The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue

Article excerpt

Deborah Tannen. The Argument Culture: Moving From Debate to Dialogue. New York: Random House, 1998.

Deborah Tannen, a noted linguist, professor, and author of the bestseller You Just Don't Understand, decries in The Argument Culture what she considers our compulsive desire to use combative rhetoric when we communicate in public - in the media, in politics, in our courtrooms and classrooms.

The argument culture urges us to approach the world and the people in it - in an adversarial frame of mind. It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done; the best way to discuss an idea is to set up a debate; the best way to cover news is to find spokespeople who express the most extreme, polarized views and present them as "both sides"; the best way to settle disputes is litigation that pits one party against the other; the best way to begin an essay is to attack someone; and the best way to show you're really thinking is to criticize.

Tannen further illustrates her point with newspaper headlines that scream out about "the drug war" or "the battle of the sexes;" television and radio analyses following political debates that focus on "who won" and "who lost" rather than on the issues discussed; and doctoral students who are asked "to defend" their theses as if engaged in a war. …

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