9 Contextual Analysis

Tracy L.F. Worley, DM PMP

contextual analysis is an assessment of a genre to evaluate the historical and cultural settings. This type of analysis can be used to determine rhetorical situation to some degree.

Behrendt (2008)[1] suggests specific questions that should be answered with a contextual analysis:

  1. What does the text reveal about itself as a text?
    • Describe the vocabulary and rhetoric (how the words are arranged in order to achieve some purpose).
  1. What does the text reveal about its apparent intended audience(s)?
    • What sort of reader does the author seem to have envisioned, as demonstrated by the text’s language and rhetoric?
    • What sort of qualifications does the text appear to require of its intended reader(s)? How can we tell?
    • What sort of readers appear to be excluded from the text’s intended audiences? How can we tell?
    • Is there, perhaps, more than one intended audience?
  1. What seems to have been the author’s intention? Why did the author write this text? And why did the author write this text in this particular way, as opposed to other ways in which the text might have been written?
    • What does the author say (the words that have been selected)?
    • What doesn’t the author say (the words that were not selected)?
    • How did the author say it (as opposed to other ways it might or could have been said)?
  1. What is the occasion for this text?
    • Is there some particular, specific contemporary incident or event?
    • Is there some more “general” observation by the author about human affairs and/or experiences?
    • Is there some definable set of cultural circumstances?
  1. Is the text intended as some sort of call to – or for – action?
    • If so, by whom? And why?
    • And also if so, what action(s) does the author want the reader(s) to take?
  1. Is the text intended rather as some sort of call to – or for – reflection or consideration rather than direct action?
    • If so, what does the author seem to wish the reader to think about and to conclude or decide?
    • Why does the author wish the readers to do this? What is to be gained, and by whom?
  1. Can the reader identify any non-textual circumstances that affected the creation and reception of the text?
    • Such circumstances include historical or political events, economic factors, cultural practices, and intellectual or aesthetic issues, as well as the particular circumstances of the author’s own life.

  1. Behrendt, S. (2008). Using Contextual Analysis to evaluate texts. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. http://english.unl.edu/sbehrendt/StudyQuestions/ContextualAnalysis.html#:~:text=A%20contextual%20analysis%20is%20simply,the%20text%20as%20a%20text.