Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Teaching Advanced Seminars in Legal and Business Argument: Sharpening Tile Critical Edge

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Teaching Advanced Seminars in Legal and Business Argument: Sharpening Tile Critical Edge

Article excerpt

Undergraduate communication studies courses in which students encounter legal and business argument are a staple of many curricula, and perennial favorites of students who believe such courses will make them more effective professionals. Time constraints and disciplinary reading practices often limit discussion of legal and business argument to descriptions of judicial decisions and legal "rules" derived from them or case studies of business decision-making and public relations campaigns. Instructors reassure themselves that law and business school training will fill in the rest.

We take issue with the belief that undergraduate exposure to legal and business argument must be limited in this way. Argumentation happens because public life is a struggle over meanings, actions, attitudes, and resources. We are constantly confronted with the question of what things mean, and of what, if anything, we should do. While this has traditionally been most obvious in political campaigns and policy disputes, it is just as significant in law and business--two of the most important arenas in which our students will conduct their public lives.

As de Tocqueville noted early in the Republic's history, Americans have always placed a unique trust in the ability of courts to mediate apparently intractable disputes. Increasing disenchantment with electoral politics has led many Americans to focus ever more intently on courts as the best forum for debating and resolving the most urgent political and social questions. As a result, in an increasingly specialized, technical, and fragmented political world, the courts are called upon to resolve a growing number of argumentative controversies that fall outside the traditional legal context. For example, how shall our society work out the proper relations between the races or the sexes? What form of genetic, child-rearing, or caring relationship defines "motherhood" or "fatherhood?" What responsibilities do corporations have to pay for the damages their goods and services may produce and under what conditions? Such questions are defined, debated, and negotiated through arguments by participants in the community of legal discourse. And the peculiar phrasings developed through such activities as the talk of due process, equal protection, fundamental rights, informed consent, and constructive notice diffuse themselves throughout our public vocabularies, available to do new work in very different contexts.

Similarly, the modern corporation by now permeates almost every corner of modern life, including government, the media, education, and everyday family life. Political campaigns and policy deliberations cannot escape corporate influence. Neither can health care, retirement decisions, gender roles, parenting, the impact of technology on human interaction, the stability and prosperity of communities or the dignity and fulfillment of workers at home and abroad. Many argument teachers have chosen to study communication processes and public decision-making outside what we considered to be the tainted world of business. But as Deetz's (1992, 1995) work compels us to recognize, democracy, representation, freedom of speech and personal identity are negotiated every day within the work environment. And the words that accompany corporate argument, the invocations of entrepreneurial risk-taking, free-market competitive imperatives, customer and public relations, profit maximization, and quality control frequently travel across disputational boundaries to other sites. The global challenges we face in an ever-shrinking world are increasingly the result of the complicated intertwined practices of both corporations and nation-states.

Argumentation pedagogy that pays special attention to law and business in more specialized seminars, therefore, seems more than justified for a number of reasons. First, pedagogy adheres increasingly to a view of communication not as given, but as a project that must be taken up by each new generation of students as they confront ethical and political choices. …

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