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Review of  Strategic Maneuvering in Argumentative Discourse

Reviewer: Seth Knox
Book Title: Strategic Maneuvering in Argumentative Discourse
Book Author: Frans H. van Eemeren
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 21.3297

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EDITORS: Eemeren, Frans H. van
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 Examining Argumentation in Context 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

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, homogenous 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

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.


Eemeren, Frans H. van (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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.