Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

The Dissociation of Concepts in Context: An Analytic Template for Assessing Its Role in Actual Situations

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

The Dissociation of Concepts in Context: An Analytic Template for Assessing Its Role in Actual Situations

Article excerpt

Chaim Perelman's contribution to rhetoric has been saluted as among the most important developments in modern rhetorical theory, but also criticized for various presumed short-comings. His concepts and ideas are commonly considered both very general and generous in their potential applicability, and lamented as being too grounded in the--often obscure to the contemporary American reader--examples provided by the author. No matter how skeptical or enthusiastic one is about Perelman's rhetorical theory, it is impossible to deny that it has exerted a deep influence in the field. As Alan Gross and Ray Dearin (2005) remind US,

by the middle of the 1970s, Perelman had been canonized in anthologies of contemporary rhetorical theory, textbooks, graduate theses, journal articles, and conventions papers; he appeared alongside Kenneth Burke, I.A Richards, and Richard Weaver, as a leading proponent of the so-called 'New Rhetoric,' a term that American scholars had been using for years before Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's treatise appeared in 1958. The uniqueness of Perelman's contribution to the renewal of an ancient discipline could not be denied. (p. 11)

Despite this canonization, the list of Perelman's critics includes the names of prestigious scholars such as Stephen Toulmin, Peter Goodrich, Michael Bernard-Donals and Richard R. Glejzer, and more recently, Frans van Eeemeren and his collaborators.

Such mixed reception might be in part explained by the fact that some of the key components of this theory continue to baffle the theorist who wishes to elucidate their meaning, as well as the analyst who wants to apply them saliently. The dissociation of concepts belongs to this category. In fact it might be, as James Porter (1990) has argued, one of the most complicated and confusing devices in the entire inventory proposed by Perelman and his co-author, L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. My goal in this brief presentation is to propose an analytic template for examining the use of dissociation in particular rhetorical situations. Such an analytic template, I hope to show, can advance our understanding of the role played by this technique in a given argumentative act, help us determine whether and why it was successful, and, finally, it can establish some much needed links between a technique and the broader significance of the issues as stake in that argumentative act. While I recognize the validity of David Zarefsky's (1990) complaint that the heavy reliance on case studies threatens to lead to fragmentation in the field of argumentation, my approach is based on the assumption that carefully chosen and constructed case studies offer analytical verification. Therefore, the theorist who wants to elucidate concepts and the analyst who wants to apply them need to work in tandem, and can often end up being one and the same person.

In the first case, I examine the way in which in a community of Cold War Romanian political emigres, the dissociation of the concept of nation-state in nation and state is used to advance claims of political legitimacy, and to define the identity and status of a Romanian citizen living in exile. In the second case, I analyze the way in which in the Jewish community living in postwar France the dissociation between nation and state is used to advance claims of political loyalty, and to define the identity and the status of a French citizen of Jewish origin. Based on these case studies, I develop an analytical template that insists upon the importance of situational factors in assessing the effectiveness and broader significance of dissociation, and focuses on the role played by ideology and institutional settings.


The dissociation of concepts, as defined by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1965), "assumes the original unity of elements comprised within a single conception and designated by a single notion" (pp. …

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