The pentad of cruft: A taxonomy of rhetoric used by Wikipedia editors based on the dramatism of Kenneth Burke

Andrew Famiglietti


It is widely understood that negotiation and debate among editors is key to the Wikipedia’s system of governance. However, the role of rhetoric, the construction and application of argument, in this process is less well understood. In this paper, I attempt to move our understanding of the role of rhetoric on Wikipedia forward by proposing a taxonomy of rhetoric derived from Kenneth Burke’s dramatism. The proposed taxonomy will classify arguments first by the dominant ratio of elements from Burke’s pentad present in the argument (scene–act, act–agent, etc.), then by the vocabulary employed to make the argument (what Burke called the terministic screen), then by the scope of terms used. I then demonstrate how this taxonomy might be developed to describe the rhetoric of the Wikipedia community by employing it to classify a sample of arguments drawn from Wikipedia’s Articles for Deletion (AfD) process. Further development and application of the taxonomy proposed here could help us refine our understanding of how and why Wikipedia editors develop and deploy certain arguments, and which sorts of arguments have the most success in swaying Wikipedian debates.


Wikipedia, Rhetoric, Kenneth Burke

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