ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Rhetorical Criticism Of The Debate On The Future Of The European Union Strategic Options And Foundational Understandings

logo  2002-11. Introduction
With the formation of the European Convention, which was set up at the Laeken Summit of the European Council on the 14th and 15th of December 2001, the debate on the future of the EU has been institutionalised. The members of the Convention will be considering a number of broad questions about the possible future developments, and the result of their discussions will be recommendations for a new treaty, a treaty, which must be drafted, refined and ratified before the end of 2004[i]. The Convention does not begin the debate from scratch, but picks up on agendas and ideas, which have been put forward by national leaders and other significant participants in the less formally structured, but no less significant discussions that led to the formation of the Convention.

In this paper, I investigate two of the earlier contributions to the debate on the future of the EU in order to explore how the debate was shaped. I work within a dual analytical framework, arguing that any rhetorical utterance must be seen as both a result of the strategic options from which the speaker can choose, and of the foundational understandings that sets limits on the speaker’s choices. The first part of the paper is a presentation of the theoretical argument for the proposed method of rhetorical criticism. The second and main section is an application of that method to two comparable speeches by the Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, and his British counterpart, Tony Blair. These two speeches have been chosen for analysis, because I see them as being central to and representative of the formative stages of the debate on the EU’s future. In the third and final section, I shall present particular conclusions about the two speeches and generalise my claim to state that rhetorical criticism is a valuable tool to understanding and improving the ongoing European debate.

2. Rhetoric as response to a situation and as construction of meaning
In the view of Lloyd F. Bitzer, rhetoric is situational, meaning that rhetorical utterances arise as responses to situations, and that they are given significance by the particular situation from which they arise. In Bitzer’s opinion, an utterance is rhetorical only in so far as it can be used to solve a problem, and the function of each utterance as well as the form and content of the utterance originates from the situation to which the utterance is a response (Bitzer 1968/1992: 5-6). “Not the rhetor and not the persuasive intent, but the situation is the source and ground of rhetorical activity – and, I should add, of rhetorical criticism” (Bitzer 1992: 6). The rhetorical situation according to Bitzer consists of three elements: the first element, the exigence, is the reason why the speaker must speak, the problem which the utterance attempts to resolve. The second element is the audience who does not consist of all potential listeners, but only those who can be influenced by the discourse and can mediate the actions desired by the speaker. The third and final element is the constraints, which are all such things that can influence the outcome of the utterance. Constraints is a label covering a large number of different factors, which vary a lot from situation to situation and consist of both elements that are internal to the speech and elements that cannot be influenced by the speaker (Bitzer 1992: 6-7). Constraints may be the audience’s prior knowledge and opinion of the subject and of the speaker, other speakers’ utterances on the matter, the exact time and location in which the speech is delivered, the stylistic and argumentative choices made by the speaker, etc. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Metadialogues

logo  2002-11. Introduction
A metadialogue is a dialogue about a dialogue or about some dialogues. A dialogue that is not a metadialogue will be called a ground level dialogue. For instance, let the ground level dialogue be an argumentative discussion aiming at the resolution of some dispute. Then disagreement about the correctness of some move in this dialogue will constitute another dispute which the parties again may try to resolve by dialogue. This dialogue will then be a metadialogue relative to the first dialogue. It will be about this first dialogue and perhaps some related dialogues. Also, its primary purpose is to help this first dialogue achieve its end: in this sense the metadialogue will be embedded in the ground level dialogue.

Three problems arise, given this concept of metadialogue:
1. A demarcation problem. Some critical moves seem plainly to belong to the ground level. For instance, a critic’s asking for argumentative support within a context of critical discussion, though in some sense being about the preceding dialogue, would not be analysed as a move that starts a metadialogue. At least it would be very much strained to do so. Many moves on the ground level can be looked upon as asking for, or installing, conversational repairs, but are not, usually, for that reason classified at the metalevel. On the other hand a dispute about the allotment of speaking time would be so classified. Criticism of fallacies seems to lie somewhere in between. Where to draw the line?
2. A problem of infinite regress. If from any critical discussion one can move up (or down, whatever metaphor you prefer) to a metadialogue that constitutes another critical discussion, this may launch us into an infinite regress. A discussion about the rules of ground level dialogue may open up a discussion about the rules governing discussions about ground level rules, and so on. Can this regress be blocked?
3. An equity problem. Some retreats into metadialogue seem quite reasonable and bound to help the ground level dialogue proceed. In other cases one is confronted with nit-picking or completely unwarranted charges. On the one hand each party should have a right to contest the correctness of any ground level move, on the other hand its adversary should not be left without means of defense. Can we strike a balance? Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – On The Argumentative Quality Of Explanatory Narratives

logo  2002-1Introduction
This paper tentatively draws together the three concepts of argumentation, narrative and explanation. The three concepts are all highly rich ones and denote complex areas. Some parts of each conception may have implications for or illuminate the other two – that will depend both on what one takes each of them to be, and on the perspective one chooses to employ. The existence of rival views within all three areas further adds to the complexity.
An exploration into the argumentative quality of explanatory narratives is a venture that requires great caution. Some explanations are arguments and some narratives are explanations, but it does not automatically follow that some narratives also are arguments. Again, it may depend on what one takes them to be. Should it emerge in the course of the analysis that narratives indeed are not arguments, I think that argumentation theory nevertheless can throw critical light on explanatory narratives. There is a significant overlap in vocabulary (e.g. use of such concepts as premise, antecedent, conclusion, warrant) that indicates the usefulness of argumentation theory, but equally evidently this overlap may cause confusion and mix-ups. Again, caution is called for, as well as precision.

My proposed exploration minimally requires that the notions of narrative and explanation be discussed such that the connections between them can be made clear. Furthermore, the connection between arguments and explanations must be discussed. Then we may find ourselves in a position to tentatively use argumentation theory to evaluate such narrative explanations; for example whether narratives distinguish between what is part of the narrative and what is evidence for the truth of its premises.
But first, the concept of a narrative, as it will be used here, must be made clear. My discussion will refer mainly to empirical narrative research done in the field of education, but it should be made clear that narrative theory is an interdisciplinary field, covering e.g. literary theory, history and education. Originally, narratives are fictional stories and belong to the domain of literary theory. I will not here discuss the wisdom in importing narratives, with all their connotations and presuppositions, to the educational field. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – How Narrative Argumentation Works: An Analysis Of Argumentation Aimed At Reconsidering Goals

logo  2002-1Emotion, intuition, and physicality are not plagues that stalk the land of Reason, but perfectly natural and ordinary components of all human endeavor… we must analyze as serious components of argument those non-linear, non-logical activities of communicative practice… Argumentation Theory, if it is to come to truly serve the needs of real situated arguers, must open the concept of rationality to include the non-logical modes as legitimate and respectable means of argumentation.
Michael Gilbert, Coalescent Argumentation (1997, 26; 141-142)

The audience at the start of The Longing: Based on Palestinian and Israeli Oral Histories was large. The performance had been listed in the National Communication Association’s 2001 annual meeting program as a special evening offering, and many of my colleagues who are especially interested in political communication and performance studies – and the conjunction of those two academic specializations – were present. The program listed three acts, with a total of 14 scenes, as well as a Prologue (entitled “What the West Does Not Know”) and Refrains (at the end of the third act). At the end of the first act, I noted that several seats directly across from me were now vacant; at the end of the second, a glance at the row on both sides of my colleague and me as well as those in front of and behind us showed many empty seats. Ample anecdotal evidence, beginning in conversation with the one colleague who also remained throughout the performance and continuing later in the evening and during the following days with those who left early, confirmed that many – even, most – of these communication scholars had found the performance lacking, both as aesthetic event and as argumentation. Repeated phrases in their comments were “one-sided,” “heavy-handed,” “overstated,” “well-intentioned but unpersuasive,” and “unconvincing.”

The Longing uses oral histories – stories spoken by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sources – to argue for an alternative view of the political struggle that has continued in Palestine and Israel throughout the lifetime of its audience members. “Recording memories of difficult experiences and adapting them for public performance is a very complex process,” the program notes say. The notes continue: “These stories provide a way of entering and reconsidering a very complex historical, political, religious and emotional arena. We offer these stories as a hope for peace with justice in both Palestine and Israel.” Given the considerable interest in narrative argumentation in recent argumentation theory, this performance’s apparent failure to convincingly – or persuasively – bring about that reconsideration troubled me. While talking about narrative in at a conference a few months later, I mentioned that apparent failure to another participant who had presented work on AIDS narratives. She compared it to successful attempts to present an alternative way of living in the stories told at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as reported in a recent book by George Jensen, Storytelling in Alcoholics Anonymous: A Rhetorical Analysis. Upon my return home, I read the book with great interest and began to consider what it might contribute to accounting for the apparent failure of The Longing’s stories, in contrast to the apparent success of AA stories as efforts to bring about reconsideration of complex situations. In other words, I began to consider both as argumentative efforts to convince diverse audiences of the viability of an alternative view on the possibility of (for AA participants) a personal peace within a life in recovery or (for The Longing‘s audiences) a political peace among the Palestinian and Israeli people. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Rhetoric And Dialectic In Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’

logo  2002-11. Rhetoric, Dialectic, and Appeals to Credibility
As the field of argumentation has moved from a formal to an informal or dialectical perspective, it has also, often without conscious recognition, adopted some of the interests traditionally associated with rhetoric. So long as arguments were conceived on the formal deductive model, social and contextual considerations were regarded as irrelevant. An argument was to be judged on the content and formal relationship of the propositions it contained and appeals to such contextual matters as the credibility of the arguer were regarded as fallacies. With the rise of informal logic, however, the essentialism of the formal deductive model gave way to a more practical conception of argumentation that recognized argument as a social practice and that encompassed consideration of the persons who engaged in it and the circumstances surrounding its conduct. Appeals to context that were once categorically dismissed as fallacies have been reconceived as strategies or schemes that can have legitimate uses, and informal logic (or dialectic as some have called the new approach) has addressed matters that fall squarely within the traditional domain of rhetoric, since circumstances such as time, place, occasion, persons, and the like have always been regarded as proper, if not necessary, considerations in rhetorical studies.

In order to illustrate this engagement with matters rhetorical (and its limits), I want to refer to a recent paper by Trudy Govier (1999) that treats the problem of credibility from the perspective of current thought in informal logic. The paper deals with the tu quoque version of ad hominem argument, and Govier attempts to demonstrate that, as opposed to the view presented in the “standard logical treatment,” the tu quoque appeal is not always fallacious. She begins with the premise that an argument is something more than collections of premises and conclusions, because it is always also a social activity involving an arguer and an audience. Consequently, the relationship between arguer and audience is relevant to an assessment of the quality of an argument. If the audience is to treat the arguer’s argument seriously, it must regard the arguer as credible, and Govier maintains that at least two dimensions enter into an assessment of credibility – an epistemic dimension (Does the arguer have sufficient knowledge about the issue in question?) and an ethical dimension (Is the arguer non-deceptive and “genuinely doing what he or she appears to be doing”?). The tu quoque allegation, on Govier’s account, raises a relevant question about the ethical dimension, for if someone speaks inconsistently or speaks one way and acts another, the audience has reason to believe that he or she does not really believe the propositions asserted in the argument and, as a consequence, has reason to doubt whether the arguer is sincere or is even genuinely engaged in the process of argument. Tu quoque allegations then, are not inherently fallacious, because, while they have “no bearing on the propositional content of the original argument,” they do bear “on its social presuppositions” and “are relevant to the force of the argument on an audience…. Obviously, to say this is to insist that the force of an argument for a given audience depends quite properly on more than its propositional content” (1999: 14-20). Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2002 – Beyond Wartime Propaganda: Argumentation And Hostilities In The Age Of Information And Democracy

logo  2002-11. Short Abstract
The vogue currently enjoyed by the notion of a ‘propaganda war’ points to two assumptions as widely held as they are suspect: that war and argument are fundamentally incompatible; and that the overriding need to win a war demands and justifies an ‘anything goes’ type of spinning and manipulation. Such assumptions are unsupported by the history of warfare. They betray an inadequate understanding of war as continuation of political relations. And they fail in particular to take into consideration the specific historical context in which the anti-terror war is being waged. To win ‘hearts and minds’ in our age of information and democracy, wartime argumentation is the only effective and ethical means.

2. Long Abstract
A self-contradictory message is being conveyed by the sudden rise of ‘propaganda war’ as a voguish topic in the current campaign against international terrorism. While propaganda’s newly gained respectability underscores the urgent need to win ‘hearts and minds’ as a top objective of the on-going fight, the historical connotations the term carries with it virtually deny any significant role, in the pursuit of that very goal, to a normatively regulated, reasoned discourse, which alone holds the key to the minds to be won over.
Two assumptions underlie such a message and explain its inherent incoherence: that war and argument are fundamentally incompatible, and that the overriding objective of winning the war demands and justifies an ‘anything goes’ type of spinning and information manipulation. Despite their prima facie reasonableness, both assumptions involve gross oversimplification of the rhetorical situation concerned. Historically, public debates over whether the differences between conflicting parties are indeed beyond reconciliation and whether taking up arms is the only remedy for the clash of interests date back at least to the classical age. The very character of war as ‘continuation of political relations’, and the imperatives which the constant need to re-condition, regulate, and sustain such relations necessarily imposes, decide that behind-the-scenes, unpublicized public arguments would go on even or especially after the hostilities broke out.
While the absence of a generalizable interest between the warring parties would usually justify employing otherwise unethical rhetorical sleights of hand (e.g., disinformation, distorted communication) against each other or even as boosters for the morale of one’s own side, wartime propaganda risks becoming more counterproductive than useful in our age of information, democracy, and globalization. The effectiveness of such propaganda is called into serious question when the Internet and the satellite TV are readily available throughout the world and attempts at one-sided control of information are rendered all but impossible. Trying to manipulate what the citizens know or to curtail their right to participate in what is basically a political process ‘by other means’ can only backfire (e.g. the Vietnam War) when the hostilities do not end quickly. A ‘decent respect for the opinions’ of an emerging global community and an emerging globalized public sphere dictates against using the war as an excuse for withdrawing from or suspending an on-going reasoned discourse among nations, cultures, civilizations. Read more

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