Rhetorical Exigency and Argumentation Research Paper

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Aristotle’s concept of rhetoric as “the ability to find for any subject, the available means of persuasion” (Hill, 2003, p. 63) focuses on a process of discovery. His Rhetoric cataloged means by which elements of the speaker’s character (ethos), emotional appeals (pathos), and logical arguments (logos) could be brought to bear for persuasive effect. A person thoroughly examines the issue being confronted and selects those means of persuasion that are best able to move an audience to accept his or her way of thinking.

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Life presents us with numerous opportunities and challenges. This research paper focuses on one way in which communication can be used to engage others in helping us respond to them. Argumentation relies on Aristotle’s logos to achieve its persuasive effect, but the body of knowledge surrounding argumentation has expanded well beyond the Rhetoric, and provides insight into how to appeal to the rational side of human nature. From the rhetorical tradition, the concept of strategy helps us find appeals. Strategy is a process of analyzing the situation we find ourselves in, and the circumstances that produced it, so we can make choices about what and how to communicate that maximize our chances of successfully engaging others. The rhetorical exigency precipitates strategic thinking.

Rhetorical Exigency

If we think of an exigency as the difference between what is and what ought to be, that exigency becomes rhetorical when communication is the means we use to reach the desired state. Kenneth Burke’s (1966) concept of the motion-action dichotomy illustrates the point. Motion occurs in nature, and Mother Nature doesn’t use symbols to change the physical world. She just sends Hurricane Katrina to devastate New Orleans and other areas on the Gulf Coast. For Burke, action was the human counterforce to motion. We are part of the natural realm, but we use action to try to overcome nature and respond to events such as natural disasters. Standing on your porch as a hurricane approaches and commanding it to spare your property would be not only ineffectual but also suicidal. However, an appeal for government assistance, volunteers, and donations to assist communities devastated by a hurricane in recovering from the effects of the storm can produce results. It would be incorrect to assume that an exigency can only be the product of motion, because Burke noted that we also act in response to the actions of our fellow humans.

Lloyd Bitzer (1968, 1980) provided a comprehensive discussion of exigency and noted that it is the product not only of events but of people and relationships as well. An exigency is not just something we notice but something perceived to be salient; something that is or should be a matter of concern; something that requires a response because it is a pressing problem. We respond by communicating with others if we think doing so can help resolve the situation, which implies three beliefs about the audience. First, by communicating with others we cast them in the role of agents of change and assume that they are actually capable of doing something about the problem. Second, we hope they share our perception of the problem but need to realize that they may have their own, decidedly different perceptions. Third, we assume that they are capable of being influenced by our message to come around to our way of thinking and doing something about the problem.

Suppose you’ve been offered a summer internship in the promotions department of a major league baseball team, your dream job. Unfortunately, it’s an unpaid internship. You have to figure out not only a way to cover your living expenses while interning in a major metropolitan area but also how to pay for next year’s tuition, room, and board since you won’t be able to take the summer job you’ve had since you were a freshman in high school.You face an exigency. Maybe your family could help with expenses, except that the summer job is in your family’s seasonal amusement park business. If you aren’t there, they’ll have to train someone to replace you, an experienced employee who they dream will graduate from running the merry-go-round to running the business one day.

This illustrates that there may be multiple exigencies in a situation, and perception of which one is most salient can depend on who you are and where you stand (Hunsaker & Smith, 1976). For you, the need to do the internship is salient, but your family may view the question of “who is going to run the merry-go-round” as most pressing. Donald C. Bryant’s (1973) concept that the central function of rhetoric is “adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas” (p. 19) focuses on the transaction between the creator of the message and its audience. Since ideas must be modified so what the audience is asked to accept is reasonable to them, we should not attempt persuasion without thinking about our audience. That is certainly an important strategic consideration but not the only one.


The choices made in deciding what to do or say in response to an exigency are strategic in nature. In discussing Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric, we noted that he cataloged all the ways in which a speaker could persuade an audience by playing on their emotions, appealing to their reason, or trading on what they knew about his character. Once the speaker discovered all the ways he or she could persuade his or her listeners, only those most appropriate to the audience and situation would be used, a strategic choice. If your prior reputation with your family includes incidents of irresponsibility or not thinking through the consequences of your actions, using arguments based on your ethos to persuade them to help support your internship opportunity financially would be a poor strategic choice.

In describing the rhetorical situation, a model that communication critics use to explain why speakers were successful or unsuccessful in responding to an exigency, Bitzer (1968, 1980) called attention to the presence of what he called constraints and the impact they have on shaping strategic choices. A constraint is something that confines, restricts, forces, or compels choices about what to say on the speaker’s part. Constraints can work to the speaker’s advantage or disadvantage. They arise from practically anything: the characteristics of the speaker, the audience, or the environment in which communication takes place.

We have already touched on the role a speaker’s ethos can play. It should be noted that an individual’s social status, knowledge of the issue, and beliefs and attitudes are all potential constraints. Someone with high status may be able to successfully bluff his or her way through a situation where he or she has little knowledge of an issue, where a person with lesser status or whose status is unknown to the audience may not. Think of the frequency with which you see celebrities endorsing products or actors in white lab coats, which imply technical or scientific expertise, pitching products.

How an audience processes a message plays a role in making strategic choices. The elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) posits that we process persuasive messages along one of two routes: the central or the peripheral. A message has to hold some relevance for us to process it in the first place. If we have a high degree of involvement with its subject, are willing to take the time to think about it, and perhaps supply some of our own knowledge and experience in creating meaning for it, we are processing along the central route. If a message seems less relevant and we don’t want to take a great deal of time thinking about how we will respond, we rely on simple cues such as the messenger’s credibility as the basis for our involvement and process along the peripheral route. Taking this kind of mental shortcut is a matter of efficiency, given the number of messages we must respond to, and the cue we rely on can come from anything in the message, context, or situation. Since the existence of multiple, competing exigencies concerning your internship opportunity probably means that if your family processes the issue along the peripheral route, you face another summer of running the merry-go-round; you need to think about how to get them on the central route with you.

Audience knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs are important as well. If the audience is aware of and shares an interest in responding to the exigency, as was the case when stories of hurricane victims stranded on roof tops or huddled at the Louisiana Super Dome were all over the media, all that may be needed is a very specific appeal directing audience members how to volunteer or where to send their donations. If the audience is aware of the exigency but doesn’t share an interest in responding to it, the people assume that the government is taking care of the problem and they pay taxes, so they have done their part. Consciousness-raising communication about the limitations of what government can and is doing must precede the call for individual action.

The environment in which communication takes place can also act as a constraint, and it is one that the speaker may have little or no control over. Communication environments impose time, place, and manner restrictions on our behavior. This is most easily seen in circumstances where speakers are forced to use channels of mass communication such as television to reach their audience, as is the case when the president addresses the nation after a natural disaster has occurred or advertisers try to sell us cars and toothpaste.

The president’s access to the airwaves in such circumstances is free of charge because of the newsworthiness of the event, and the length of his presentation is constrained largely by how long it will take to get his point across. Once the president chooses where to speak from, television shapes the performance. If the location is the Oval Office, the lighting will be artificial; he will be seated behind his desk, restricted in his ability to move, speaking directly to the camera, which continually focuses on him. If he is speaking from the scene of a disaster, the lighting will be natural; he will be standing behind or holding a microphone, much freer to move and gesture, speaking to a live audience that the camera may cut away to. While the decision to wear a business suit in the office and more casual garb in the field may seem normal, it is part of the theatricality of “appearing presidential” that television creates and presidents exploit. At the height of the energy crisis of the 1970s, President Carter addressed the nation from the White House wearing a sweater, seated in a rocking chair next to a fireplace, and encouraged the American people to turn down their thermostats.

Advertisers, on the other hand, pay a steep price for air time depending on the size and composition of the audience they seek to reach. Since the amount of time available for advertising at various times is limited by Federal Communications Commission regulations, their messages must be brief. This goes a long way toward explaining the presence of those celebrity endorsers and lab-coated actors who encourage peripheral route processing in deciding what make of car or brand of toothpaste to buy and indicates how various constraints that shape strategic choices can be interrelated.

Families also have communication rules that may impose time, place, and manner restrictions on behavior. Since the internship opportunity is something you need to discuss with your family, is there a right time or place to bring it up? More important, is there a wrong time and place? If your family’s custom is to eat some of their meals together rather than grabbing something as they are headed out the door to another activity, is the dinner table someplace where conversation is free to range over a variety of subjects of world and personal importance, is conversation restricted to praising the pot roast and complimenting the cook, or do you eat in silence while watching television? Is this the kind of issue that must be discussed face-to-face, or would a phone call or e-mail conversation be an appropriate manner of communication?

A communication strategy emerges from the choices made to maximize the probability of accomplishing a specific objective, be it marshalling support to aid the victims of a natural disaster or getting your family to help you live out your dream of interning with a major league baseball team. A successful communication strategy results in the creation of what Bitzer (1968, 1980) referred to as a fitting response.A fitting response is one that is appropriate to the rhetorical situation: exigency, audience, and constraints.


Arguments arise between people when there is a difference of opinion, such as whether or not your desire for a summer internship is a good idea, and can turn into a contest between those holding opposing points of view, in which one wins and the other loses. Happily that does not always have to be the case, since the process of argumentation can also function as a means of decision making and achieving consensus, a method of collaborating to work out differences of opinion (Walton, 1992). We define argumentation as “a form of instrumental communication relying on reasoning and proof to influence belief or behavior through the use of spoken or written messages” (Rybacki & Rybacki, 2008, p. 3).

Because they seek to influence belief and behavior, practitioners of the art of argumentation are persuaders, but that does not mean that argumentation and persuasion are the same. Argumentation relies on proof and reasoning, logical appeals to the rational side of human nature to influence audience belief and behavior. While persuasive messages can include logical appeals, they can also include emotional appeals, and some messages rely solely on eliciting an emotional response from the audience to achieve their suasive purpose.

Moreover, argumentation relies on the audience following the central route in the elaboration likelihood model when they process the information they read or hear. This requires a significant time commitment on their part, attending carefully to messages, supplying some of their own experiences to supplement the information supplied by the arguers, and thinking critically about these messages. There is also a significant time commitment required of those who create arguments. Choosing to engage in argumentation commits you to becoming thoroughly knowledgeable about the subject so that not only can you offer the best proof and reasoning in your own arguments, but you are also able to think critically about and respond to the arguments offered by those you are arguing with. The nature of the controversies that people argue about are usually sufficiently important to them and their audiences to warrant the level of involvement necessary to cause people to follow the central route.

A distinction between persuasion as a whole and its subset argumentation is that while argumentation always follows the central processing route, many persuasive messages rely on the peripheral route. Persuasive messages based solely on pressing some hot-button emotional issue for the audience encourages peripheral route processing. If we thought critically along the central route about the proof and reasoning these messages offer, if there is any, we may not be as likely to buy what they are selling. To understand the relationship between argumentation and persuasion, think of persuasion as the term used to describe a universe of messages designed to alter belief and behavior, in which is included a constellation of messages using the techniques of argumentation to achieve that end.

If you think about your family’s initial reaction to your request that they provide the financial support that will enable you to accept a summer internship and return to school next year, it’s likely to be negative. While you may feel that their reaction is rooted in emotion, which it may be, realize that they believe or behave as they do for a reason. Argumentation is rooted in the idea that as rational creatures we are capable of changing our beliefs or behavior but will only do so if we are given good reasons. What are good reasons for them to support your plans?

Fields of Argument

Argumentation is rule-governed behavior that takes place in a specific context. Like other forms of communication, some rules are specific to the context, while other rules are universal and transcend contexts. To be successful in argumentation, you have to know the rules. Stephen Toulmin (1958) uses the term field instead of context, and it’s a useful metaphor. We can think of a field like a playing field, a figurative ground in which arguers and audiences function. We can also think of a field in the professional sense, such as the field of law, medicine, education, or politics, or in the sense of a context, such as the family, service organizations, or social groups we belong to.

This latter category of fields produces rules of argument that are field dependent. The most obvious difference between various professional fields is the unique jargon each has developed. You’ve seen this in your undergraduate career as you’ve taken courses in different academic disciplines and realized that to make sense out of lectures and textbooks you had to learn how to solve the linguistic puzzles they contained. While members of a profession have no problem using this jargon, you need to be sure that you’ve mastered it and can use it correctly if you are addressing arguments to an audience comprising members of the profession. Families, groups, and organizations can also develop their own unique linguistic style. Beyond their unique language, argumentation in professional and social fields is often shaped by field-dependent rules of engagement, the degree of precision they demand in arguments, and the mode of resolution used to settle disputes (Toulmin, Rieke, & Janik, 1984).

Law is a field with very clearly specified rules of engagement, and if those rules are not followed, a breach of proper legal procedure could result in a mistrial or be the basis for an appeal that might overturn a conviction. In a criminal case, after opening statements by both sides, the prosecution presents its witnesses and evidence and the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine. Following the presentation of the defense’s witnesses and evidence, which are cross-examined by the prosecution, the trial proceeds to closing statements by both sides and the judge’s instructions to the jury. The appropriateness of any question or the admissibility of any piece of evidence can be challenged, with the judge ruling on the objection before things proceed any farther. Compare legal rules of engagement with what happens in a typical academic dispute.

When Lloyd Bitzer published his initial article on the rhetorical situation in 1968 in a peer-reviewed academic journal, some in the discipline were concerned by its modernist, Aristotelian underpinnings. They published their critiques in similarly peer-reviewed journals. Bitzer’s rejoinder appeared in an anthology published in 1980 and produced additional commentary into the 1990s. The rules of engagement for most academic controversies historically involved presentations at professional meetings or publishing in scholarly journals, although e-mail and listservs now speed up the discussion among those who elect to participate.

Fields also differ in the degree of precision they demand in arguments. This is especially true in the degree of rigor they apply in determining what constitutes acceptable evidence. When the medical profession tests drugs for their efficacy and side effects in the process of seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, it imposes extensive controls. Some subjects get the drug, some get a placebo, and another similar group may get nothing at all. Subjects receiving the drug or the placebo are not informed whether what they are receiving contains active or inert ingredients. If the study is double-blind, even the persons dispensing the drugs are unaware of which is which. That way, differences between the groups can be ascribed to whether or not they received the drug.

The FDA is a federal regulatory agency which, among other things, has attempted to find out whether direct-toconsumer drug advertising encourages people to consult their physicians about a medical condition. They have concluded that it does on the basis of surveys sent to doctors asking them to report the frequency of patient contacts. The problem is that drug advertising is so ubiquitous that it is impossible to have a control group who are unexposed to advertising and see how their behavior compares. While the FDA is comfortable with the data showing that millions of people exposed to advertising for prescription drugs consult their physicians about what they have seen advertised, the medical profession wouldn’t accept the FDA’s evidence as valid proof.

The rhetorical exigency, which gives rise to argumentation frequently, represents a controversy or significant problem that needs to be resolved. The leisurely manner in which we suggested academic disputes unfold is not the case when the issue is a really serious one, such as a charge of plagiarism or faking data. In the field of politics, the mode of resolution is voting, although what is voted on may have been amended to represent a compromise that a majority can agree to. In the field of labor management relations, negotiation, mediation, or arbitration may be used to resolve a controversy.

A family may not have formal rules of engagement; a sense of the degree of precision they expect in arguments; or a method for resolving disputes other than the kind of time, place, and manner restrictions we discussed previously. However, families that have experienced some kind of professional intervention, such as marriage or family counseling, may have procedures as elaborate as the fielddependent rules of any profession that need to be observed. Regardless of the field-dependent rules that are in play, there are other rules all arguers need to observe.

If something does not change from field to field, it is said to be field invariant. Learning the field-invariant rules of argumentation means that when you move from field to field, when you move between home, work, and social engagements, the only thing that needs to change in the way you practice argumentation is the field-dependent rules you follow. Field-invariant rules of argumentation deal with the way people think and how they decide what information they can rely on to aid their thinking. Since our definition of argumentation indicates that it employs reasoning and proof, this should come as no surprise.

People employ reasoning to make sense out of their world, and the forms of reasoning that humans use are limited in number. While what people reason about may vary from field to field, the forms of reasoning are constant across all fields. Generalization is a form of reasoning in which you look at a number of similar individuals, objects, or events and reach a conclusion about the universe of individuals, objects, or events they represent. If you’ve ever decided whether or not to buy a bunch of grapes by popping one or two into your mouth to see if they were juicy and tasted good, you were generalizing (as well as aggravating the manager of the produce department).You don’t have to eat the whole bunch to make a conclusion; if those grapes were alright, so are the rest.

The medical profession may scoff at FDA studies of the effect of direct-to-consumer drug advertising, but both the medical profession and the FDA employ generalization as their method of reasoning. Medical researchers use test groups representative of all those with a particular medical condition to determine if the drug they are testing is an effective treatment. The FDA surveyed a representative sample of physicians to find out if patients asked them about drugs promoted in advertising campaigns. Based on what they learned from their respective samples, both the medical researchers and the FDA generalized that what was true of the individuals in their samples would probably be true of all individuals in the target group. This illustrates the first fieldinvariant process—people in different fields of argument use the same patterns of reasoning to reach conclusions.

The second field-invariant process is that people in different fields of argument use the same means to determine if the evidence used in reasoning is sufficient to produce a sound conclusion. The means that medical researchers and the FDA use to decide if their evidence was adequate to support a generalization are the same. For a generalization to be valid, it must be based on a sufficient number of instances or cases that are representative of the group they are randomly drawn from. If any instances or cases point to a different conclusion, they must be explained. Medical professionals think that the FDA’s evidence is inadequate because of a field-dependent rule of epidemiological research—an adequate research design must include a control group—not because the FDA lacked a sufficient number of cases on which to base its generalization.

You’ve been making a list of good reasons that you hope will influence your family to support your summer internship aspirations. Now you realize that there is going to be more involved than asserting “It will help me get a job after I graduate.”Your family is probably going to want more than your word on this and may look critically at whatever evidence you offer.You need to be sure that your proof is something you and they can rely on.You also have to be sure that the connection between this information and the point you are trying to make follows logically, that it uses one of the patterns of thinking, such as cause, sign, generalization, parallel case, analogy, or dilemma (Rybacki & Rybacki, 2008), that people use to make sense of the world. Your family is likely to think of your proposal in terms of the dilemma it poses: If they let you do the internship, it’s going to cost them money; if they don’t let you do the internship, it’s going to cost them relational currency with you.


The concept of a field of argument has uses beyond helping us identify the field-dependent and field-invariant rules we need to follow. We can also think of the concept of field in terms of a playing field, a piece of figurative ground. To get off to a good start in argumentation, you need to identify the beliefs or behaviors that occupy the figurative ground and would continue to occupy it if no good reasons were offered to change things. Since the ground is the space in which arguers and their audiences function, ask yourself who possesses the figurative ground, who has the home court advantage. Doing this enables you to determine where presumption lies.

The Anglican Archbishop Richard Whatley (1828/1963) contributed greatly to our knowledge of presumption. Using the analogy of a group of soldiers inside a fortified position, he asked whether it was more sensible for them to remain where they were behind thick stone walls or abandon their position and engage the enemy on an open battlefield. Should they trade the safety and comfort of what they know for the uncertainty of what they don’t? Should they leave things the way they are or opt for change?

Natural presumption favors that which presently exists, and we can find sources of natural presumption by examining institutions, traditions, documents, and practices. Suppose one of the reasons you want to do an internship is that it is a graduation requirement in your program of study. Because this requirement has been around for a while, presumption favors it. You may never have thought to question it, assuming that there must be a good reason for its existence, such as “It’ll help me get a job after I graduate,” and not given it much more thought. Most, but not all, fields of argument employ natural presumption, and it can be used as a tool for audience analysis to discover what knowledge, beliefs, and practices the audience likely accepts at face value.

Artificial presumption is used in the legal field. The presumption of innocence is artificial and means that the accused goes unpunished if the prosecution cannot offer good reasons to believe that he or she is guilty. The prosecution gets to present its case first, because if it does not offer good reasons, the defense can ask the judge to dismiss the charges against the accused without offering its own good reasons to believe that he or she is innocent. Thus, an additional value of understanding presumption, both artificial and natural, is that it can serve as a decision rule: We should continue to rely on presumption unless good reasons exist to do otherwise.

Artificial presumption is also used in hypothesis testing, “where there is an issue or question that is open in the sense that the relevant, available evidence does not resolve the issue one way or another with sufficient weight to close discussion of the issue” (Walton, 1992, p. 42). The reason for testing the efficacy of drugs and studying the effect of direct-to-consumer drug advertising is to resolve such open questions. Researchers typically start with what is called a null hypothesis—there is no effect—and attempt to discover whether sufficient evidence exists to reject the artificial presumption it articulates.

Natural presumption suggests that your family believes that you should not do the summer internship since you’ve been working at the family amusement park since your freshman year in high school. You are going to have to overcome that presumption with good reasons. Unlike the prosecutor trying to overcome artificial presumption and convince an impartial judge and jury of the accused’s guilt, you face the challenge faced by many who challenge natural presumptions: You need to convince your audience to give up beliefs and behaviors they are comfortable with and venture into the realm of the unknown.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof is the logical opposite of presumption. If presumption weighs in on one side of the issue, the burden of proof counterbalances it. The weight of proof and reasoning must be sufficient to allow the audience to be comfortable with the decision to shift its allegiance from what presumption favors to the change being proposed (Walton, 1988).

However, unlike presumption, which is static and consistently favors one side of an issue, the burden of proof is dynamic and a responsibility of all parties to the controversy. If those who challenge presumption uphold their burden of proof and shift audience sentiment away from it, those who oppose the change that would result must accept their own burden of proof since they can no longer rely on presumption. After the prosecution has presented its case, the defense cannot just say “Presumption of innocence, my client goes free” and expect to prevail. The defense must present good reasons either for the judge to dismiss the charges or the jury to find the accused not guilty. A basic rule of argumentation is “Those who assert must prove.”

The scope of the burden of proof is specified in some fields of argument, such as the legal field. If the charge is theft, the prosecution must prove that something was stolen and the accused did it. Testimony by the store owner and police pictures of the crime scene would prove the former, while circumstantial evidence, the accused’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime, and direct evidence, the discovery of the stolen merchandise in the trunk of the accused’s car, would prove the latter. This would constitute a prima facie case of the accused’s guilt, one that “on the face of it” is sufficient to suspend reliance on presumption at least temporarily until the defense has had its say. Evidence that the accused has unpaid parking tickets, overdue library books, or poor oral hygiene would be irrelevant.

In fields where the scope of the burden of proof is unspecified, audience analysis can provide some guidance. An audience inclined to favor change will require less convincing than an audience inclined to oppose it. An audience that already knows something about the issue needs to have less information provided to them than an audience that knows nothing, unless what they know causes them to oppose change, in which case you will need to provide them with a lot more. While one audience will differ from another in many ways, one way in which they are similar is with regard to the kind of questions they want answered in deciding whether to embrace or reject change. Although the subject of these questions will vary, their substance will not. These questions are the stock issues in argumentation.

Stock Issues

The concept of stock issues is field invariant in argumentation. The prosecutor does not have to search for what to argue in bringing a charge of theft against the accused, and the defense attorney is not in the dark either.You do not have to search for what to argue, since stock issues exist that don’t change from field to field. That is true because, while the subject matter may change from field to field, people basically argue about four things: (1) how something should be classified (definition), (2) what is probably true about something (fact), (3) how something should be judged (value), and (4) what should be done about something (policy).

Your internship aspirations come down to a policy issue: My family should provide the financial support necessary for me to do a summer internship with a major league baseball team. There are three stock issues concerning policy: (1) What is the reason for change? (2) What is entailed in the proposal for change? (3) What are the consequences of change? Because your family is also your audience, it is important to remember that the focus needs to be on why they should support you, not just why you want to do this.

While there might be many reasons for doing this internship (it satisfies a graduation requirement, it would be fun, it would be prestigious, an internship can lead to a job, what you learn could be used to enhance the family business), you should limit yourself to the strongest reasons. The strength of arguments is a function of both what you are best able to prove and what your audience will find most compelling. If you think that your family fears your loss of interest in taking over the business, the “enhance the family business” argument might allay that fear, but you need to be careful. Arguers, like other communicators, have an ethical responsibility not to deceive their listeners, and if you don’t plan on staying on at the amusement park following graduation, you don’t want to create the opposite impression.

Thinking about the issue from the other side’s perspective is important because it can help you anticipate objections and avoid problems. From spring training through the World Series, the baseball season stretches from midFebruary to late October. Why does the internship have to be in summer, when we’d have to find someone else to run the merry-go-round, might be an objection your family would raise.You should certainly be prepared to respond to it and may decide to preempt the question by bringing it up yourself. Choosing to preempt the other side’s arguments gives you the advantage of framing them from your perspective but runs the risk of causing problems by introducing issues that might never have been raised and creating the impression that you are acting defensively because your position is weak.

It is absolutely imperative that your position be consistent, without even the hint of contradiction. There is nothing more devastating and embarrassing than having something you’ve said turned against you. You anticipate that your family’s concern about finding someone to replace you at the amusement park if you do a summer internship could be a barrier to winning their assent. You decide to address that in part of your proposal for change. You have a replacement lined up, a classmate, who thinks you’ve got the greatest summer job in the world. He’d love to run the merry-go-round, is a quick learner whom you could train in a couple of days, and will work dirt cheap because he can get internship credit for working at the park.

If that doesn’t prompt your family to inquire why you can’t get internship credit for the same thing, it’s only because they aren’t listening. Perhaps you can’t get credit because your school requires an “arm’s-length” relationship between intern and site supervisor so that evaluation of the intern is unbiased. Telling your family that at the outset as part of an argument about internships being required for graduation makes you seem knowledgeable and forthright. Offering it as an explanation when questioned may cause suspicion that you’re making things up as you go along.

Alternative Perspectives

Our discussion of the manner in which argumentative message are created represents “conceptions of knowledge and truth that are accepted and articulated today [that] have been shaped throughout history by the male-dominated culture” (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Traule, 1986, p. 5). Feminists argue that theories of argument generated by this culture lead to simplistic conclusions, monocausal position statements, and tests of knowledge. Women “tend to fuse ideas and opinions rather than claiming one opinion is true and all others must therefore be false,” they are “connected knowers” (Rybacki & Rybacki, 2002, p. 210). According to feminist theory, the sexes are conditioned by culture to use argumentation and reasoning in different ways.

While we have focused on the use of argumentation to resolve differences of opinion, achieve consensus, and make decisions, it can also be employed to discover knowledge (Rowland, 1987). Pragma-dialectics, developed by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendort (1992), can be employed in the production of knowledge. Pragmatics (pragma) is the study of how the language we use changes belief and behavior. Dialectic is concerned with the way people interact, a normative model of rules concerning what arguers can and must do in the case of pragma-dialectics. For example, you can ask someone to clarify their argument. You must clarify your argument if asked to do so. The rules of pragma-dialectics can also be used to evaluate encounters to determine why they failed to produce results.


Argumentation is rule-governed behavior used to produce reasoned discourse. It requires its practitioners to invest the time necessary to become thoroughly knowledgeable about their subject and carefully craft reasoned messages about it. Like all forms of communication, it is most effective in achieving its purpose when the interests of the other parties to the conversation are taken into account. This requires strategic thinking on your part. In the end, it is well worth it since argumentation can be an effective way of responding to a rhetorical exigency, enlisting the support of others to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity.


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