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RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION:


A Paper on Kenneth Burkes Theory of Identification based on A Rhetoric of Motives

Junesse d,R. Crisostomo


University of the Philippines-Diliman

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

RHETORIC IS PERUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION:


A Paper on Kenneth Burkes Theory of Identification based on A Rhetoric of Motives

It is not hard to praise Athenians among Athenians but it is hard to praise Athenians
among Lacedaemonians. Aristotle emphasized this statement in his masterpiece Rhetoric, and
Kenneth Burke, in his work, A Rhetoric of Motives, made this claim as the foundation of his own
theory of Identification. Burke (1969, p.55) states that, You persuade a man only insofar as you
can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your
ways with his. With these assertions, we can come up with these basic questions: Who is
Kenneth Burke? What is persuasion and rhetoric according to him? What does his Identification
Theory assert?
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (2013) online, Kenneth Burke (May 5, 1987November 19, 1993) is an American literary critic who is best known for his rhetorically based
analyses of the nature of knowledge and for his views of literature as symbolic action, where
language and human agency combine. Among his great works are: A Grammar of
Motives (1945); A Rhetoric of Motives (1950); and Language as Symbolic Action (1966).
In A Rhetoric of Motives (1950, p. 49), Burke mentioned rhetorician scholars various
definition of rhetoric. According to Cicero, rhetoric is speech designed to persuade. Aristotle
argues that persuasion is the means and end to rhetoric. Likewise, Isocrates defines the
rhetorician as the craftsman of persuasion. More so, Quintilian defines rhetoric as both
useful and a virtue, for he believes that a good orator is a good man exceptional in both
eloquence and moral attributes. Burke also emphasizes that in order for persuasion to come to
place, man should be free to choose. That is why rhetoric seeks to merely affect attitude rather
than merely affect action, thus, there is a shift between the words move (movere) and bend
(flectere) to name the ultimate function of rhetoric (p.50). Why is that so? It is because rhetoric
could still be used by people merely to communicate states of minds to listeners, even though
the kinds of assent evoked have no overt, practical outcome. Additionally, Burke also presents
that the word persuade, coming from the Latin words peitho (faith) and suadere
(utterance) is an assertion that persuasion is sweet utterance.

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

If dialectic is the foundation of rhetoric, why did it come from a word that means faith
instead of reason? Burke asserts that, in the Platonic scheme, such dialectic enterprise starts
from opinion and subjecting it to systematic criticism, therefore, truth is grounded in
opinion (p.53). Here comes Burkes theory of Identification, for rhetoric functions at the level
of opinion, and when an appeal to prejudice might be more effective than appeal to reason, the
rhetorician who would have his cause prevail (p.54).
Burkes theory of Identification reflects the ritualistic view of the process of
communication. In the transmission view, communication is a process of sending and receiving
messages or transferring information from one mind to another (Craig, 99, p. 125). In the
ritualistic view, communication is shared to strengthen fellowship and the already existing
culture of a social unit. When Burke discusses that in order to persuade others through
Identification, one must list the kind of opinions you should draw upon if you wanted to
recommend a policy or to turn people against it; the kind of motives which in peoples opinion
lead to just or unjust actions; what personal traits people admire or dislike; and what opinions
could be used as means for stirring men to rage, friendliness, fear, compassion, shame,
indignation, envy, rivalry, charity, and so on (p. 56). In order to persuade people, one must
consider consubstantiality, to commune with the peoples culture and show ones similarity with
them.
A famous example to which we can relate this is the Manny Villar presidential campaign
tactic in the Philippines in 2010. His campaigns were focused on the rhetoric that Villar came
from the poorest of the poor and yet he was able to work his way to the top. This is created to
appeal to the impoverished Juan Dela Cruz for they can identify with him, and they could cling
to the hope that he could also bring them out of poverty. However, Villar lost the presidential
elections to Benigno NoyNoy Aquino, III. We could also say that an advantage PNOY had was
the shared memory of Filipinos of the EDSA 1 event, that he was an Aquino, and that lNOY tried
to identify himself with every Filipino by showing us that he abhorred corruption in the
promise of his tuwid na daan slogan.
According to a study conducted by Gengqin Chen and Yan Li titled The Application of
Identification Strategies in Sci-Fi Movie Avatar, there are three ways in which we can apply
Burkes Theory of Identification, namely, Identification by sympathy, Identification by

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

Antithesis, and Identification by Inaccuracy. We can see Identification by sympathy through the
messages that the audiences absorb in the movie. Chen and Li (2015) stated that the possibility
of identification by sympathy in the movie lies in the fact that the audiences reactions are greatly
driven by emotions of the figures in the movie. Therefore, the characters of the movie could
identify with their audiences by meeting their expectations and arousing the common emotions
from the audience (p. 126). We can also detect Identification by Antithesis present in the movie.
Burke emphasizes that this rhetorical device is focused on allies joining forces against a
common enemy (Burke, 1972, p. 36). Chen and Li further state that, Jack and Pandora people
are enemies at the very beginning, but Jacks attention is directed to the evil of the earthmen and
the identification between Jack and Pandora people is achieved on the basis of their common
enemy. In the end they make an alliance against their common enemy (earthmen) (Ibid). The
movie also shows an example of Identification by Inaccuracy, when the earthmen mistakenly
identify the power of advanced weapons with their own ability (p. 129) and that it is obvious
that the earthmen with advanced weapons believe that they are powerful. Therefore, they attack
the Pandora people fiercely (p.130). This aspect of the theory of Identification was related by
the authors to a smoker who identifies himself as cool and charming because of a
representation of a smoker in a Marlboro commercial. Similarly, in the movie, the earthmen still
lost despite their extravagant weaponry and thus implying that the Pandora peoples
performance make the earthmen realize that owing the advanced weapon does not mean owing
the real superiority (Ibid.).
I would like to state another example. In my undergraduate thesis titled, In Court, On
Air, On Trial: An Analysis of the Impeachment of Renato C. Corona as Chief Justice of the
Philippines as Social Drama, I have observed the use of the theory of Identification in the
rhetoric of both Aquino and Corona. They both tried to show the people that they are one with
them by packaging themselves as the protagonist and the other as the antagonist. Each attacked
the Filipinos common concerns about the other. Aquino capitalized on the Filipinos opinion of
former President GMA by emphasizing that Corona is Arroyos puppet. Corona, on the other
hand, capitalized on Filipinos concern about the Hacienda Luisita issue and asserted that the trial
was only Aquinos way of diverting the Hacienda Luisita issue.

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

Burke emphasized that one should review the purposes, acts, things, conditions, states of
mind, personal characteristics, and the like, which people consider promising or formidable,
good or evil, useful or dangerous, admirable or loathsome, and so on (p. 56) as effective means
of persuasion. Aside from this tactic in Identification, Burke also emphasized that there should be
an element of participation in persuasion, also known as collaborative expectancy. An example
of this is the poem, I Wanted To Change The World (See Appendix). Burke says that, once you
grasp the trend of the form, it invites participation regardless of the subject matter.. you will find
yourself swinging along.. even though you may not agree with the proposition (p. 58). An
example Burke stated was Aeschines Against yourself you call; against the laws you call;
against democracy you call (p.59). In these kinds of rhetorical tactic in Identification, the
audience garners an idea on how the message is being developed and would collaborate to the
completion of the statement.
Another important aspect of Identification is the fact that one should not take for granted
extrinsic factors in persuasion, for an act of persuasion is affected by the character of the scene
in which it takes place and of the agents to whom it is addressed (p. 62). Going back to the
presidential campaign example, Aquinos rise to presidency was preceded by the notorious and
corrupt administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. His presidential campaign
promise of a tuwid na daan was very timely then and it could have served as one of the factors
that contributed to him winning the elections.
In line with this, how can the commercial rhetorician persuade a heterogenous audience?
Burke suggested that the rhetorician should attempt to carve out an audience, as the commercial
rhetorician looks not merely for persuasive devices in general, but for the topics that will appeal
to the particular income group most likely to be interested in his product, or able to buy it. If
immediacy and intensity of appeal is got by narrowing the topics and images to the group likely
to be his best audience, he will seek to prod only these to action (p. 64). Burkes statement
explains the market strategy that companies employ nowadays. There are certain products aimed
for specific genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. To cite a few examples, we can find
shampoo products being sold specifically for men, women, and babies. There are gadgets that are
specifically identified for corporate use, for the entertainment of gaming, and for educational

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

purposes. We also have powdered milk brands specifically for babies, for the elderly, and for
women.
To conclude, Burke showed us that emphasizing similarity between the speaker and the
audience, using participation in the organization of statements used by the speaker, and the
consideration of timeliness of the topic are important in the Identification Theory. A strength of
the theory includes the rhetoricians careful observation and skillful association to others.
However, this also leads to issues in ethics such as when a speaker creates a false identity to
persuade an audience. Where does the concept of ethos come in? Is the theory of Identification
really effective if the listener does not perceive the speaker credible or truthful to the character
that they portray? With the strengths and weaknesses of Kenneth Burkes Identification theory
established, it is undoubtedly an important contribution to the field of rhetoric. It is widely used
and practiced in various communication events in the present-day world.
Indeed, Rhetoric is persuasion, and persuasion is Identification.

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

REFERENCES
Burke, K. (1950). A Rhetoric of Motives, 49-69.
-------

(1972). Dramatism and Development, 36-37.

Chen, G. & Li, Y. (2015). The Application of Identification Strategies in Sci-Fi Movie
Avatar. International Journal of English Linguistics, 5(2), 123-131.
Craig, R. (1999). Communication Theory As A Field. International Communication
Association, 124-125.
Kenneth Burke. (n.d.). In Encyclopdia Britannica online. Retrieved from
http://www.britannica.com/biography/Kenneth-Burke

RHETORIC IS PERSUASION, PERSUASION IS IDENTIFICATION

APPENDIX

"I Wanted To Change The World"


When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town.
I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if
long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family.
My family and I could have made an impact on our town.
Their impact could have changed the nation,
and I could indeed have changed the world.

Author: Unknown Monk 1100 A.D.