Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elizabeth Lopez

Second Advisor

Carol Winkler

Third Advisor

Michael Harker


I investigate how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as an exemplar case study of intractable conflict, might be re-envisioned by destabilizing the paradigms of the belligerents. I detail how paradigms and our perceptions of and interactions with them influence, direct, and even defeat attempts at understanding social situations (of which violent conflict is one). Furthermore, with the premise that proposed solutions are reactions to existing paradigms, I analyze the potential benefits and risks of revealing the assumptions, premises, and biases of the paradigms with which belligerents, and those who represent them, construct their realities. In addition, I demonstrate how narratives and rhetorical myths prescribe action, not passively reflect action. Ultimately, I demonstrate the recursive relationship amongst originating paradigms, rhetorical myths, and the terms and concepts of narratives. This problem set transcends the motives of individual Agents and directs the focus on the rhetorical nature of the conflict’s intractability, not its ultimate resolution. I destabilize the assumption underpinning demonstrated U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: direct negotiations, as the core of the peace process, will result in peace.

This project joins current efforts to extend Burke’s dramatism into arenas where multiple rhetorical artifacts must be critically analyzed simultaneously to produce a more synoptic perspective. My approach leverages the heuristic character of Burke’s pentad to reveal a set of variables and relationships which account for a phenomenon: a “dramatistic” methodology for unpacking intractable conflict. My methodology also treats other Burkean concepts generally nested under the Dramatism moniker: god terms, comic and tragic frames of acceptance, entelechy, and the pitfalls of the scapegoat. I demonstrate how the suite of Dramatistic terms and concepts might be leveraged to reveal the interconnectivity amongst U.S. policies, the Scenes the artifacts call forth, and the Agents who manipulate them. Furthermore, to address the implications of prescriptive paradigms on problem formulation, I align my approach with Burke’s mythic, constitutive, and narrative projects.

This study is significant for rhetorical studies and peace and conflict studies because it provides a rhetorical framework to destabilize paradigms: a first step toward shifting a conflict from an intractable to a tractable condition. To that end, policy makers should be able to assess phenomena, like the Arab Spring, as part of a Dramatistic framework burdened with countless motives, rhetorical myths, competing narratives. For these reasons, this project is immediately relevant for understanding problem constitution at the intersection of rhetorical studies, peace and conflict studies, and policy development.