Bernard L. Brock, 1932-2006

James F. Klumpp, University of Maryland

The Kenneth Burke Society lost one of its founding members and one of its pioneer scholars in communication studies with the death of Bernard L. Brock on March 31, 2006. Brock, professor emeritus at Wayne State University, passed away at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital. He was 73.

Brock’s major legacy was in bringing Burkean critical methods to political communication. He took the system of philosophical schools that Burke developed in Grammar of Motives and adapted it as a way of understanding political philosophy. His classroom was a lively place where ideas met in the human barnyard of politics on a regular basis. His insight into political ideology took the Burkean notion of motivation and generated predictions of political behavior, uncanny in their accuracy. But his work with Burke was broader than just this interest. His exchange with Burke on the ontological versus metaphorical standing of dramatism remains an important reading for those studying Burke. His edited volumes ranged across Burkean influences and brought many to Burke’s ideas for the first time.

Bernard Lee Brock was born June 15, 1932, in Bristol, Ind. He earned his bachelor's degree from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. After serving in Korea with the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps, Brock returned to teach and coach debate in Chicago area high schools for several years. He then pursued his master's and Ph.D. at Northwestern University. His 1965 dissertation, “A Definition of Four Political Positions and a Description of their Rhetorical Characteristics,” directed by Leland Griffin, developed a Burkean system for tracking political ideology. Brock’s essay “Political Speaking: A Burkeian Approach,” published in William Ruerkert’s Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966, was a landmark essay pointing to the fruitfulness of Burkean methods in understanding political speaking.

Brock taught at the University of Minnesota from 1964 to 1972. During this time he edited and wrote the landmark book in rhetorical criticism, Methods of Rhetorical Criticism: A Twentieth Century Perspective, with Robert L. Scott. The book established the acceptability of Burkean criticism as a method of approaching the criticism of public discourse. Brock’s chapter on Burkean criticism became a standard work for rhetorical critics. He updated this essay in the third edition of the book in 1990.

In 1972, Brock joined the faculty at Wayne State University where he remained for the rest of his teaching career. He taught courses in political communication and social movements. After his retirement from teaching in 1997 he served as co director of the Center of Arts and Public Policy at Wayne State, an organization which conducts arts policy research for the state.

After the founding of the Kenneth Burke Society in 1984, Brock served the Society in many ways. He edited a volume of work from the third triennial conference, Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century. His introductory chapter of that book traced the developments of Burke’s thought through his works. Brock also edited the important book, Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought: Rhetoric in Transition, with essays relating Burke’s work to important European theorists of rhetoric from the late twentieth century. In 2002, he received the society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was recently selected as an inductee into the Central States Communication Association Hall of Fame.

Brock’s last co-authored book, Making Sense of Political Ideology: The Power of Language in Democracy, was published in November 2005 and returns to the linkage between language and political action that was the subject of his dissertation. The book laid out Brock’s system of ideological analysis and argued for the necessary vitality of linguistic analysis and political ideology in the functioning of an active democracy.

Brock, known as Bernie to his many friends and colleagues, also gave the society a plethora of students who work actively in Burkean scholarship and in the society. He guided more than forty graduate student projects, many of them advancing Burkean studies.

Brock’s influence on the widespread acceptance of Burkean methods in political communication will endure. His pioneer work and his continual involvement in the research focus, even to the last months of his life, ensure his legacy as one of the leading Burkean scholars of the late twentieth century.