Mere Rhetoric


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people, and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren, and this last week, I had the fantastic experience of meeting one of you. That's right, an actual listener in the actual flesh. Somebody who wasn't just one of my colleagues, or one of my friends, or my mom, who listens to this podcast. It was a really cool experience. And she was very nice and very enthusiastic, and I'm really grateful that I got the chance to meet her. But it made me think a little bit about who I think you guys are when I make these podcasts, how much I create who you are in my mind, and how much you respond to the way that I've created you.

This made me think of a really important article that came out back before I was born in May of 1984. The article is called "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy." And it was written by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford, who are kind of the dynamic duo of composition theory. They co-authored a lot of articles together, and kind of became synonymous with each other. 

In this groundbreaking article, they summarize a debate that's taking place at the time -- a debate with sort of two sides. On one side, audience is concrete and should be appeased. You think about the audience that is out there, and you respond to their own needs. On the other side is audience invoked: an audience that is invented -- that comes from the imagination of the writer. In describing the audience addressed, Ede and Lunsford sort of pull to this new movement -- this writing in the disciplines idea where in some ways the degree to which the audience is real or imagined and the ways it differs from the speaker's audience are generally either ignored or subordinated to a sense of the audience's powerfulness. Audience, in this situation, is everything. And writers should respond to the needs of the audience. 

This is the stuff that you will often get in a first year composition class, where you're asked to go read the newspaper that you want to publish in, you might go to a website like Wikipedia or Quantcast to find out information about who subscribes to that newspaper, and sort of do everything you can to respond to that audience that is sort of out there. In some ways, this is a great way. Especially to teach young college students who might have a hard time thinking outside of their own lives. But in another sense, this model puts more emphasis on the role of the audience than it does on the writer itself. As they say, one way to pinpoint the source of the imbalance in this formulation is to note that they emphasize the role of readers, but are wrong in failing to recognize the equally essential role that writers play throughout the composing process, not only as creators, but as readers of their own writing as well.

Instead, this perspective says in a typical writing in the disciplines way, "we defend only the right of audiences to set their own standards and we repudiate the ambitions of English departments to monopolize that standard-setting. If bureaucrats and scientists are happy with the way they write, then no one should interfere."

There's sort of a "you do you" theme going on here that, in some ways aeems a little unethical. Listen to this example that they give.

"The toothpaste ad that promises improved personality, for instance, knows too well how to address the audience."

But such ads, they say, “ignore ethical questions completely." After all, as they cite Burke, "we're in the art of discovering good reasons. There's an imbalance that has ethical consequences. For rhetoric has traditionally been concerned not only with the effectiveness of rhetoric, but been concerned also with truthfulness."

Another concern that they have is that envisioning audience as addressed, something out there, suggests an overly simplified view of language. Discourse isn't just something that we put on our words and our ideas. You need to have some sort of unifying, balancing understanding of language use, and not overemphasize just one aspect of discourse.

Now on the other hand, they're not entirely off the hook on those who are on the audience invoked side. These audience invoked sorts believe that the audience is a created fiction. The best example that they have is Walter Ong's study, which is -- appropriately enough -- titled "The Writer's Audience is Always a Fiction". In this, Ong says -- and they quote him –

"What do we mean by saying the audience is a fiction? Two things at least. First, that the writer must always construct in his imagination, clearly or vaguely, an audience cast in some sort of role... Second, we mean that the audience must correspondingly fictionalize itself."

In this sense, the writer is creative. They're able to project and alter audiences. But Ede and Lunford do take issue with Ong's idea that you can do whatever you can to create a reader, but there are still "constraints on the writer and the potential sources of and possibilities for the reader's role. And they're more complex and diverse than this perspective might imagine." Ede and Lunsford point out that the reader is willing to accept another role, but also perhaps may actually yearn for it. They may be willing to accept some roles and not others. In this sense, there are constraints what the writer can do. The writer can't make her audience into something that they don't want to be. In accepting a certain role, her readers do not have to play the game of being a member of an audience that does not really exist, but they do have to recognize in themselves the strengths and the characteristics that the writer describes, and accept the writer's implicit [inaudible] of these strengths and characteristics to what the writer hopes that the audience's response will be to any proposal. This is because a reader's role "has already been established and formalized in a series of other conventions. If a writer is successful, they will effectively internalize some of these conventions and present the material in a way that will be effective for the audience."

So the answer that Ede and Lunsford give is that both are appropriate. At times, the reader may establish the role for a reader that indeed does not coincide with the role in the rest of their life. At other times, one of the writer's primary tasks may be analyzing the real life audience, and adapting discourse to it. As they say, 

"One of the factors that makes writing so difficult is that we have no recipes. Each rhetorical situation is unique, and thus requires the writer, catalyzed and guided by a strong sense of purpose, to reanalyze and reinvent solutions." 

Think about it. As they say, 

"All of the audience roles we specify -- friend, self, colleague, critic, mass audience and future audience -- may be invoked or addressed. It is the writer who, as writer and reader of her own text, one guided with a sense of purpose and with the particularities of a specific rhetorical situation, establishes the range of potential roles an audience may play. There needs to be, in some sense, a synthesis of the perspectives we have termed 'audience addressed' with its focus on the reader, and 'audience invoked' with its focus on the writer. 

One last quote, I promise. Ede and Lunsford finally say,

"A fully elaborated view of audience then must balance the creativity of the writer with the different, but equally important creativity of the reader, and must account for a wide and shifting range of roles for both addressed and invoked audiences. Finally, it must relate the matrix created by the intricate relationship of writer and audience to all of the elements in the rhetorical situation."

I think this is a really useful model to think about the ways that we deal with audience. In some ways, any sort of writer needs to know what her audience is like, what are some of their characteristics and constraints? What are they willing to see themselves as, and what seems beyond the pale? This sort of audience analysis is really useful in a lot of situations. Additionally though, the writer can invoke the audience -- talk to them in a certain way that encourages them to respond.

This is something I thought about in meeting this listener of the podcast earlier this week. In some ways, I thought about who she was. An advanced and graduate student, somebody who is going to go to graduate school soon, who is interested in rhetorical history in some way. And I thought about what her needs might be in terms of a podcast for something like this. To keep it interesting, keep it relevant, keep it focused on rhetoric. But in another way, I invoke her and the rest of you when I make a podcast. I talk to you as if you are interested in rhetoric. As if this is something important to you. And you somehow willingly fill the role. Well, thanks for doing that. Thanks for being the audience.

If you want to show me how real you are, or invoke me right back at you, please feel free to send me an email. My email address is And until then, thanks for being real and addressed, and thanks for being imagined and invoked. 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Audience_Addressed_Audience_Invoked.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT