Power, War, and Melodrama in the Discourses of Political Movements

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This article outlines an interpretive-analytic for the study of how discourse functions in sociopolitical movements. Employing ideas derived from Kenneth Burke and Michel Foucault, and the results of research on how discourses function in movements, it elaborates a power/strategy interpretation of what movement actors do with words. Politics, both Burke and Foucault insist, is war pursued by other means. In other words, movements are militant campaigns; activists are generals and soldiers; the context in which movements unfold is a theater of force relations; actions are battles and words are tactical weapons. Movement actors must mobilize a discursive arsenal to organize, educate, and activate - to engage opponents in the public theater.

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