Lecture: Bazerman’s “Emergent Motives, Situations, Forms”

In “Emergent Motives, Situations, Forms,” chapter 6 of A Rhetoric of Literate Action: Literate Action Volume 1, Charles Bazerman argues that good writing “is added by locating and nurturing our motivations” (77), and then discusses the interconnectedness of motives, situations, and forms of communication.

Bazerman begins the chapter by stating that motivations for writing are never straightforward. Motivations, he explains, “occur at the intersection of our long-term concerns and the emergent situation” (77). In other words, neither a concern on its own nor a situation on its own is enough to inspire authentic motivation; instead, motivation emerges as we find an opening to address an issue of concern through a form (a genre) with which we are familiar.

It’s important to understand the intersection of motivation, situation, and form, Bazerman argues because most of us learn to write in school and much of early experiences with writing are within the context of schooling where the situation, genre, and often at least in part the motivation are often forced upon us. While this can be the case outside of school — when we need to fill out a form such as to apply for a loan or are assigned a writing task as when our boss asks us to write up a report — the motivations, situations, and often genres themselves differ from the school context (84), and recognizing what they are and how they play out can help us work through a task.

At times, we will find our motives, the situation, and form coming together in ways that drive us to want to write. At other times we might find ourselves reluctant to complete a particular task even doing so aligns with our long-term goals or involves an ideal situation or a favored form. When we’re reluctant, it’s almost certain that we’re struggling with at least one of the three issues involved. Acting may fulfill our long-term goals but we’re not sure about our situation or aren’t comfortable with the form. Or we may be expert at the form and have the perfect situation but the task doesn’t fulfill our long-term goals.