Written in 1975, Kathleen Jamieson’s “Antecedent Genre as Rhetorical Constraint” declares that discourse is determined by the Rhetorical Situation, as well as antecedent genres. Antecedent genres are genres of the past that are used as a basis to shape and form current rhetorical responses. When placed in an unprecedented situation, a rhetor can draw on antecedent genres of similar situations in order to guide their response. However, caution should be taken when drawing on antecedent genres because sometimes antecedent genres are capable of imposing powerful constraints (Jamieson 414).
The intent of antecedent genres are to guide the rhetor toward a response consistent with situational demands, and if the situational demands are not the same as when the antecedent genre was created, the response to the situation might be inappropriate (Jamieson 414).Through three examples of discourse, the papal encyclical, the early State of the Union Address, and congressional replies, she demonstrates how traces of antecedent genres can be found within each.
These examples clarify how a rhetor will tend to draw from past experiences that are similar to the present situation in order to guide them how to act or respond when they are placed in an unprecedented situation. Jamieson explains, by use of these three examples, that choices of antecedent genre may not always be appropriate to the present situation. She discusses how antecedent genres place powerful constraints on the rhetor and may cause them to become “bound by the manacles of the antecedent genre” (Jamieson 414).
These “manacles,” she says, may range in level of difficultly to escape. Jamieson urges one to be careful when drawing on the past to respond to the present, because of the consequences that may follow ones choice of antecedent genre. She reiterates the intended outcome through her statement of “choice of an appropriate antecedent genre guides the rhetor toward a response consonant with situational demands” (Jamieson 414).