Introduced by rhetorician Kenneth Burke, made its way into the field of communication in the early 1950's as a method for understanding the social uses of language and how to encounter the social and symbolic world of a drama (Brock, Burke, Burgess, Parke, and Simons 1985). Dramatism is the belief that language is a strategic, motivated response to a specific situation (Griffin 2006). It views language as a mode of symbolic action rather than a mode of knowledge (Burke 1978). Kenneth Burke's view was not that life is like a drama, but that life is a drama: that humans by nature see and interpret situations as drama. Dramatism theory has the layout of a play, complete with agents (actors), acts (plots), scenes (settings), agencies (tools, instruments, or means) and purposes. These five elements form the “dramatistic pentad”.Dramatism comprises identification, dramatistic pentad, and the guilt-redemption cycle.
Dramatism, a theoretical position seeking to understand the actions of human life as drama. Dramatism provides researchers with the flexibility to scrutinize an object of study from a variety of angles.
Dramatism, as its name implies, conceptualizes life as a drama, placing a critical focus on the acts performs by various players. Just as in play, the acts in life are central to revealing human motives. Dramatism provides us with a method that is well suited to address the act of communication between the text and the audiences for that text
Drama tends to follow recognizable types of genres: comedy, musical, melodrama, and so forth. Burke feels that the very way we structure and use language may be related to the way these human dramas are played out.
Drama is always addressed to an audience. In this sense, drama is rhetorical, Burke views literature as “ equipment for living” which means literature or texts speak to people’s lived experiences and problems and provide people with responses or dealing with these experiences.
Burke’s theory compares life to a play and states that, as in a theoretical piece, life requires an actor, a scene, an action, some means for the action to take place, and a purpose. The theory allows a rhetorical critic to analyze a speaker’s motives by identifying and examining these elements. Further, Burke believes, guilt is the ultimate motive for speakers, and Dramatism suggests that rhetors are most successful when they are provide their audiences with a means for purging their guilt
Using the pentad to analyze our social situations can communicate to us which aspects of the situation were more important than others. The pentad is made up of the five elements of human drama.
Act: what was or will be done.
Scene: generally thought of as where and when; context of act.
Agent: entity that could be construed as performing an act.
Agency: the methods or tools used to perform the act.
Purpose: goal of the act; entelechy.
Burke also developed ten ratios of the pentad. An example of the scene-act ratio is the Supreme Court deciding that emergency measures are admissible because they have determined that there is a state of emergency. The scene, the state of emergency, determines the act, emergency measures (Benoit 1983). This is a causal statement
Guilt-Redemption Cycle is considered the plot of the whole play and human drama or the root of all rhetoric (Griffin 2006). In this perspective, Burke concluded that the ultimate motivation of an agent is to purge ourselves of our sense of guilt. The term guilt covers tension, anxiety, shame, disgust, embarrassment, and other similar feelings. Guilt is created through symbolic interaction. Guilt comes when we are estranged from the natural world or estranged from others in our world. Guilt serves as a motivating factor that drives the human drama (Miller 2005).