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FAll 2009, 39:4, pages 331 - 352

Dancing Attitudes in Wartime: Kenneth Burke and General Semantics


The 1930s in America abounded with debates about language and communication. Interest in the effects of propaganda and the problems of miscommunication prompted the development of organizations like the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (1937) and Count Alfred Korzybski's Institute of General Semantics (1938). Albeit in different ways, each of these groups aimed to increase the public's awareness of the effects of language and to improve its ability to communicate. But the assumptions about language and communication held by these organizations would ultimately render them short-lived in terms of public and scholarly attention. This article examines the work of these organizations in relation to that of Kenneth Burke, and demonstrates how Burke developed his rhetorically oriented theories of communication against and in response to this rich background.

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