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On Symbols and Society

Edited and with an Introduction by Joseph R. Gusfield
Kenneth Burke’s innovative use of dramatism and dialectical method have made him a powerful critical force in an extraordinary variety of disciplines—education, philosophy, history, psychology, religion, and others. While most widely acclaimed as a literary critic, Burke has elaborated a perspective toward the study of behavior and society that holds immense significance and rich insights for sociologists. This original anthology brings together for the first time Burke’s key writings on symbols and social relations to offer social scientists access to Burke’s thought.

In his superb introductory essay, Joseph R. Gusfield traces the development of Burke’s approach to human action and its relationship to other similar sources of theory and ideas in sociology; he discusses both Burke’s influence on sociologists and the limits of his perspective. Burke regards literature as a form of human behavior—and human behavior as embedded in language. His lifework represents a profound attempt to understand the implications for human behavior based on the fact that humans are "symbol-using animals." As this volume demonstrates, the work that Burke produced from the 1930s through the 1960s stands as both precursor and contemporary key to recent intellectual movements such as structuralism, symbolic anthropology, phenomenological and interpretive sociology, critical theory, and the renaissance of symbolic interaction.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Joseph R. Gusfield
I. The Form of Social Action
1. The Nature of Human Action
2. The Human Actor: Definition of Man
II. Language as Symbolic Action
3. Symbolic Action
4. Types of Meaning: Semantic and Poetic Meaning
5. The Symbol as Formative
6. Language as Action: Terministic Screens
7. Motives as Action
III. Dramatistic Analysis
8. Dramatistic Method
9. Ways of Placement
10. Vocabularies of Motive
IV. Rhetorical Action
11. Identification
12. Terms of Rhetoric
13. Rhetorical Analysis
V. Dialectical Method
14. The Paradox of Substance
15. Irony and Dialectic
16. Perspective by Incongruity: Comic Correctives
17. The Transformation of Terms
18. Transcendence
VI. Symbols and the Social Order
19. Order and Hierarchy
20. Terms for Order
21. Sin and Redemption
22. Ideology and Myth
References in Burke Readings
Bibliography: Kenneth Burke

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