Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Serial Argument Topics

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Serial Argument Topics

Article excerpt

Recurring arguments have the potential to disturb or re-route the normal flow of relationships. Whether such arguments occur in friendships, romantic relationships, professional relationships, or family relationships, their resurfacing indicates unresolved matters among arguers, including accumulated frustrations, negative feelings, and resentment. These arguments have been labeled serial arguments (Trapp & Hoff, 1985). Recent research has paid attention to these exchanges in a variety of contexts or relationship types (e.g., Bevan, 2010, 2014; Hample & Allen, 2012; Hample & Krueger, 2011; Hample & Cionea, 2012; Hample & Richards, 2015; Hample, Richards, & Na, 2012; A. Johnson, Averbeck, Kelley, & Liu, 2011; Radanielina-Hita, 2010). Research has also examined various aspects of the serial arguing process, from psychological well-being, to goals arguers pursue in such exchanges, and effects these arguments have on arguers' relationship (e.g., Bevan, Finan, & Kaminsky, 2008; Bevan, Hale, & Williams, 2004; Bevan, Tidgewell, Bagley, Cusanelli, Hartstern, Holbeck, & Hale, 2007; A. Johnson & Cionea, in press; K. Johnson & Roloff, 1998, 2000a, 2000b; Malis & Roloff, 2006a, 2006b). However, little research (an exception is Bevan, Hefner, & Love, 2014) has paid attention to the topics of such arguments. Two ways of thinking about serial argument topics should be productive: distinguishing among topic types and between disagreement types.

The topic type distinction has well-established importance for arguing. A. Johnson (2002, 2009, 2011) found that whether an argument is about a personal matter or about a public matter affects who argues about each topic, arguers' level of involvement, and the stakes of the argument. Applied to serial arguments, this finding suggests that arguments in friendships may differ from serial arguments in romantic relationships; or arguers may be more involved in personal serial arguments than in public serial arguments. Though they were not quite implementing A. Johnson's categories of topic types, K. Johnson and Roloff (1998) found that serial arguments arising from violated expectations (probably personal topics) were perceived as less resolvable than arguments arising from other issues, but that arguments arising from differences in perceptions or values (possibly personal or public topics) did not differ from arguments in which such differences did not exist. These results suggest that resolvability (and perhaps other variables, too) may differ based on the topic's nature.

Other topic distinctions have been made previously, including that of disagreement type. Newell and Stutman (1988) characterized social confrontation episodes as involving either disagreements over behaviors or ideas. In the serial argument context, this distinction and consequent findings suggest that repetitive arguments about behaviors may unfold differently and have distinct consequences for the two arguers as compared to disagreements over ideas. The latter may be less harmful, potentially shorter, or less frequent than the former. Thus, knowledge about whether and/or how types of topics affect the serial argument process and arguers' behaviors can contribute more detail to the literature on this subject. Moreover, such knowledge may extend beyond serial arguments, as Bevan et al. (2014) found that topics of argument in romantic relationships did not differ based on whether the argument was serial or nonserial.

This manuscript investigates topics of serial arguments that occur in a variety of relationships. Argument topics are coded in light of the topic and disagreement distinctions mentioned to examine their possible relationships with several variables studied in the context of serial arguments: goals, tactics, and outcome measures (i.e., resolvability, civility, and satisfaction). In addition, potential differences based on individuals' sex are examined. …

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