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Page history last edited by sue 15 years, 11 months ago

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Identification in Burke’s theory of rhetoric



Burke's concept of "identification" extends (some say replaces) the traditional focus of rhetoric on persuasion to describe

“the ways in which the members of a group promote social cohesion by acting rhetorically upon themselves and one another” (1325).


When the interests of two or more people are joined, they can be said to identify with each other. Although the individual retains the essence of himself as a unique substance, he also now has the essence of another substance as ‘one who belongs.’ This is the notion of consubstantiality, of having characteristics, desires, and motives as an individual and simultaneously as a member of a group. As we share substances, we come to identify with others. As we speak each other's language, we become consubstantial.

“In acting together, men have common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes that make them consubstantial” (1326).


Because rhetoric's purpose is to move people from their positions to those of the speaker, the assumption is that we are usually "at odds" with others. People are, according to Burke, intrinsically divided from other people. Therefore, division is the corolloary to identification.As Burke metaphorically explains, “Rhetoric is concerned with the state of Babel after the Fall” (1327).


There is no strife in “pure” identification or in pure separation, but in the middle ground in which we all live, a place where boundaries between commonalities and uniqueness are not definite, the opportunity for rhetoric exists. There is always a wider context, some middle ground, where activity ocurs; no activity is truly autonomous.



However, we do see an example of internal identification as Burke employs Freudiean psychology to describe the rhetorical nature of the interaction among the ego, id, and superego.  At this point, Burke confronts the requisite of audience in  classical rhetoric and suggests that in modern, post-Christian rhetoric, it is possible to address oneself as "when you become in psychologically stylistic subterfuges for presenting your own case to yourself” (1335).


Burke logically connects these psychological aspects of motive-identification- with the rhetorical nature of socialization.

“The individual person, striving to from himself in accordance with the communicative norms that match the cooperative ways of his society, is by the same token concerned with the rhetoric of identification…Education (“indoctrination”) exerts such pressure on him from without; he completes the process from within” (1336).


Burke stresses that rhetoric is rooted in the essential function of language for everyday life, for the production of knowledge across all disciplines, and for everything in between.  Underlying the centrality and changeability of language is our understanding of ourselves as social beings who respond to symbols. In other words, we use symbols to create identifications, to modify our own identities, and to motivate others to identify with us.



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