Burke, Kenneth - Social Order & the Pentad

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Kenneth Burke was a major mid-20th century rhetoritician whose analytical framework continues to exert a strong influence on contemporary language studies. Burke studied rhetoric in its broadest sense, as the study of how language names the world and ascribes attitudes and motives for us to assume in relation to situations and things. Burke was interested in how terms for situations carry motives, structures, concepts of order and hierarchy and all the other elements required for coordinating human social action. His framework thus included but was not limited to the traditional focus of rhetoric, being political speech and other prepared speeches and formal presentations.

He sometimes referred to his field of study as ‘logolgy’, the study of language and society through the examination of words (Burke, 1970). He called his main analytical technique ‘dramatism’ for the central role that dramatic concepts played in his analyses (Burke, 1969).

Tracing echoes of the structure of concern in Burke’s work in no way does justice to the richness of his writings. It is important nevertheless. Burke’s work grapples with questions that overlap the zones of application of Dramatica and the Adizes Methodology – the dramatic structures of human patterns of organization. These three sets of ideas could conceivable converge to support a deepening and detailing of the Burkean project – to study the dramatics of social suasion in all areas of human life.

Points of contact with other concern structure models follow.

The Pentad


Burke views language as a mode of action, and rhetoric as an explicit incitement to action (Heath, 1986). He well recognized that conceptualizing rhetorical events as acts implied the operation of several other terms, such as an actor or agent, within a scene or situation, with purpose and a method/mode of agency. These elements form the Burkean pentad – the core concepts of his dramatic analyses:

P1 – Act: producing an effect in the world.
P2 – Agent: the agent who produces the act.
A – Agency: the means or method by which acts are produced.
E – Purpose: the hierarchy of purposes, immediate and transcendent.
I – Scene: situational awareness, seeking congruence with settings of action.

In the pentad, primary control by the agent and secondary control of the agent are represented separately. The act (P1) is the work done to change or elaborate the dramatics of an event, and so describes the overall accomplishment of primary control. The agent comes into distinct focus – separate from the act – through obstruction and dissonance with the other dramatic elements, for example. This agent as object (rather than as implicit subject of the act) can be changed using secondary control strategies if necessary, to successfully achieve the act.

As in the Dramatica model, Burkean analysis involves an examination of the dialectical relationships of opposition and transition from one pentadic element to another in the exercise of rhetorical effects. Pentadic elements are thus studied in ‘ratios’ rather than in isolation.



While rhetorical acts are being enacted, a companion process occurs which Burke calls identification. Symbolic agents continually invite their conversants or audiences to agree, assent, build allegiance or in general become of one mind with the speaker (both speaker and audience can be the same person for inner dialogue). This is not an optional diversion of language to rhetorical ends, this is what language does.

An account of Burke’s theory of language and how it supports his theory of social identification is beyond the scope of this paper. I will briefly describe his account of how social order emerges out of disorder, which follows the pattern of a single cycle of cascading adaptation.

P – Order: Order emerges from disorder through social alignment using ordering principles such as division (of resources) and association (assigning resources to people). This stabilizes expectations and exchange/collaboration.

A – Hierarchy: In any ordered system there is an incentive to perfect the ordering principles, simply by virtue of the system’s operation. This among other pressures can give rise to the emergence of transcendent terms that compress lower-level terms. These become new motivating and coordination points. People are assigned to these new terms – the arrangements of titles, purposes, motives and roles that settle into a hierarchy that perfects the principles of order as much as possible.

E – Mystery: As social experiences at different places in the social hierarchy diverge, mystery emerges between people of different social stations. This mystery and the differences underlying it can become ritualized. Property relations and gender differences give rise to mystery, as do other social differences. Inherent in mystery is the desire to overcome it, through the creation of philosophies, theologies and political visions, as well as though the promulgation of myth. This can serve to bridge hierarchies of motives, aligning many levels of social order that allow a society to move from one situation to another through coordinated action.

I – Courtship: Courtship is communication across mysteries of otherness to build proximity and social cooperation. It is fraught with all of the dangers of biological courtship, leading either to commitment or domination and control, for example. Diplomacy and corporate negotiations are examples of courtship, and market interactions may also fall in this category. Courtship is the effort to end estrangement that has been put into place through the institution of the principles of order.

1. Burke, K. (1969). A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley, California: Universtity of California Press.
2. Burke, K. (1970). The Rhetoric of Religion. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
3. Heath, R. L. (1986). Realism and Relativism: A Perspective on Kenneth Burke. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press.
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