Remembering Bernard L. Brock

James W. Chesebro, Ball State University

It is difficult to find the words to adequately capture why so many of us remember Bernard L. Brock as a marvelous, scholarly, and caring man. For his students--such as myself--he was initially an inspiring teacher. But, our relationship evolved. Bernie gradually became an informed and wise mentor. With additional time, he became a supportive and sharing colleague. Ultimately, I believe, Bernie was a sensitive—if not compassionate--friend.

In these few words, I cannot do justice to Bernie as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. But, I do want to do three things here today. First, I want to provide a little background about Bernie, background that explains the man we knew. Second, I want to provide some of my personal reflections about Bernie—these are the reflections of his first Ph.D. candidate and a friend who knew him for forty years. Third, I want to identify three of Bernie’s contributions to the discipline of communication.


Bernie, as we all knew him, was born on June 15, 1932, in Elkhart, Indiana. Following open-heart surgery, he died of cardiac staphylococcal infection on Friday evening, on March 31, 2006, at the age of 73, in Detroit, Michigan.

Of the many things that can be said about Bernie, he was always a scholar and professor.

Yet, his academic career was easy to summarize.

He was formally educated in the state of Illinois. He graduated from Arlington High School in Arlington, Illinois, in 1950. He received his bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, in 1954. He taught and coached high school debate in Illinois. He decided to continue his formal education. He received both his masters’ degree in 1961 and his Ph.D. degree in 1965 from Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois.

Likewise, his academic career is relatively concise. He taught at only two institutions. Bernie came to the University of Minnesota in 1965 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor. He was then hired and appointed as a full Professor at Wayne State University in 1972. He stayed at Wayne State University until his retirement. On June 14, 1997, in a wonderful ceremony, we celebrated his retirement in Detroit. My picture of Bernie and I at that retirement ceremony hangs in my home office. I look at it everyday. In all, Bernie taught at the university level for 32 years.

Before I consider Bernie’s specific scholarly contributions, let me share a few personal remembrances. I think these personal notes reflect what so many of his students felt as they interacted with Bernie. These remembrances provide a host of insights into Bernie as the man who does scholarship, a scholarship decided to influence society, and a scholarship with and for others.

Personal Reflections

In terms of my personal experiences with Bernie, I need to go back some forty years now. Indeed, Bernie and I celebrated our fortieth year as colleagues in September of 2005. In 1965, I was a junior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in speech communication, and a debater. Bernie joined the Minnesota faculty in September of 1965, and part of his responsibilities including coaching the debate team. So, that first year, I met Bernie as a debate coach and as a student in several of his courses including campaigns and movements and communication for the classroom teacher.

It is during this period that I first read Bernie’s dissertation. I was impressed, and I made of copy of one chapter in particular. Chapter III, “Content Analysis,” provided a scheme for analyzing rhetoric that Bernie described as a “system.” Indeed, in some ways, we could now classically identify Bernie as a structuralist.1 But, in his terminologies, he advocated the use of a system, a system of analysis. This system, Bernie noted, “must be sensitive to the substance of the political positions as well as to the normal rhetorical devices” (1965, p. 51). For Bernie, this Burkeian analysis was always his “system” of analysis.

When I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, Bernie guided and helped me select the school for my master’s degree, and he provided me advice on my first job. At this juncture, Bernie became my mentor. In 1969, I returned to the University of Minnesota for my Ph.D. Bernie Brock was my adviser, and I was his first Ph.D. candidate. But, during this period, we also team-taught a course, coauthored a book, and presented joint convention papers. In this regard, we gradually shifted from a mentor relationship to colleagues.

When I left Minnesota for my first job at Temple University in Philadelphia, one of my most outstanding remembrances was when Bernie and I first shared and consoled each other when we had simultaneously experienced major interpersonal crises. At that time, I knew we had shifted from being more than colleagues; we were truly friends in every sense of the word, a friendship I have valued as one of my most important relationships.

During the next twenty five years, we were continually and constantly interacting. In the late 1980s, I began a collaboration with Bernie and Bob Scott that produced the third edition of Methods of Rhetorical Criticism in 1990. In 1993, Bernie contributed to a volume I was editing, Extensions of the Burkeian System. I contributed to his edited volume, Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought: Rhetoric in Transition, published in 1995. On June 14, 1997, I attended and spoke at the ceremony honoring Bernie’s retirement at Wayne State University. At the time of his death, Bernie, I, and my student Dale Bertelsen were collaborating and working together on the fourth edition of Methods of Rhetorical Criticism, to be published by Roxbury Press in 2007. In my mind, this publication will formally mark our 40th anniversary as colleagues as well as our transition from a student-teacher relationship, to a mentorship and colleague relationship, finally to being colleagues and friends.

Indeed, our path has been virtually the same in so many ways. Some of the markers have been vivid. In 1996, I was one of those nominating Bernie for the Kenneth Burke Society Lifetime Achievement award. Three years after he received it, in 1999, I received that same award. When I did, I thought of Bernie and said what Kenneth Burke had once said when reflecting on one who inspired him. I thought of Bernie and said, “without whom not.”

From these remembrances, let me recall my uses of systems of analysis that Bernie created which brings me to Bernie’s contributions to the discipline of communication.

Brock’s Three Contributions to the Discipline of Communication

Bernie has played a host of roles in the discipline of communication. Certainly, he has been a critic, and a critic of presidential rhetoric. But, he has also been one who crafts rhetorical methods. And, he particularly loved to develop systems that provided comprehensive and systematic ways of accounting for all persuaders along coherent dimensions. And, at the end of his career, a new perspective emerged. At this juncture, let me detail three specific contributions that Bernie made to the discipline of communication.

The Four Political Positions

First, Bernie contributed to our understanding of the nature of political persuasion and the rhetorical structure of the political process. While images were always important to Bernie when dealing with politics, he remained forever convinced that our belief systems, our political ideologies, guided—if not controlled—our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. And, Bernie was systematic in his conception of ideology, and he posited that there were four political positions. When characterizing these four political positions, Bernie has used two interlocking dimensions, response to change and use of institutions to distinguish systematically four political positions from radical to liberal to conservative to reactionary. In this system, all options are accounted for, each political position has unique characteristics, and all political agents are simultaneously defined in terms of each other. Bernie’s system conveys the sense that all possibilities are accounted for while also accounting for transformations by diverse political agents.

I did use this radical-liberal-conservative-reactionary framework when I considered the role and use of change and institutions when dealing with international cultures. In volume 21 of the International and Intercultural Communication Annual in 1998, I proposed a scheme for “distinguishing cultural systems” with “change as a variable” for “explaining and predicting cross-cultural communication.”2 While Brock’s terminology of radical-liberal-conservative-reactionary did not appropriately fit a discussion of cultural systems, I did use a system that exactly parallels what Brock had developed. When explaining the kinds of change that dominate cultural systems, I suggested the use of a revolutionary-evolutionary-stability-involution scheme for classifying the world’s cultures. Ultimately, for Bernie, his 2005 volume, Making Sense of Political Ideology: The Power of Language in Democracy3, was important to him, because it reflected the system of thought he developed in 1965, but also because so many of the students he so valued—Mark E. Huglen, James F. Klumpp, and Sharon Howell—were coauthors of the volume with him.


Bernie’s second contribution to the discipline of communication focused on his conception of how change and transformation occurred, a process he identified as the dramatistic structure and process. I have most extensively used Bernie’s dramatistic structure and process of pollution-guilt-purification-redemption. I used Bernie’s dramatistic scheme as stages in connection with Northrop Frye’s types of communication dramas to isolate the ways in which irony, mime, leadership, romance, and myth can be distinguished as communication systems. Linking Brock and Frye in this way, I developed a 4 x 5 grid that I have used to classify prime-time television series from 1974-1975 through the 1998-1999 television season. In all, over a twenty-five year period, 1,365 television series were classified into this scheme. This scheme was used to mark transformations in idealism and individualism during the last quarter of a century. As I noted in the most recent publication of this analysis:

In order to identify operationally and systematically the unique pattern of dramatic action that characterizes each communication system, Kenneth Burke’s (1961/1970, pp. 4-5) “dramatistic process” has been employed. As originally adapted by Brock (1965) and then as extended and used in a modified form here, all human dramas are carried out in four discrete stages. These stages . . . are: (1) Pollution . . . (2) Guilt . . . (3) Purification . . . and (4) Redemption.4

Beyond using Brock’s scheme to complete a 25-year longitudinal study of prime-time television series, I should also note that I did interim reports on this study at four year, seven-year, eleven-year, eighteen-year as well as at the twenty-five year intervals. Finally, I used this same scheme to track changes in popular music from 1955 through 1982.5 When dealing with popular music, I detected a cyclical pattern of development in which popular music returned to its the rock ‘n’ roll origins. Like myself, others continue to find additional uses of Brock’s dramatistic structure and process.

Spiritual Communication

Bernie’s third contribution to the discipline of communication began to emerge toward the end of his career. Bernie had long been considering how humanism and spiritualism influence human symbol-using. Additionally, part of this inspiration came from his own self-examinations as well as Kenneth Burke’s examinations of Christian Science. Finally, in 2004, as Editor of Review of Communication, I was able to convince Bernie to explore what he was thinking about. In the April-June 2005 issue of Review of Communication, Bernie examined a genre of communication he identified as “spiritual communication.”6

Yet, Bernie’s exploration in this essay was not a radical departure. Indeed, his analysis constituted an evolution and development from his earlier works. For example, he believed that a major trend was occurring in the United States, a trend from “physical well-being” to “spirituality” (p. 88). Additionally, he believed that two structures or “models”—the “fall/redemption” and “blessing/growth”—could account for recently published volumes dealing with spiritual communication.

At the same time, Bernie’s explorations within this area constituted a break-through in some extremely fundamental ways. Bernie began to consider a new rhetorical scheme that was not grounded in the dramatistic structure and process. Indeed, Bernie suggested that spiritual communication itself was undergoing a transformation. He concludes his analysis of “spiritual communication” by suggesting it was undergoing a transformation from a system and discourse based in “fall/redemption”—the foundation of the dramatistic structure and process—to a system and discourse based upon “blessing/growth” (p. 99). This “blessing/growth” model did not emphasize the “”falling from grace” that Bernie believed was central to Burke’s “idea of Order” (p. 89). In sharp contrast, the “blessing/growth” model began with a premise of “continuous change, growth and progress,” an orientation Bernie believed that had its “roots in traditional Eastern religions like Buddhism” (p. 91). Here the first step of the “blessing/growth” model was the recognition of “change, evolution, healing, blessing, growth, and new things.” In this view, we begin as human beings—held Bernie—with and tap into an “eternal, creative energy and activity associated with wisdom and play” (p. 91). This process ends on a final stage of “transformation.” This final “transformation,” Bernie held, “charts how individual transformation occurs through a variety of paths” which “a person is able to build creatively,” “with God,” and thereby “gain a positive life experience” (p. 92).

Bernie’s contribution here would take the discipline of communication in a new direction. It suggests that communication itself is initially and predominantly a blessing, a growth experience, a way of changing, a form of healing, and a transformation.

Beyond the discipline of communication, I personally think that Bernie increasingly found communication to be such an experience for him. His description of spiritual communication was a description of his own experience with human communication. He ended his life with the kind of realization that only a few come to know.


As a concluding comment, let me note that, in all, Bernie’s contributions have been impressive and insightful. His work in methodology has exerted powerful and overwhelmingly significant contributions to the discipline of communication. And, I also think Bernie’s influence is reflected in his students and colleagues, such as myself, who have used his constructs so directly in their work. But, in the final analysis, it was the man himself who counted. Bernie made communication a blessing, a growth experience, and a transformation. In all, Bernie did what he hoped he would do: As a teacher, he inspired; As a mentor, he informed and gave wisdom; As a colleague, he supported and shared; and, finally, in the final analysis, he was a sensitive and compassionate friend.

There is no easy way to say “thank you” in academic environments.

Certainly, the memorial services and commemorative panels in his name this year are more than appropriate. But, how can we say “thank you”? Once again, in the words of a man Bernie respected so much, one final statement seems to work, “Without whom not.”


*James W. Chesebro (Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1972) is Distinguished Professor of Telecommunications and Director of the Department of Telecommunications’ Digital Storytelling Master’s Program at Ball State University. A version of this paper was presented at the Eastern Communication Association convention in Philadelphia, PA, in April 2006, and at the National Communication Association convention in San Antonio, TX, in November 2006.

1. In this regard, see one of the classical statements of structuralism: Pierre Bourdieu, “Structuralism and Theory of Sociological Knowledge,” Sociological Research, 35 (Winter 1968), pp. 681-706.

2. James W. Chesebro, “Distinguishing Cultural Systems: Change as a Variable Explaining and Predicting Cross-Cultural Communication” (pp. 177-192) in Communication and Identity Across Cultures, edited by D. V. Tanno and A. Gonzalez (International and Intercultural Communication Annual, Vol. 21). Thousand Oaks< CA: Sage Publications, 1998. Also, see: James W. Chesebro, “Change, Nation-States, and the Centrality of a Communication Perspective” (pp. 215-225) in Communication and Identity Across Cultures, edited by D. V. Tanno and A. Gonzalez (International and Intercultural Communication Annual, Vol. 21). Thousand Oaks< CA: Sage Publications, 1998.

3. Bernard L. Brock, Mark E. Huglen, James F. Klumpp, and Sharon Howell, Making Sense of Political Ideology: The Power of Language in Democracy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005).

4. James W. Chesebro, “Communication, Values, and Popular Television Series—A Twenty-Five Year Assessment and Final Conclusions,” Communication Quarterly, 51 (Fall 2003), 367-418, especially pages 371-372.

5. J. W. Chesebro, D. A. Foulger, J. E. Nachman, & A. Yannelli. (1985, June). Popular music as a mode of communication, 1955-1982. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 2, 115-135.

6. Bernard L. Brock, “Spiritual Communication,” Review of Communication, 5 (April-July 2005), pp. 88-99. The quotations and page references in this context are all to Brock’s analysis of spiritual communication in this essay.

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Remembering Bernard L. Brock

I just want to say I was very much moved and enlightened by this tribute. Those of us who were there remember vividly the Lifetime Achievement Award that went to Bernard at the 1996 Burke Conference at Duquesne. Only two pioneers in Burke studies, Leland Griffin and William Rueckert, preceded him in earning this honor.

The first two of Brock's contributions to communication theory Chesebro cites are well-established contructs in the field. I hope someone picks up on Bernard's contribution to the notion of "spiritual communication," especially since this theme comes front and center at NCA in Chicago this year. I had not heard of the online journal Review of Communication until a few months ago. I hope Brock's valuable thoughts on this subject, a topic that has informed so much attention recently, one way or another, in the political public square, gets a full airing in the communication field and beyond.

With the passing now of Bill Rueckert, as well as Brock and Griffin, the Burkean community has lost three of its greatest scholars of the first generation.

They are gone, but will not be forgotten.