Occasion, Exigency, Kairos – How to Decode Meaning-Making Practices

A severe dust storm changes road conditions on a highway / John Read

Occasion, exigency, and kairos are cornerstones of effective communication, guiding how you construct and deliver your message. Occasion (the rhetorical situation) is the larger environment or event that prompts a response, exigency is the urgent issue that needs addressing, and kairos is the opportune timing for your message. As a communicator, grasping these concepts helps you craft responses that resonate with the current context, address pressing needs effectively, and seize the right moment to make the most impact.

Related Concepts:

While it’s tempting to stay inside the peaceful confines of one’s mind (at least on a good day), thinking about occasion, exigency & kairos is all about getting beyond yourself.

Writers are successful to the extent that they can can understand messages from the rhetorical stance of others.

  • Occasion
    Occasion refers to the broader context for a discursive act. An occasion (e.g., a wedding) may warrant multiple texts (e.g., a Save the Date postcard, a Wedding Announcement, a website for organizing gifts, thank you cards, Facebook Page, Instagram posts, etc.). When Rhetors enter an Occasion, they may consider what Rhetorical Appeals, Rhetorical Modes, and Genres rhetors have used in past situations that could be re-used in addressing the new occasion.

    Occasion plays a supersized role in whether a rhetor responds to an exigency, what the rhetor’s purpose is, the medium the rhetor uses to respond, and the rhetor’s rhetorical stance.
  • Exigency
    Rhetorical situations are bounded by Exigencies–that is, by “an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be” (Bitzer 1968).
  • Kairos
    Rhetors are wise to give some thought to timing. If an audience is not ready to hear a message, then no matter how well that message is crafted it may never be heard.

Communicative moments are grounded in a moment as well as the material and ideological conditions that define that moment. Tweets, chats, phone conversations–these sorts of occasions call for chitchat. In contrast, the class presentation, the job interview, the peer-reviewed journal article–these occasions call for behaviors such as Research as Inquiry, Attribution, Citation, & References, Revision, and Editing.

If you are looking for a job after graduating from college, your employment communications would be different than if you are a high school student looking for a part time job after school. How you dress for an employment interview, the sort of job you apply for, what you say in the interview and after are all subject to the particulars of setting.

Occasions are fluid as opposed to static. The web of interrelationships among people, ideas, and resources are constantly evolving. Particular occasions call for particular Rhetorical Modes and Genres.

Cosmos and Kairos: A Rhetorical Journey


Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 1.1 (1968): 1-14. Web. JSTOR. 16 September 2015.

Related Articles: