Repository logo

Taking rhetoric to work : a dramatistic analysis of organizational leadership in The Office



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




Degree Level



This thesis focuses on ways that rhetorical theory can assist in better understanding the dysfunctions of the modern organizational environment. At its root, organizational dysfunction refers to those parts of our organizations that do not function as we think they should. Dysfunction points to “actions of organizational members that defies and violates shared organizational norms and expectations or core societal values, mores and standards of proper conduct.”1 As an element of focus, this thesis uses Kenneth Burke’s theory of dramatism and dramatistic methods such as pentadic criticism and cluster criticism to analyze leadership actions within the fictional BBC television programme The Office. Using The Office as a representative case study, the analysis applies Burke’s theories, and particularly the pentadic elements of Agent, Scene, and Act to gain a more complete picture of the role an office manager can play in an organization’s dysfunction. A more complete picture can then assist in finding solutions to that dysfunction. Burke’s methods allow for a critic to gain multiple perspectives on the same situation by attributing different terms of the pentad to the same elements of the situation being described. When looking for causes of dysfunction in an organization, often formal leaders are held accountable. But what does it mean to blame the leader? What specific role have they played in the dysfunction? Using Burke’s pentad, this thesis explores three roles that office manager David Brent plays in the organizational dysfunction. The first chapter explores office leader Brent as an Agent of dysfunction and analyzes his own dysfunctions in order to understand the office’s dysfunctions. The second chapter looks at the ramifications for labeling Brent as part of the Scene and analyzes how Brent and other scenic elements combine to create office dysfunction. In the final analysis chapter, Brent is labeled as an Act of dysfunction himself which positions Brent as a mere symptom of a larger dysfunction within the organization. The perspectives are combined and contrasted to reveal insights that may have been previously hidden proving that rhetorical theory is a valuable approach to better understand organizations and the people within them. 1 Y. Vardi and Y. Weiner. “Misbehaviour in Organizations: A Motivational Framework”, Organizational Science, (7,1996) 151-65.



rhetoric, organizational communication, The Office, Kenneth Burke



Master of Arts (M.A.)


Interdisciplinary Studies


Interdisciplinary Studies



Part Of