Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

A Rapprochement between Dramatism and Argumentation

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

A Rapprochement between Dramatism and Argumentation

Article excerpt

Nearly all the rhetorical theories that mark the history of human thought snugly fit argumentation (or at least a recognizable reasoning) into a comfortable place within their account of rhetorical practice. Viewed against that background of history, modern study of rhetoric reveals an enigma: two of the most vital strains of contemporary rhetorical study--dramatism and argumentation--proceed with energetic progress and with no apparent influence on each other. Kenneth Burke's dramatistic theory revitalized contemporary American theories of rhetoric into new understandings of the ongoing rhetorical processes of societal construction, yet argument receives scant attention in Burke's work. Argumentation study has been reinvigorated in this century with new frameworks from informal logicians, students of naturally occurring argument, narrative argument, and followers of Perelman, Toulmin and Habermas; yet only narrative among these approaches shows an awareness of dramatism.

With a deep interest in both of these twentieth century movements--the turn toward a social rhetoric and the revitalization of argumentation--I began to find the separation of the two becoming my own schizophrenia. I found that when working in the Burkean tradition, I tended to leave my theoretical work in argument (although not, of course, my skills as an arguer) behind. Similarly, when I worked in argumentation theory I found myself having to forget the lessons of dramatistic theory. In search of the coherence in my own work, and believing that relating the two movements could aid both, a number of years ago I embarked on a project to integrate argumentation theory and dramatism, and the search for the rapprochement began.

The project turned out to be extremely difficult. There were some preliminary attempts in my own work and in the work of colleagues (Klumpp, "Dramatistic" and "Pentad", Kneupper; Madsen, "Alternatives" and "Dramatistic"). I began by attempting to find a definition of "argument" consistent with both traditions. I bracketed assumption after assumption of dramatism and traditional argumentation theory but could never get back to the common concept. Finally, I gave up on this approach and took another--familiar to those in similar quandaries--I abandoned the project.

But it would not stay abandoned. In studying critical pluralism, and particularly the work of Stephen Pepper, I began to identify Burke's work with the intellectual movement broadly known as contextualism, and with the intellectual movement that Pepper calls organicism.(1) I had begun with a belief that Burke's lack of attention to argument was merely a result of his coming to the study of rhetoric from a different disciplinary home, and that a rapprochement would evolve from an extension of dramatism into the merely ignored theory of argument. But as I understood more about the roots of Burke's work in the broad intellectual movements of our time--contextualism and organicism--I began to believe that the unachieved rapprochement would take me toward adapting argumentation rather than dramatism. I decided to approach my search for rapprochement by developing a contextualist perspective on argument and then returning to the rapprochement project.

With that work advanced,(2) I am now prepared to return to the original project and seek the rapprochement.(3) After considering Burke's treatment of argument, I will consider the requisites for contextualist approaches to argument and the characteristics of dramatism which would shape argumentation to its service, ending by illustrating a dramatistic approach to argument.


Burke began his work in rhetorical theory in the 1920s and 1930s. His approach to argumentation grew naturally from the traditional argumentation theory that dominated that era and remains influential today. Traditional argumentation theory is built on analytic and formal procedures. Analytically, traditional theory works by dividing individual arguments into parts--premises and conclusions; evidence and forms; or data, warrant, and claim(4)--and then analyzing each part through a scheme of types, More generally, traditional argumentation theory seeks ideal forms which an arguer can master. …

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