Symbolic Motivation

Preparation Guide 2014

Week 3-5: Symbolic Motivation

A cluster of theorists have developed approaches around the power of rhetorical form to motivate action. They view discourse as far more than just re-presenting materiality; they believe that the human power to use symbols changes action in fundamental ways. Thus, rhetoric becomes a study of how symbols organize human understanding, sociality, and action. Burke is the first and the primary theorist in this cluster, but the others are important to know. Several moves that these theories have in common define the cluster:

On these three linchpins developed a theory of human motivation as symbolic. Because symbols were given a central place in motivation, the methodological moves of the symbolic interactionists had opened the opportunity to study the clustering of rhetoric in forms, and the practical accomplishment of rhetoric as an invoking of these forms to influence human action.

Expanding upon Burke's theory, scholars have taken the study of symbolic motivation in several directions. To Bormann, it is within this symbolic realm that we construct fantasy themes to give our action meaning. To Fisher, it is where we develop stories to convey our motives within the criteria of narrative rationality. To McGee, it is where our ideological history converges with the synchronic construction of ideographic justification in the present. Conversing with these theorists in the years since, dramatistic scholars have applied the framework of dramatism to questions of ethics, the potential for strengthened human cooperation, the appropriate anecdotes for critical analysis, and the limitations of dramatism's grounding in a decisively Western view of drama.

Clusters: Dramatism; Logology; Fantasy Theme Analysis; Ideograph; Narrative; Dramaturgy.

Instructions on preparing for the discussion:

Since “theorizing” is an active process, we will examine the boundaries of symbolic motivation together during seminar. Our discussion we be structured as follows:

    1. Foundational Theories and Basic Works (Burke, Bormann, Fisher, McGee, Vasquez)
      1. Prepare clusters of terms that these theorists employ.
      2. Define the theories and terms. Do the definitions of key terms overlap?
      3. Are there considerable linkages between the terms in the theories?
      4. Consider the purpose of the theory. What were the theories in response to? (Other theories? Political or social realities?)
      5. What questions were the authors trying to answer? What questions might the theories answer? Is there a difference?
      6. What is the scope of the theory?
      7. How are the approaches to theory making similar? Different? To what extent are the theories extensions of each other?
    2. Extensions of Theory (Clair et al., Brock, Condit, and Cheseboro, and Hawhee)
      1. What does the theorist propose to do with the original theory?
      2. Where do these extensions/contractions ground their contribution?
      3. How are the terms expanded or contracted?
      4. Do they work top-down or bottom up?
    3. Theorizing Together
      1. What sorts of scenarios or realities aren’t covered by these theories? Is that problematic?
      2. Where is there room to extend theory? Do you think there are areas where these theories might be extended too far?
      3. What makes a theory (or extension of theory) appealing? Why do we see some theories cited repeatedly, while others die out? How can we avoid this breaking of the chain with our theories? Can you actively avoid theoretical extinction?
      4. Do new mediums and digital realities change the way we think about theory? Do they need new theories to cope with them?

Basic Readings: (Access journal articles electronically through Communication and Mass Media Complete (CMMC) or J-Stor)

Some Additional Reading:

Recent Work (compiled by Jaclyn Bruner and Devin Scott):

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