Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Argument Fields as Arenas of Discursive Struggle: Argument Fields and Pierre Bourdieu's Theory of Social Practice

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Argument Fields as Arenas of Discursive Struggle: Argument Fields and Pierre Bourdieu's Theory of Social Practice

Article excerpt

Argument theorists have long been concerned with the explanation of practical everyday argument. Since Stephen Toulmin's The Uses of Argument,(1) the study of argument fields has become a theme in argumentation theories that examine arguments in social space.(2) Responding to analytic philosophers, Toulmin posited that formal logic was an inadequate system for explaining engaged argumentative practices of social agents. Because claims of universal rationality inevitably fail to explain arguments in their real world context, Toulmin argued that different logical types of propositions correspond to different human arenas, metaphorically referred to as "fields." From this perspective argument theorists could delineate among fields by examining the systems of argumentative forms successfully employed in social fields. The study of argument fields, therefore, allowed for the systematic inquiry and consideration of argument without having to make universal claims. This view offered a practical step toward the recognition of the dynamics of social authority in particular social contexts.(3)

In Human Understanding, Toulmin recasted the discussion of fields to include a schemata more analogous to academic disciplines.(4) From this perspective, a field is defined as a more formal organization based on subject matter. The institutional or disciplinary framework is the arena in which the participants apply arguments. Both of these approaches to the study of practical argumentation have generated useful scholarly debates about the definition and purpose of argument fields and the goal of argumentation studies. While the assumption that arguments are based on fields seems to be accepted uniformly by argument scholars, this insight has yet to yield a coherent critical theory of everyday argumentative practices within fields.(5)

Despite the heuristic value, the argument field literature has not provided a concrete descriptive or critical method to guide inquiry. We have isolated three problems limiting the formulation of a critical theory of argument fields. First, argument theorists have not defined argument fields in a way in which both the internal logic of argumentative utterances and the external organization constraining those utterances are adequately taken into account. Second, the literature on fields has virtually ignored the dynamic discursive struggles for epistemic legitimacy in social fields in favor of a more evolutionary conception of epistemic development. Third, research into fields has failed to reconcile the riced for sociological description with its overarching disciplinary preference for normative criticism. The call to reconcile such problems in field theory is not unique to this essay. We agree with Pamela Benoit's claim that the conceptual confusion has contributed to a set of articles that construct "critical" appraisals lacking a central theoretical focus.(6) This lack of correspondence between theory and practice also caused Raymie McKerrow to question "whether the 'theory' undergirding field research has provided a sufficiently powerful critical vocabulary for the explication of arguments."(7) This essay argues that the integration of Pierre Bourdieu's theory of social practice to argument field theory provides an answer to the persistent problems confronting scholars interested in a critical social theory of argument.

LIMITATIONS OF ARGUMENT FIELD LITERATURE

The first practical obstacle to the formation of a coherent critical theory of argument fields is the lack of a theoretical consensus regarding the defining characteristics of an argument field. Examining the general characteristics of argument fields is useful and some degree of conceptual "fuzziness" is needed to allow argument fields to account for the diversity of argument types and settings.(8) However, current field definitions have failed to resolve adequately the tension between fields as "logical types" or as "disciplines," impeding the goal of explaining practical argumentative practices. …

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