Burke’s Pentad

What does being a research storyteller involve?

To break down a question  like this, I rely on theoretical models. The one I chose for our class is Kenneth Burke’s Pentad.

Burke is a 20th century rhetorician who was asking questions about motives–what motivates human beings to perform atrocious acts such as the Holocaust in World War II? The Pentad is a rhetorical spin on the journalist questions that you may have been taught when you were young–the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions about an event that help an audience get a sense of what’s going on and why it matters.

Burke’s Pentad:

ACT: What story? What’s happening?  

AGENTS: Whose story is this? Who speaks?  

SCENE: When is this story being told? Where is it being told?  

AGENCY: How is the story changing or staying the same?

PURPOSE: Why is the story being told like this?  


We will use Burke’s Pentad in this class to facilitate a close look at research writing in your discipline about climate change. The pentad also offers a way of thinking that I intend for you to carry with you as critical thinkers after the class ends. By us adopting the shared vocabulary, we will share it as a lens and thus deepen our inquiry as a class.

You do not need to become an expert on Burke’s Pentad, though you are welcome to look around online and learn more about it, if that helps you apply the ideas to the materials we are working with.  The bulk of our time in the cabin will be spent doing just that — applying this theoretical structure to climate change stories.

One Reply to “Burke’s Pentad”

  1. Burke’s Pentad of the questions based not the ACT, AGENTS, SCENE, AGENCY & PURPOSE are great tools to be used in regards to our research. It is a starting point for me in my research.

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