While I’m at it with Kenneth Burke, here’s another favorite passage , on “identification,” illustrated with a provocative, if not downright disturbing, classroom scenario.
Included in the two pages linked above, Burke writes:
The human agent, qua human agent, is not motivated solely by the principles of a specialized activity, however strongly this specialized power, in its suggestive role as imagery, may affect his character. Any specialized activity participates in a larger unit of action. “Identification” is a word for the autonomous activity’s place in this wider context, a place with which the agent may be unconcerned. The shepherd, qua shepherd, acts for the good of the sheep, to protect them from discomfiture and harm. But he may be “identified” with a project that is raising the sheep for market.
Of course, the principles of the autonomous activity can be considered irrespective of such identifications. Indeed, two students, sitting side by side in a classroom where the principles of a specialized subject are being taught, can be expected to “identify” the subject differently, so far as its place in a total context is concerned. Many of the most important identifications for the specialty will not be established at all, until later in life, when the specialty has become integrally interwoven with the particulars of one’s livelihood . The specialized activity itself becomes a different thing for one person, with whom it is a means of surrounding himself with family and amenities, than it would be for another who, unmarried, childless, loveless, might find in the specialty not so much a means to gratification as a substitute for lack of gratification.
I don’t know how deliberate was the contiguity of the shepherd/sheep example with the classroom scenario; but I am struck by the insights that are independently corroborative of socio-cultural historical activity theory (CHAT).
What do you think?