Sunday, November 6, 2011

Agency and Exigency

I am intrigued by the concept of “exigency” in Miller’s “Genre as Social Action.” Miller borrows this concept from Bitzer, but she understands the concept quite differently from Bitzer. Miller defines exigency as “a form of social knowledge – a mutual constructing of objects, events, interests, and purposes that not only links them but also makes them what they are: an objectified social need” (157). It provides for the rhetor a sense of rhetorical purpose, but is separate from intention. Miller also notes that “Exigence provides the rhetor with a socially recognizable way to make his or her intentions known” (158). To me, this sounds a lot like Campbell’s definition of agency. Both speak to a way for a person to communicate something that will be recognized by a community. This causes me to question, are exigency and agency related concepts? How do these concepts work differently in texts?

Miller also states “It provides an occasion, and thus a form, for making public our private version of things” (158). Here, I think, agency and exigency clearly depart from each other. Agency as I understand it is the capacity to act – not the occasion or the form. Perhaps agency enables us to recognize exigency and act on it. Exigence is that something needs to be done/said/written, and agency is the capacity to be able to do such a thing. If I have agency, I may or may not act, but a situation demonstrating exigency might propel me towards action. However, Miller states that exigency is not a cause of rhetorical action. Rather, it is a social motive (158). Miller states, “[Exigency] is an understanding of social need in which I know how to take an interest, in which one can intend to participate” (158). This statement makes me think that agency precedes exigency. If one doesn’t have the capacity to act or write in a certain community, it would make acting on exigency very difficult. Perhaps it is possible to recognize that a situation has exigency.

Recurrent situations produce social exigencies (159). Recurrent situations also give rise to genres. I am wondering, then, if genre is an expression of social exigencies. How might this change the way we read genres, if indeed they are expressions of social exigencies, especially if genres have agency?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you in your claim that exigency and agency are different, yet related concepts. Even more impressive, however, is your distinction between exigency, agency and intention. While all three are tied together in certain genres, it is indeed important to distinguish between them and their functions. I would like to focus on the societal and rhetorical purposes of exigency to differentiate it from agency and intention. As you noted in your post, "exigence provides the rhetor a socially recognizable way to make his or her intentions known." Perhaps it is best for us to think of exigence as the act of recognizing the social situation, and then acting on it. Exigence is an act in which an individaul accepts the position of an agent, recognizing a rhetorical situation and then using it to express culturally accepted intentions. In Miller's essay, she breifly mentions the eulogy as a genre. While I discussed this briefly in my previous post, I think it helps us understand exigence, agency and intention. The rhetorical situation of death produces an instance in which our culture calls for action. The action of performing a eulogy serves a specific purpose, and prompts individuals to respond to the situation as such. The recognition of this social sitaution is exigence, in which the agent (or author) utilzes a genre to express socially accepted intentions regarding death. While exigence and agency seem to be the same, I agree with you in your claim that the tie to a social situation is neccesary for exigence, while agency and intention can operate without it.


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