LINGUIST List 21.3297

Mon Aug 16 2010

Review: Discourse Analysis: van Eemeren (2009)

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        1.    Seth Knox, Examining Argumentation in Context

Message 1: Examining Argumentation in Context
Date: 16-Aug-2010
From: Seth Knox <>
Subject: Examining Argumentation in Context
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EDITORS: van Eemeren, Frans H. Title: Examining Argumentation in Context Subtitle: Fifteen Studies on Strategic Maneuvering Series Title: Argumentation in Context (AIC) 1 Publisher: John Benjamins YEAR: 2009

Seth Knox, Department of Modern Languages & Cultures, Adrian College (Adrian, MI)


The fifteen papers which make up this volume were presented at four conferences on strategic maneuvering and argumentative discourse in Amsterdam between October 2006 and May 2008. The volume is dedicated to the memory of Peter Houtlosser, who, together with Frans H. van Eemeren, developed a theory of strategic maneuvering in argumentative discourse at the University of Amsterdam. The theory of strategic maneuvering builds upon the pragma-dialectical approach to agrumentative discourse and contributes a toolbox for assessing contextual and rhetorical variables in the reconstruction of the discourse. The strategic maneuvering project allows for consideration of the strategic design of argumentative discourse in addition to its dialectical structure.

The first chapter, ''Strategic maneuvering: Examining argumentation in context,'' by van Eemeren and Houtlosser serves both as an introduction to the volume's papers and a preview of van Eemeren's "Strategic Maneuvering in Argumentative Discourse" (van Eemeren 2010). This chapter situates the study of rhetoric in its historical context, and traces briefly its separation from dialectic, beginning in Antiquity, continuing in the Middle Ages, and finally suffering a forceful split after the Scientific Revolution. The authors argue that this separation has been counterproductive in the study of argumentative discourse since dialectical norms (acceptable methods of reasoning) and rhetorical devices (means in pursuit of persuasion) are not mutually exclusive. In any argumentative discourse they must coexist. Van Eemeren and Houtlosser offer examples of the parameters that must be considered in an analysis of strategic manuevers, and they stress the importance of institutional and contextual constraints in the analysis of argumentative discourse. By extending the pragma-dialectic approach in this manner, a better account of derailments in argumentative discourse is possible.

The second chapter, ''Strategic maneuvering with dissociation,'' by M. A. van Rees focuses on uses of dissociation in argumentative discourse. Whereas association involves the attempt by a speaker to connect two distinct concepts for the purpose of transfering audience associations of one to the other, dissociation divides a concept into central and peripheral aspects with the aim of focusing audience attention on those aspects (central) considered relevant (or strategically advantageous) to the speaker. It is a technique that may be employed at any stage of a critical discussion (confrontation, opening, argumentation, and concluding stage). Van Rees argues that dissociation may serve critical dialectical functions such as improving the clarity, precision, and consistency of language used in the discourse. However, dissociation may also allow a speaker to take undue advantage of audience attention by focusing on standpoints the speaker can confidently (and perhaps most easily) defend while shifting attention away from aspects that that are disadvantageous to the speaker. Most dubiously, a speaker may present the dissociation as common knowledge in an attempt to block further argument. Van Rees also shows how dissociation may be used to avoid the appearance of inconsistency with previous standpoints and arguments.

The third chapter, ''Constrained maneuvering: Rhetoric as a rational enterprise,'' by Christopher W. Tindale opens with observations of van Eemeren and Houtlosser's scholarly argumentative practices in their attempts to persuade fellow argumentation theorists that rhetoric deserves serious consideration in studies of argumentative discourse. This leads into a discussion of the importance of audience demands in argumentation. As an arguer seeks ''communion'' with an audience, the perceived audience will create constraints on the strategic maneuvering of the arguer throughout the stages of argumentation (43). Tindale problematizes the reconstruction of an ''intended'' audience in argumentative discourse and stresses the importance of common knowledge, discourse practices, and expectations of reasonableness shared by arguer and audience when reconstructing and analyzing argumentative discourse (p. 47).

Manfred Kienpointner is the author of the fourth chapter, ''Plausible and fallacious strategies to silence one's opponent.'' In this chapter, Kienpointner argues that attempts to silence an opponent do not always constitute fallacious strategic maneuvers; instead, such attempts exist along a continuum from plausible to fallacious. Kienpointner is aware that this seems to violate both the right of freedom of speech and the code of conduct expected of rational participants in an argument (within the framework of the pragma-dialectical model). However, he makes a strong argument that the strategy of silencing an opponent may be plausible through a brief case study of the Austrian law prohibiting neo-Nazi activities. At the other end of the spectrum, Kienpointner examines this strategy as derailment in political contexts where highly emotional appeals are made without plausible arguments in order to cut off reasonable discussion and avoid criticism.

In the fifth chapter, ''Strategic maneuvering in direct-to-consumer drug advertising: Argument, contestation, and institutions,'' G. Thomas Goodnight discusses institutional context in argumentation through the example of direct-to-consumer drug advertising in the United States. Goodnight takes the position that the argumentative practices and norms of institutions are extensions of those learned and reinforced within the family and community. A part of this extension that is absent from the argumentative practices of the family is the dichotomy of professional provider and lay client; further, participants in argumentative discourse within modern institutional contexts face unequal risks from the outcome of such agrumentation. Goodnight examines the rhetorical devices of pharmaceutical advertising as well as the strategic maneuvering of advocates for direct-to-consumer advertising, who claim that such advertising empowers patients. However, given patients' relative lack of instituional expertise, combined with the fallacious strategies observed in drug advertising, Goodnight advocates for a shift of the burden of proof in the United States onto pharmaceutical companies to prove their claims of patient benefit and empowerment through direct-to-consumer advertising.

The sixth chapter, ''Strategic manoeuvring in the justification of judicial decisions,'' by Eveline T. Feteris examines the problematic nature of judicial decisions that clearly diverge from a literal reading of the law. In such cases, the judge must demonstrate that the exception in the reading of the law follows the intent of the legislator who authored the law. He uses the Holy Trinity Church case (1892) as a case study. This US Supreme Court decision centered on the question of whether ''the act prohibiting the importation of foreigners and aliens under contract to perform labour in the United States ... applied to an English Christian minister who had come to the United States'' to serve in the Episcopal Holy Trinity Church in New York (p. 98). Feteris outlines the argumentation scheme employed by the judge to justify the rule exception while balancing dialectical and rhetorical goals. The result of this strategic maneuvering is to create the impression that the judge's decision is unproblematic and self-evident.

The seventh chapter, ''Strategic maneuvering in political argumentation,'' by David Zarefsky proposes that political argumentation can be analyzed as if it occured in an institutional context, even though it lacks features of institutional argumentation (e.g., participation does not require any formal expertise and discourse is often unregulated). Zarefsky attempts to show that close observation of its contextual features allow for generalization of its governing rules. For Zarefsky, political argumentation in the public sphere is notable for what it lacks (temporal limits, clear terminus, homogeneous audience, access restrictions). He identifies several types of strategic maneuvering in US political argumentation and notes that the relative lack of formalized conventions makes it difficult to clearly identify derailments. Zarefsky closes his study with a case study (an excerpt from the Kenedy-Nixon Presidential debates) to illustrate the presence of strategic maneuvering in political argumentation and the caution required when identifying fallacious strategies.

The eighth chapter, ''Legitimation and strategic maneuvering in the political field,'' by Isabela Ietcu-Fairclough merges the pragma-dialectical approach with sociological concepts from Habermas, Beetham, and Bourdieu in order to identify rhetorical opportunities and constraints in political argumentation with a focus on legitimizing arguments. Ietcu-Fairclough claims that legitimizing arguments, in addition to invoking communal norms, involve the dialectical obligation of justifying those norms. It is in the multi-level justification process where strategic maneuvering can be observed and analyzed. As a demonstration of such an analysis, she uses a speech by Romanian President Traian Basescu (April 2007) as a case study and illustrates how strategic maneuvering in legitimatizing arguments can serve to construct a supportive, belief-sharing majority in the audience.

In the ninth chapter, ''Accusing someone of an inconsistency as a confrontational way of strategic manoeuvring,'' Corina Andone limits her analysis to the confrontation stage of argumentation and the accusation of inconsistency as a strategic maneuver at this point in a critical discussion. To this end she recruits speech act theory to illuminate the perlocutionary effect of acceptance as well as the desired consequence of retraction. Andone makes use of the confrontation stage's dialectical profile to identify the relevant options available to the addressee in response to the inconsistency accusation. Finally, she uses an interview excerpt from the BBC's Politics Show (November 2006) as a case study of how an arguer can seek retraction from an opponent by using an accusation of inconsistency as a strategic maneuver.

Dima Mohammed is the author of the tenth chapter, ''Manoeuvring strategically in Prime Minister's Question Time.'' In this chapter Mohammed concerns herself with the theoretical basis for including institutional context as a consideration in a pragma-dialectical analysis of argumentation that incorporates strategic maneuvering. In particular, she considers the institutional aims, norms, and constraints of government. Mohammed then applies her theoretical findings to the Prime Minister's Question Time in the British House of Commons (June 2007), utilizing especially dialectical profiling and the pragma-dialectical concept of activity types.

The eleventh chapter, ''Quid pro nobis: Rhetorical stylistics for argument analysis,'' by Jeanne Fahnestock initiates the formidable task of incorporating stylistic analysis into the pragma-dialectical approach. Such a project is intimidating in the face of over two millenia of thought on and cateloguing of rhetorical or presentational devices. With a brief survey of historical sources for identifying rhetorical devices, and a range of examples demonstrating the relevance of stylistics in argumentative discourse, Fahnestock convincingly demonstrates the value of stylistics in argument analysis and the practical advantage of reviving the considerable ancient vocabulary for labeling rhetorical devices. She also begins the discussion of how rhetorical devices may be mapped onto strategic maneuvers. The chapter concludes with an appendix outlining four levels of rhetorical stylistics.

The twelfth chapter, ''Shifting the topic in Dutch parliament: How presentational choices can be instrumental in strategic manoeuvring,'' by Yvon Tonnard examines the strategic maneuver of shifting the topic in political argumentative discourse. This maneuver has the intended effect of either evading a topic that is a vulnerability for the arguer or raising a topic that strategically places the arguer in a position of strength. To demonstrate this, Tonnard analyzes the use of this maneuver by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. The analysis is especially interesting in revealing how Wilders is able to exploit this strategic maneuver in violation of institutional norms (topic shifts are typically not allowed for agenda-influencing in Dutch parliament) with the goal of raising a topic appealing to his voter base.

The thirteenth chapter, ''The contribution of praeteritio to arguers' confrontational strategic manoeuvres,'' by A. Francisca Snoeck Henkemans, like the chapter by Fahnestock, seeks the integration of stylistics in the pragma-dialectical project. Although Henkemans is also interested in the larger project of integrating stylistics, she focuses here on rhetorical questions, metonymy, and especially praeteritio. Praeteritio is a rhetorical figure in which the speaker makes salient a claim or statement while professing to omit it. An example would be a candidate in a political debate who begins a turn with something like, ''I do not wish to talk about the rumor that my opponent has a drinking problem.'' Intriguingly, Henkemans demonstrates that praeteritio, while often an attempt to distance the arguer from responsibility for assertions made in the praeteritio, does not always derail. However, when employed in the confrontation stage, praeteritio may often result in a deceptive attack on the opponent while maintaining the appearance of dialectical reasonableness.

The fourteenth chapter, ''Manoeuvring with voices: The polyphonic framing of arguments in an institutional advertisement,'' by Andrea Rocci explores the use of framing in two advertisements from the financial and energy sectors. Rocci's discussion framing is developed from Searlean speech-act theory and the concept of frames as developed in several social sciences (especially in the work of Erving Goffmann and Charles J. Fillmore). Each of the advertisements orchestrate polyphonic frames to create the sense of multiple standpoints and voices distinct from the authorial source. The multiple frames of the advertisement may also target different audiences, but one audience set (in this case, shareholders) may remain the primary target of persuasion.

In the final chapter, ''Persuasive effects of strategic maneuvering: Some findings from meta-analyses of experimental persuasion effects research,'' Daniel J. O'Keefe notes that van Eemeren and Houtlosser do not describe stategic maneuvers as neccessarily effective, but rather they represent an attempt at rhetorical effectiveness. Still, the effectiveness of rhetorical or presentational devices as observed in social science experiments should be of great interest to argumentation theorists. O'Keefe assembles here a meta-study of selected rhetorical devices for which sufficient research exists to say something abuot their efficacy. The results are striking: there are no clear winners in a speaker's rhetorical toolbox. While some rhetorical devices yielded significant persuasive results, the effect sizes were fairly small. In sum, no strategic maneuver has yet been shown to yield a consistently significant persuasive advantage.


The papers in this volume are written mainly, but not exclusively, by scholars in communication studies, and the work is clearly aimed at those working in argumentation theory. However, there is much here that is of interest for linguists. The pragma-dialectical project, especially when the rhetorical dimension is accounted for with stategic maneuvering, offers insights for those working in pragmatics, critical discourse analysis, and speech-act theory. I also strongly recommend this book for anyone involved in persuasion research.

My criticisms of the book are minor and editorial. While I have no prefernce for either spelling of maneuvering/manoeuvring, a form should be chosen and remain consistent throughout the volume. Another issue involves citations of the book itself. I believe every reference to this volume within a chapter indicates that it is published by Springer, when in fact it is published by John Benjamins. This is clearly not a problem for anyone with the book in hand, but it could be confusing for someone who has received a single chapter via interlibrary loan.

Finally, this collection lays the groundwork for exciting research to come. For example, it is easy to see a potential bridge between pragma-dialectical work on ''intended'' and ''invented'' audiences and the research produced by scientists working on questions of intersubjectivity and Theory of Mind (see, for example, Zlatev et al. 2008, and Leverage et al. 2010, for recent linguistic studies of intersubjectivity and Theory of Mind, respectively). Also, when reading O'Keefe's meta-study of rhetorical devices, one cannot help but return to Fahnestock's statement that ''[l]inguistic devices or data are only of interest if they can be plausibly linked to the persuasive effects of a text'' (211). What O'Keefe's meta-study suggests is that rhetorical devices alone are insufficient for predicting persuasive effect. However, future research that continues to take greater account of contextual and paralinguistic variables may reveal strategies availble to speakers for increasing the persuasiveness of presentational devices.


van Eemeren, Frans H. (2010). Strategic Maneuvering in Argumentative Discourse. Argumentation in Context 2. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Leverage, Paula, Howard Mancing, Richard Schweickert, and Jennifer Marston William, eds. (forthcoming, 2010). Theory of Mind and Literature. Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP.

Zlatev, Jordan, Timothy P. Racine, Chris Sinha, and Esa Itkonen, eds. (2008). The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity. Converging Evidence in Language and Communication Research 12. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Seth Knox is Assistant Professor of German in the Department of Modern Languages & Cultures at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan. His academic interests lie primarily in cognitive and applied linguistics, and his research focus is propaganda and manipulative discourse.

Page Updated: 16-Aug-2010