Burke's Theory of Persuasion

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Burke’s definition of persuasion goes hand in hand with Brochers’ as evidenced below. Brohcers’ definition is “Persuasion is the“coproduction of meaning that results when an individual or group uses language and other symbolic strategies to make audiences identify with that individual or group” (and their causes) (brochers 17)

Symbol use is fundamental to our definition of persuasion, and Burke developed a comprehensive theory called dramatism to describe how humans use symbols (Brochers 193). Burke theorizes that language is a way of acting: when we use words, we engage in action (Brochers 193). We “do” things with language (Brochers 193). For him, language is not a neutral technology, but one that has great power over those who engage in it (Brochers 193). His theory of dramatism provides a complex account of how words operate to “induce” individuals to identify each other (Brochers 193).

Burke says humans are symbol (mis)using animals (Brochers 194). Humans create symbols to name things, and these names contain an attitude (Brochers 194). An attitude is an introduction to an act; it is an “incipient act”. Language reveals our attitudes (Brochers 194). We cannot escape showing our views to others when we use language; language shapes behavior and is strategic (Brochers 194). The symbols persuaders use and how they use those symbols are important determinants to how successful they will be (Brochers 194)

One of the features inherent to language is the negative, the linguistic act of saying that something is not something else; humans are the inventors of this concept (Brochers 194). This allows us to distinguish between elements of our world, and it also results in moral action; we are invented by or moralized by the negative...

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... candidate (Brochers 196). The frontrunner label carries with it the attitude of power (Brochers 196).

Symbols suggest a perspective from which we should look at something (Brochers 197). Language reflects our motives and a motive is analogous to a situation (Brochers 197). Our way of framing reveals something about how you view others and your world (Brochers 197). Burke developed the pentad to uncover said motives. They are act (what is done), agent (the actor), agency (how), sense (where), and purpose (why) (Brochers 197).

Knowing that audience members create ideas about their world based on one or more of the terms of the pentad, burke theorizes that persuaders can use language to structure the world view of audience members (Brochers 197). A persuader can focus on the terms of the pentad that would be favorable to his or her persuasive goals (Brochers 197).
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