Research Paper on Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality

Published: 2023-03-02
Research Paper on Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Communication
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1708 words
15 min read


Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification is considered essential for business communication (Burke, 1974). Both the theory of identification and consubstantiality explain the use of rhetoric in public relations (Burke, 1974). This research paper seeks to describe and analyze the Kenneth Burkes Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality. The paper will also seek to establish how identification and rhetoric are related and how they influence power.

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Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality

To persuade a target audience, all communicators must be able to connect with the audience on a particular level. A big part of this connection is associated with identification. The concept of identification involves the feeling of relation to an individual or an n organization or an issue. This identification can be a result of a sense of community, empathy, or a sense of responsibility, which is created by rhetoric. Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality is one such rhetorical theory that can be applied in promoting actions within the lines of persuasive communication (Burke, 1974).

The Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality was advanced by Kenneth Duva Burkes, who was both a philosopher and an influential rhetorician. Kenneth Burke tends to use the term "identification" to deviate from the typical traditional term, which is "persuasion." The conventional idea of persuasion is not dismissed. Instead, the Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality serves as an extension of the traditional notion. The Theory of Persuasion covered the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Theory of Reasoned Action, and the Social Judgment Theory (Quigley, 1998). To establish the advanced Burke theory, he considers two subjects; "Subject A" as well as "Subject B." The two subjects are not identical but suppose their interests become conjoined, Subject A naturally identifies with Subject B.

There are three stages of identification. The first stage is the process of giving names to someone or something following their physical properties. The second stage is the process of deciding whether to associate or to disassociate from others. The final stage is the end result of identifying with others. The third stage occurs only if, in the second stage, one chose to associate with and not to dissociate from others.

There are also four sources of identification with others. The first source is materialistic identification in that people will identify with each other based on tangible properties, for example, jewelry or clothes. The second form of identification is usually idealistic identification. In this case, people identify with each other based on attitudes, opinions, feelings, values, interests, perceptions, as well as experiences.

The third source of identification is formal identification. Formal identification arises from the organization, forms, and arrangements within which both parties participate. Such forums include meetings, benchmarking, and celebrations. The fourth source of identification is through mystification. This is most common in politics, whereby the people in the lower strata in a social hierarchy choose to identify with the people in the higher strata such as politicians (Simons, 2004). The Theory of Identification is mainly applied in explaining the communication process. The theory is also relevant in reinforcing personnel's rhetorical practice with careful consideration and association with the others (Simons, 2004).

The theory states that the A is "substantially one" with B. Despite that fact, Subject A and Subject B remain, individuals, only that they maintain their common interests. Subject A and B lead different lives with each exposed to various social, economic, and political environments. Therefore, they both have different opinions about life, politics, or social issues, but they can collaborate to work towards their common goal. One is likely to identify with those whose interest one perceives to be similar to theirs or when one is persuaded that they have similar interests with the other parties.

Concerning Subjects A and B, in being identified with B, A is substantially one with someone rather than A., yet at the same time, Subject A remains unique in his/her locus of motives (Cheney, 1983). Therefore, A is said to be both joint and separate and also consubstantial with B. The theory advances that divisions usually occur because humans are born, and they exist separately. However, they still seek to identify themselves with others through communication. Following the contemporary perspective, Burkes views human interactions as being more complex than the idea brought out by the term "persuasion."

Identification is a process that is essential to human communication. Burke, (1969) advanced that humans are "both joined and separated, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with one another." Consubstantiation is usually the feeling of oneness brought about by rhetoric language. According to Burke, (1969), consubstantiality is expressed as follows, "while consubstantial with its parents, with the firsts from which it was derived, the offspring is nonetheless apart from them. In this sense, there is nothing that is difficult with the statement that the offspring both is and is not one with its parentage.

Similarly, two people may be identified in terms of some principles that they share in common, an 'identification' which does not deny their distinctness". Burke, therefore, means that every individual is part of a whole. However, individual characteristics cannot be minimized or erased. He explains that children come from parents. As they grow, their parents impart their rules, beliefs, ideas, identities, knowledge, and values on them. As the children age, they get to develop their own practices, opinions, ideas, personalities, culture, and values, some of which may be different from that of their parents. The different points of view are an extension of the child's identity, but the child remains to be their parents.

Kenneth Burke aimed at broadening the definition and the uses of rhetoric. Burke's primary interest in the line of identification is an appeal to the respective speaker's ethos (Hansen, 1996). From Burke's perspective, communication was only aimed at getting to establish and maintain social life. In the words of Kenneth Burke, "You persuade a man in as far as you talk his language in speech, tonality, gesture, attitude, order, image and identifying your ways with his." By this quote, it is clear that Burke's Theory assigned identification the same level of importance which is attached to gesture, speech, attitude, tonality, and ideas within the practice of rhetoric (Foss, Foss, & Trapp, 2014). The Theory of Consubstantiality, therefore, made it clear that things are consubstantial if they contain the same nature.

Burke's Theory of Identification and the Theory of Consubstantiation are connected in that the doctrine of implicit or explicit consubstantiation is essential to any way of life, and so is identification (Paul, & Philpott, 2009). The limitation, however, is that the advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) may not necessarily be applied to some forms of communication which do not involve face-to-face interaction. The theory does not provide criteria for distinguishing whether similar interests are real or fake. Fake interests are not a legitimate source of identification and subsequent consubstantiality.

Burke, (1974) stated that rhetoric is the art of persuasion or more of a study on the means available for a particular situation. He also says that rhetoric is rooted amidst the use of language as a means that is symbolic of inducing cooperation in beings that respond to symbols by nature. A speaker usually persuades the audience using stylistic identifications. The persuasive act by the speaker may be for the speaker to make the audience identify with his/ her interests (Jackson, 2013). The speaker, therefore, draws on the identification of interests to establish a rapport with him/ her and his/her audience (Jackson, 2013).

Identification and rhetoric influence the language used. A language is a critical tool in the assertion of power over subordinates (Hansen, 1996). Identification directly influences capability in the case of mystical identification, as discussed earlier. When people in the low hierarchies identify themselves with those in the higher hierarchies, it directly imposes power on those in the high hierarchies over them.

With these facts, persuasion, identification, consubstantiality, and communication are intertwined. Communication bears rhetoric as communication is the nature of rhetoric. Burke, (1974) also observed that identification is usually affirmed with earnestness simply because there is division. Rhetoric is needed because human beings are very different. The rhetoricians are said to proclaim men's unity as a result of the divisions that come about. The divisions are caused by differences in opinions, values, attitudes, cultures, ideas, and identities.


Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality extends beyond the conventional idea of 'considering your audiences.' The theory is highly relevant to business communication; that is why it is referred to as 'An Essential for Business Communication.' Identification, communication, rhetoric, and consubstantiality are well intertwined, and one cannot easily consider one apart from the other.


Burke, K. (1974). The philosophy of literary form (Vol. 266). Univ of California Press. Retrieved from:

Cheney, G. (1983). The rhetoric of identification and the study of organizational communication. Quarterly journal of speech, 69(2), 143-158. Retrieved from:

Foss, S. K., Foss, K. A., & Trapp, R. (2014). Contemporary perspectives on rhetoric. Waveland Press. Retrieved from:

Hansen, G. (1996). Kenneth Burke's rhetorical theory within the construction of the ethnography of speaking. Retrieved from:

Jackson, C. Y. (2013). The Use of Rhetoric in Public Relations: Kenneth Burke's Theory of Identification and Consubstantiality. Retrieved from:

Paul, C. A., & Philpott, J. S. (2009). The Rise and Fall of CTS: Kenneth Burke Identifying with the World of Warcraft. In DiGRA Conference. Retrieved from:

Quigley, B. L. (1998). Identification" as a key term in Kenneth Burke's rhetorical theory. American communication journal, 1(3), 1. Retrieved from:

Simons, H. W. (2004). The rhetorical legacy of Kenneth Burke. A companion to rhetoric and rhetorical criticism, 152-167. Retrieved from:

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