Announcing the 11th Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society 2021

KB Logo“Kenneth Burke in 2021: Seeing the Past, Envisioning the Future”

July 16-19, 2020 Postponed until 2021. Check back here for updates!
Tawes Hall
University of Maryland
College Park, MD, 20740
Conference Organizer: Damien Pfister, University of Maryland,
Submission deadline: To be announced later in 2020.


Keynote Speaker: Barbara Biesecker, University of Georgia
Plenary Speakers: Theon Hill, Wheaton College; Kyle Jensen, Arizona State University

Call for Papers

The Eleventh Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society welcomes proposals for papers and panels on any Burkean subject. However, we do especially encourage proposals that address the conference theme: “Kenneth Burke in 20/20: Seeing the Past, Envisioning the Future.” The conference will take place from July 16-July 19, 2020, at the University of Maryland, and will feature a keynote address from Barbara Biesecker, as well as plenary addresses from Theon Hill and Kyle Jensen, and the return of the KBS seminars. We look forward to welcoming scholars from many disciplines, nations, perspectives, and interests to join us for this enervating few days.

About the Conference Theme

In our current moment, appeals to history are commonplace—whether in slogans seeking to recapture an idyllic “America,” in news stories seeking to link current white supremacist violence to that of past decades, or in academics’ reflection upon the past practices and attitudes that continue to do consequential work in the present. As Burke would remind us, of course, these appeals are quite complex; our narratives of the past are dialectically equivalent to our assumptions about the nature of the present.

Yet, there is another complication at work here. It is the contention of this conference, and of its organizers, that Burke’s writings and thought remain vitally relevant to the analysis and navigating of the conditions of contemporary social life—here in the US and across the globe. Yet, calling us to embrace Burke for the future does require that we take stock of our past. The Kenneth Burke Society, and Burke Studies itself, are, of course, deeply implicated in the conversations started in many disciplines regarding the kinds of scholarship, and scholars, who have been traditionally valued and elevated, and the kinds of systemic inequalities that this has fostered. The Society, and the field of Burke Studies in general, has—without, to draw on a quote from Burke, deliberate intent upon the part of anyone—for too long functioned as an exclusionary space, reproducing an equation of Burke with “white” and “male.” This has worked to denigrate and marginalize work by the many women (starting with Marie Hochmuch Nichols) who have been excellent readers and scholars of Burke. This has also worked to discourage students and faculty of color from finding a home in the Society—and has rendered illegible those scholars of color who do, and have done, excellent work with Burke’s texts.

Although the KBS is not alone in this regard, this is our past. The task, then, is to make something different for the future, to find possibilities in the past that were not seized (by Burke, or those who followed in his footsteps), possibilities that can aid in that effort.

The conference theme thus calls for papers and proposals that explore the relevance of Burkean thought for collectively envisioning—and speaking into existence—a new and different kind of future. As Burke says in his afterword to Attitudes Toward History, “throughout the History (the Changing Story) of Acceptances and Rejections there broods the fantastic Maybe of the transformations.” Over the course of the convention, a combination of keynote and plenary speakers, attendees, and seminar leaders will engage in a collective effort to find the hopeful and just Maybes in our History of Acceptances and Rejections. 

Click on this Submit button to visit the KBS 2020 proposal submission interface at Submittable:

Housing (two options)

  1. College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 3501 University Blvd E, Hyattsville, MD 20783, (301) 985-7300. Reserve your room at Marriott in the Kenneth Burke block.
  2. Dormitory options on campus. Further details on these reservations coming soon.

More information to follow!

KBS 2017 Conflicts & Communities: Burke Studies in a World Divided

Fast Facts

Conference Dates: June 8-11, 2017
Location: East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
Proposal Acceptance Notifications were emailed on March 17, 2017
Registration Window: April 24, 2017 to June 1, 2017. (Late registration will begin June 2, 2017.)

RENEW KBS MEMBERSHIP HERE (All conference attendees must be current members of the Kenneth Burke Society)
For accommodations options, click HERE.
For travel information including local airports, airport shuttle, and car rentals, click HERE.
You can also help support student travel to the conference.

Conference Website:
Program Chair: Ethan Sproat (
Program Co-Chair: Annie Laurie Nichols (
Onsite Conference Coordinator: Cem Zeytinoglu (
Conference Keynotes: Anne George, Texas Christian University; James Klumpp, University of Maryland


Read the Story of the Conference Poster

Call for Nominations for the 10th Triennial Kenneth Burke Society Awards

KBS 2017: Call for Nominations for Conference Paper Awards

Conference Theme

The Tenth Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society welcomes proposals that focus on conflicts in and among various communities as well as various communities’ unique modes—or agencies—of waging, navigating and/or resolving conflict. As with prior KBS conferences, we also welcome all proposals from all disciplines—and from all students and scholars of Kenneth Burke’s work. We welcome proposals that address any aspect of Burke’s life or work.

More generally, the Tenth Triennial Conference will focus on these broad themes:

Conflicts. From its Latin roots, the word conflict literally means “together-fight.” Kenneth Burke strongly believed that humanity’s underlying penchant for conflict could be harnessed away from physically harmful actions and refocused toward symbolic/discursive behaviors.

Communities. In the 1970s, Burke wrote, “I never think of ‘communication’ without thinking of its ultimate perfection, named in such words as ‘community’ and ‘communion’.” Indeed, Burke’s lifelong motto Ad Bellum Purificandum is the aphoristic representation of a “perfected” rhetorical perspective that ceaselessly employs a “dialectical resource whereby any conflict of powers can be presented as a ‘balance of powers.’”

Worlds. Today we, too, find ourselves in a fractured world profoundly fraught with—and largely defined by—conflicting worldviews. Whatever our divisions, we symbol-using organisms remain inexorably united in that we are all-together the world-stuff that replicates the world in symbols. In this respect, symbolic divisions—that is, conflicts in human communities—are remarkable achievements if only because humans must begin with some accord concerning the symbols they use among themselves before they can use those symbols to engage in discord.

More specifically, the Kenneth Burke Society welcomes submissions that consider and critique the perspectives and tools Kenneth Burke employed toward understanding, interrogating, and negotiating conflicts, communities, and worlds.

  • How can Burkeian ideas help people learn to negotiate the dialectic of identity and difference?
  • How can a theory of identification allow for necessary diversity?
  • How might Burke’s work anticipate or fail to account for emerging new publics?
  • What implications does Burke pose for 21st-century pluralistic education at all levels?
  • In what ways could Burkeian thought navigate secularism, religious civil rights, and state religions?
  • What does Burke studies mean amid the continual negotiations of race, racism, racial identity, and race politics?
  • What implications does Burke’s notion of “entitlement” pose for natural-born, immigrant, and/or undocumented residents of any country?
  • How could Burke’s theories of the body and non-symbolic motion bridge any apparent divides among cisgender, LGBTQ, heteronormative, homonormative, pan-sexual, non-binary, and/or intersex identities?
  • How does Burke’s thought inform our understanding of the ever-growing number of technologically mediated global villages—e.g. global fan cultures; ethno-cultural, religious, and/or racial diasporas; hacktivists/hive-minds; and more?
  • How does Burke help or hinder our understanding of the ways communities are negotiated and renegotiated in a postcolonial and increasingly postnational world?
  • What does it mean to “purify war” in the face of psychological warfare, economic warfare, cyberwarfare, false-flag military operations, international “black-ops” and drone warfare, and/or international terrorism?
  • How does Burke’s spectrum of non-symbolic motion and symbolic action inform or challenge notions of ambient rhetoric, ontology, epistemology, and other philosophical implications of human communication?

Over the course of the conference, a combination of keynote speakers, featured presenters, and seminar leaders will explore these topics and more. Keynote speakers will be announced in February 2017. Seminars, seminar leaders, and featured speakers will be announced in March 2017.

We invite individual presentations, panels, and seminar topics exploring any of the above sets of concerns. Proposals should be submitted by CLICKING HERE. The submission window runs from November 1, 2016 through February 15, 2017. All proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. on February 15, 2017. Proposals for individual presentations should be 250-350 words in length. Proposals for panels or other formats may be up to 500 words in length. Acceptances will be announced by March 7, 2017.


Attendees may register for the conference online starting March 25, 2017. As with past conferences, registration fees will include all meals and special events. Further details will be published on the conference website from now until the conference.

The Venue

East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania is located a little over 30 miles west of Kenneth Burke’s farm in Andover, New Jersey, and about 70 miles west of Newark Liberty International Airport. East Stroudsburg is nestled between the Pocono Mountains and the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area. A list of lodging and dining options in and around campus will be published on the conference website soon.

Transportation from Newark Liberty International Airport

There are multiple ways to get from the airport to the conference site. More specific travel options will be published on the conference website soon.

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Poster: KBS 2017 Conflicts & Communities

Annie-Laurie Nichols, University of Maryland

KBS 2017 Poster

Artist's Statement

I have attempted to capture the dialectic tensions driving the conference theme, Burkean studies, and our current situations: both academic and pragmatic, both at odds and connecting, both overlapping and clashing, both cutting across the bias and still being somewhat cohesive, both different and alike, etc.

To that end, I have chosen a somewhat messy, handwritten typeface (we need equipment for living our messy lives and dealing with our messy situations!) and paired it with a very classic serif print typeface (we are academics, driven by a sense of order!). I have chosen two shades of blue to indicate that we have differences but are still bound by community and commonality. I used overlapping people to show diversity, conversation, and the tension of conflict and the uncomfortableness of overlap, but made everyone a shade of blue, again to visually tie everyone together as different, yet essentially similar. I used classic blue pinstripes to evoke the formality of suits, the homeyness of 50s wallpaper, and the ubiquitous ruled school paper, then I turned it sideways and cut across it with the text, working against rigid classifications and scientistic systems. I gave the type some alignment, but also let it wander around a bit, taking a tiny journey on the page and inviting us to journey for a moment with it.