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 2005.
Vatz, Richard. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, 6.3, 1973: 154-161.