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Last updated February 14, 2001


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Explanation of Theory: Dramatism claims that the communicator must act as if he or she were an actor in a drama, where they are trying to get the audience to accept their view of reality as true. The communicator must try to identify with the audience members through various means to gain acceptance.

Theorists: Kenneth Burke 

Date: 1968

Primary Article:Burke, K. "Dramatism," The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 7, David L. Sills (ed.), Macmillan, NY, 1968, p. 445-451. 

Individual Interpretations: I believe that this theory is interesting because the communicator must act in certain ways to appeal to the audience, yet I believe they should make sure they do not lose sight of what their own values are. 

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions: This theory has deterministic values. It claims that the communictor has to be persuading and has to "act" to get the audience to accept his or her message.

Epistemological Assumptions: This theory is based on many truths, that the communicator must change his ways according to his audience and present situation. To be persuading, the communicator must not focus on oneway of thinking.

Axiological Assumptions: This theory is value-netral, focusing instead on the changes which need to be mae by the communicator from situation to situation. Regardless of values, the communicator mmust "act" in accordance with audience values.

Critique: Burke is quite confusing in his explanation of this theory because he leaves things unexplained. He also assumes that guilt underlies all public address, which has not been proven yet and could certainly depend on situations. 

Ideas and Implications:

There are five central elements of the human drama, which coincide with the audience. These are: Act/Response, Scene/Situation, Agent/Subject, Agency/Stimulus, & Purpose/Target. 

Burke believes it is our nature to create, use, and abuse language. 

Communication scientists can¹t lead Burke¹s claim that unconscious identification produces behavior and attitude change, but they can confirm that perceived similarity facilitates persuasion. 

Example:When a communicator stands to give a speech, such as a politician, they have to get the audience to see eye to eye with them before they will ever be able to get their point across. A politician, hopefully will believe in the things he is saying, but even if he isn¹t, he can make the audience love him by speaking about things that are important to them. 

Relevant Research:

   Burke, K., "On human behavior considered ŒDrastically,¹ " in Permanence and Change, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1965, pp.274-294. 

   Mechling, E., & Mechling, J., "Sweet Talk: The Moral Rhetoric Against Sugar," Central States Speech Journal, Vol. 34, 1983, pp. 19-32. 

   Chesebro, J., "Extensions of the Burkean System," Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 78, 1992, pp. 356-368. 

Other Communication Scholars who have done work on this theory: Elizabeth Mechling, Jay Mechling, Sonya Foss, Karen Foss, & Celest Condit. 

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R. & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of Communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). NewYork: St. Martin¹s Press, p. 178-180.

    Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, not in.

    Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, p. 285-294. 

    Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 312-321.

    Infante, D. A., Rancer, A.S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, p. 530-531.

    Littlejohn, S.W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, p. 161-168. 

    West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, p. 275-287. 

    Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, p. 135-144.