Rhetoric, Identity, Affect, Groups, Occupy Movement, Kenneth Burke


This thesis explores the implications that the transmission of affect (when one person’s emotions are transferred through pheromones and visual cues to trigger a similar affective response in someone else) could have on the study of rhetoric, specifically how we understand rhetorical situations involving large groups. According to Kenneth Burke, our identities are made up of the groups we identify ourselves with, which makes our identities largely based on emotionally connecting with other people. When groups are gathered together, particularly in emotionally charged situations, this emotional connection is often triggered by the subconscious transmission of affect. Transmission can lead a whole group to experience the same emotion, and if the members of the group also interpret the emotion in a similar way (either through situation or communication), the crowd will develop a sense of group identity—a feeling of togetherness and an impression that they are all part of the same group. This explains why large groups are able to begin thinking and acting in a unified manner so quickly. This type of non-verbal, emotional communication has clearly had an effect on many crowds, including the protestors at Occupy Dayton, which will be the primary example used here.

This idea will be developed in four segments: (1) a literature review, (2) an explanation of the social nature of emotion, including a description of affect transmission, (3) an analysis of how transmission applies to group identity, and (4) a case study of Occupy Dayton.

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Honors Thesis