Dima Mohammed, 28 May 2018, 16h

May 28, 2018

ArgLab Research Colloquium

Av. de Berna 26, I&D Building, room 007


Fluid boundaries, standing standpoints and argumentative allies. Proposals for the examination of networked public arguments

Dima Mohammed, Arglab - IFILNOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal


Political argumentation is a characteristically complex practice: it features open access to a heterogeneous audience and it lacks time limits and a clear terminus (Zarefsky 2008). This is a challenge not just for arguers who, as Zarefsky tells us, have no option but to manoeuvre strategically as they argue. The open-ended almost limitless character of a public political argument is a challenge also for argumentation scholars who strive to develop the theoretical tools that can provide meaningful examination of political argumentation. Important advances in the examination of political argumentation have been realised by means of integrating rhetorical insights (e.g. van Eemeren & Houtlosseer 1999, Tindale 2004, Zarefsky 2014), as well as institutional considerations (e.g. Goodnight 2010, van Eemeren 2010) and political considerations (Fairclough & Fairclough 2012). Yet, crucial aspects of the complexity remain challenging.

As more and more of today’s arguments go into the ‘networked’ public sphere (Benkler 2006, Kaiser et al. 2017, Pfitser 2014), the open-endedness turns ‘networked’ too. Many of today’s arguments involve multiple parties in multiple places (Lewiński 2014, Aakhus & Lewiński 2017), arguers who pursue multiple goals (Mohammed 2016a) and address multiple issues (Mohammed 2016b). At any point in time, countless controversies roam the networked public sphere. Arguments emerge to manage the disagreement (Jackson & Jacobs 1980, Jacobs & Jackson 1989) as part of a complex network where distinct lines of disagreement in relation to different issues crisscross and overlap (Aakhus 2002, Lewiński & Mohammed 2015). For arguers, navigating one’s way into this network requires careful craft in order to keep under control the contributions that one’s arguments make to the different interrelated issues present (Mohammed 2016a, 2016b, Mohammed & Zarefsky 2011). For analysts, the challenge is to determine the boundaries of the argumentative encounter in the open-ended disagreement network.

In this talk, I argue that a meaningful examination of networked argumentative encounters requires that the boundaries of an encounter remain ‘fluid’. On the one hand, it is recommended to extend the limits of the encounter to include all the parts of the disagreement network which are being addressed. This is necessary for capturing the strategic design of argumentative moves. On the other hand, it is important to keep the encounter as close as possible to the space and time in which it occurs. This is critical for preventing speculations and unfounded attributions of commitments. In dealing with the fluid boundaries, I suggest to identify “argumentative allies” and “standing standpoints”. In the absence of evidence to the opposite, an arguer can be attributed a standing standpoint (y) when she advances an argument (x) that has become publically associated with standpoint (y). The attribution is even more justified when an “argumentative ally”, that is someone who has publically expressed similar positions, has advanced the argument x therefore y. I discuss the proposals, their merits and the further challenges they pose.



Aakhus, M. (2002). Modeling reconstruction in groupware technology. In F. van Eemeren (Ed.) Advances in pragma-dialectics (pp. 121–126). Newport News, VA: Vale Press.

Aakhus, M., & Lewiński, M. (2017). Advancing polylogical analysis of large-scale argumentation: Disagreement management in the fracking controversy.  Argumentation, 31(1), 179–207.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks. How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Eemeren, F. H. van. (2010). Strategic maneuvering in argumentative discourse, Extending the Pragma-Dialectical theory of argumentation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Eemeren, F. H. van, & Houtlosser, P. (1999). Strategic manoeuvring in argumentative discourse. Discourse Studies, 1/4, 479–497.

Fairclough, I., & Fairclough, N. (2012). Political discourse analysis: A method for advanced students. London: Routledge.

Goodnight, G. T. (2010). The metapolitics of the 2002 Iraq debate: Public policy and the network imaginary. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 13, 65-94.

Jackson, S., & Jacobs, S. (1980). Structure of conversational argument: Pragmatic bases for the enthymeme. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 66(3): 251–265. doi: 10.1080/00335638009383524

Jacobs, S., & Jackson, S. (1989). Building a model of conversational argument. In B. Dervin, L. Grossberg, B. J.O’Keefe, and E. A.Wartella (eds.) Rethinking communication (Vol. 2), pp. 153–171. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Kaiser J., Fähnrich B., Rhomberg M., Filzmaier P. (2017). What Happened to the Public Sphere? The Networked Public Sphere and Public Opinion Formation. In: Carayannis E., Campbell D., Efthymiopoulos M. (Eds.) Handbook of Cyber-Development, Cyber-Democracy, and Cyber-Defense. Springer, Cham.

Lewiński, M. (2014). Argumentative polylogues: Beyond dialectical understanding of fallacies. Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric, 36(1), 193–218.

Lewiński, M., & Mohammed, D. (2015). Tweeting the Arab Spring: Argumentative Polylogues in Digital Media. In C. Palczewski (Ed.), Disturbing Argument: Selected Works from the 18th NCA/AFA Alta Conference on Argumentation (pp. 291-297). New York: Routledge.

Mohammed, D. (2016a). Goals in argumentation: A proposal for the analysis and evaluation of public political arguments. Argumentation, 30:221–245. doi: 10.1007/s10503-015-9370-6

Mohammed, D. (2016b). ‘It is true that security and Schengen go hand in hand’: Strategic manoeuvring in the multi-layered activity type of European Parliamentary debates. In R. von Borg (Ed.), Dialogues in Argumentation (pp. 232–266). Windsor Studies in Argumentation. doi:10.22329/wsia.03.2016

Mohammed, D., & Zarefsky, D. (2011). Pragma-dialectical analysis of rhetorical texts: The case of Barack Obama in Cairo. In E. T. Feteris, B. Garssen & F. Snoeck Henkemans (Eds.), Keeping in touch with Pragma-Dialectics. In honor of Frans H. van Eemeren (pp. 89–102). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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Tindale, C. W. (2004). Rhetorical argumentation: Principles of theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.

Zarefsky, D. (2008). Strategic maneuvering in political argumentation. Argumentation, 22, 317-330.

Zarefsky, D. (2014). Rhetorical Perspectives on Argumentation. Amsterdam: Springer.

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