Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism
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”
Done on purpose;
Behaviors that are non-
All animals and objects
Forms of Thought
The study of motion is
Understood through motives
(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...
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