Winter 2008, 38:1, pages 66-81
Kenneth Burke's Constabulary Rhetoric: Sociorhetorical Critique in Attitudes Toward History
Abstract: Scholars have shown that Kenneth Burke's research on drug addiction at the Bureau of Social Hygiene shaped his rhetorical theory in Permanence and Change, but less attention has been paid to another facet of this research, criminology, and its influence on Attitudes Toward History. In Attitudes, Burke uses a criminological framework, called the "constabulary function," to characterize the rhetorical strategies political and economic elites use to bolster a deteriorating social order while deflecting attention away from broader, systemic problems. The constabulary function and its attendant terms-alienation, cultural lag, transcendence, symbols of authority, and secular prayer-provide a vocabulary for sociorhetorical critique. I examine how Burke's theory of the constabulary function grew out of his criminological research, consider how that theory informs key terms in Attitudes.