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Kenneth Burke’s Pentad

Autor:   •  April 10, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  1,005 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,129 Views

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Kenneth Burke’s Pentad

Alexandra Lebahn

        Kenneth Burke is one of the most important rhetorical theorists since Aristotle (Borcher’s, 2006, p.144). One of his major accomplishments was his pentad theory. This theory consisted of five parts: act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. Each of these categories help suggests how the world is created through rhetoric. The purpose of this paper is to analyze Burke’s pentad. This paper will address the origin of Burke’s Pentad, a discussion of what the theory is meant to address, and how this theory can be applied to rhetoric in the future. It is important to note that Burke’s Pentad wasn’t all that original.

        Burkes pentad was coined necessarily by him. According to Shearer (2004), “Burke makes no claim of originality for the pentad, citing the same basic components of explanation is Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Talcot Parson’s Structure of Social Action (p. 831). Burke’s pentad came to be through his Dramatism theory. They work together in a way that Nelson (1983) states, “Burke believes that the nature of man may be described best through a dramatistic metaphor: man who is an actor who acts out his life in the social drama with the purpose of achieving the ultimate good (p. 63). This is how his pentad fits into his theory of dramatism. Burke speaks of his pentad in his book, A grammar of motives written in 1969. And shortly before this, he wrote his book on Dramatism in 1968. In his book, A grammar of motives, Burke speaks about the five categories in the pentad.

        According to Sadler (2009), “the pentad comprises scene, act, agent, agency, and purpose…” (p. 2). Each of these categories can mix with one another creating ratios. According to Borchers (2006), “The relationship between two pentadic terms is called a ratio” (p. 153). Sadler (2009) also explains the use of ratios more by stating, “…paring these elements into ‘ratios’ allows us to examine the interplay of elements and to more deeply analyze human behavior” (p. 2). The different ratio combinations consist of: agency-agent, scene-act, scene-agent, scene-agency, scene-purpose, act-purpose, act-agency, act-agent, agent-purpose, and agency-purpose (Nelson, 1983, p. 64). The theory is meant to address “what people are doing and why they are doing it” (Burke, 1969, p. 1). To justify this, this theory can be used to explain the reasoning behind advertisements, speeches, commercial, or anytime of persuasive artifact. But each category (act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose) needs to be utilized in order to be persuasive.

        The first category in Burkes pentad is the act. According to Borchers (2006), “the act is what happens or takes place,” and an example would be, “Military action against Iraq” (p.153). Next is the scene, in which this explains the content or previous knowledge of the action that is taking place (Borchers, 2006, p. 153). The agent, is the person (s) performing the act, in relation to the example for the act, the agent would be the person who had the choice between peace or war (Borchers, 2006, p.153). The agency is the, “means through which action takes place,” and an example of this would be, “The United States, who would be enforcing international law” (Borchers, 2006, p.153). Lastly, the purpose is the reasoning behind why the action took place (Borchers, 2006, p. 153). All of these categories can change depending on the given act and the pentad can be used for different rhetorical situations. Each term can be emphasized more than another to ensure an influence of thinking from an audience. Borchers (2006) states, “the pentadic terms can be used strategically by rhetors to influence how their audience sees a particular situation” (p.153). If the speaker wants to focus more on the act, rather than the rest of the categories, he or she can do so, if it means they influence the attention from the audience. In saying that, there are many ways that this theory can be applied to artifacts of rhetoric.


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