For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The internal rhetoric of the knights of labor"

by Stewart, Charles J (1991)


This essay examines the internal rhetoric of the Knights of Labor between 1879 and 1913 to answer two questions: (1) How is the internal rhetoric similar to and different from the external rhetoric of social movements? and (2) How does the internal rhetoric change over time? Stewart's functional scheme and Burke's pentad were used to examine 74 reports given at annual conventions of the Knights of Labor. The most significant finding is the dominance of the agent. Confrontational rhetoric was found to be aimed mostly at right and wrong, good and evil, and saints and sinners within the Order or the movement (agent) rather than the established order or countermovements. The internal rhetoric was found to dwell on the scene within the Order (agent) and not within society or the world of the working class. And the egos of the members were found to be formed and maintained through identification with the Order (agent) rather than identification with productive workers, the working class, or pride in building America. A second major finding is influence of the situation. Confrontational form, perceptions of reality, and ego formation and maintenance were found to have changed considerably over time. This essay concludes that the theories of social movement rhetoric pieced together during the past quarter century need to be reexamined because there appear to be major differences between the internal and external rhetoric of social movement organizations and because social movement rhetoric may change significantly over time.


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Knights of Labor

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