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Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism Essay

Life is drama; playing roles in relation to other people. Interest in the interaction of language and action. Symbolic Interactionist—Language is symbolic action. “Verbal symbols are meaningful acts from which motives can be derived (Griffin, p. 329).” “Human beings…are a symbol-creating, symbol-using, and symbol misusing animal (Littlejohn, 1978, p. 69).” A theory of Motives—why do people act (particularly rhetorically) the way they do? Assess motives.

Texts/Speeches created by people to “DO SOMETHING.” Can be analyzed to determine what it is they are trying to do.

Distinguishes human “Action” from Animal “Motion”

Action Motion
Done on purpose;Behaviors that are non-
voluntary behavior purposeful/non-meaningful
e.g. Dramatism
All animals and objects
Peoplehave motion
 Forms of ThoughtThe study of motion is
Understood through motives
 Pentad
(tool for understanding motives)

Motive: Linguistic Product of Rhetorical Action Created a Grammar of Motives (“grammar” meaning rules, principles, elements, structure and/or book) Motives are viewed by Burke in terms of internal sources of action; but rather in terms of how language and terms are used to make actions understandable. Guilt as Motive: guilt is an “all-purpose word for any feeling of tension within a person—anxiety, embarrassment, self-hatred, disgust, etc. (Littlejohn, 1978, p. 70).”

We communicate to purge ourselves of guilt.

Guilt arises out of language.

Three sources of guilt:
1. The Negative: Language allows for rules, morals, etc. that surround us and we can’t escape violating.

2. The Principle of Perfection: Language allows us to “imagine” the ideal (should).

3. The Principle of Heirarchy: Structure society with competing class and group distinctions

We seek redemption (reduce or eliminate guilt) through communication/rhetoric/dramatism

1. Mortification: self-blame

2. Victimage: external enemy is the source

3. Scapegoating: blame other(s)
Substance: general nature of a thing

Consubstantiation: (shared substance, commonality)

Identification: (same as consub) degrees of; conscious or unconscious;
1) material identification—goods, possessions, things
2) idealistic identification—values, ideas, feelings, attitudes
3) formal identification—form or arrangement of
act/conventions; roles, customs, etc.

Division—differences with others (source of guilt)

Tool for understanding motives



Agency Purpose

(Hexad: Attitude: delayed or incipient action)

Statement of motives will answer: What was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how it was done (agency), and why it was done (purpose).

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