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The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue
     

The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue

by Deborah Tannen
 

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It's about how our culture is obsessed with turning every allegation into a headline, every headline into a conflict, and every conflict into a scandal. In her groundbreakign new book, communications expert Deborah Tannen takes on our national obsession with controversy and shows how we continually indulge it at the expense of real discussion -- and real solutions.

Overview

It's about how our culture is obsessed with turning every allegation into a headline, every headline into a conflict, and every conflict into a scandal. In her groundbreakign new book, communications expert Deborah Tannen takes on our national obsession with controversy and shows how we continually indulge it at the expense of real discussion -- and real solutions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tannen's bestseller You Just Don't Understand was a guide to gender-based differences in conversational style that set the stage for follow-up titles on talk at the office and in relationships. Here she branches out, applying linguistic theory to the whole compass of American culture and public life. In law, education, multiculturalist policy making and particularly in journalism, Tannen finds that "our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention," and that we thus most often argue emotionally when we should instead be trying to understand and evaluate rationally different points of view. The Georgetown linguistics professor is impatient with journalists who think that a two-sided debate between extremist positions makes the best story. The attack-dog posture of the press, she argues, is responsible for public cynicism about politics. Politicians in turn find that aggressive sound bites are the ones most likely to be publicized. This results in bickering partisanship that disenchants voters. She sharply criticizes our legal system for pitting one party against the other on the theory that justice will emerge out of a survival of the fittest, comparing this type of advocacy to the trials by battle used to settle disputes in the Middle Ages. Tannen's obvious passion for helping people understand one another is well served here by her clear, direct writing.
Library Journal
Tannen on how we argue badly.
San Francisco Chronicle
"Inspires readers to listen past the noise of constant arguing."
Larissa MacFarquhar
Tannen has spent her career showing how interactions that look like battles are often just misunderstandings between people pursuing a common goal.

--Larissa MacFarquhar, New York Times Book Review

Kirkus Reviews
Tannen, who has gained celebrity for analyzing male/female verbal exchanges, moves into a broader realm in this often interesting but sometimes vague book. We live in a polarizing "culture of critique," maintains Tannen (Sociolinguistics/ Georgetown Univ.; You Just Don't Understand, 1990, etc.) as she explores our compulsively combative rhetoric in such predictable areas as the mass media, politics, and the law (with the latter, as she points out, often marred by litigators' "pit bull" tactics). To specify the problem and better pursue a cure, she coins a new term, "agonism," defined as "using opposition as a required and ubiquitous way to approach issues, rather than as one of many possibilities of getting things done by talk." And she calls agonism too popular and prevalent, an almost automatic confrontational tactic. Though accurate enough, such observations are in themselves a trifle familiar. More searching are Tannen's comments on male and female styles of conflict resolution and on "ritual fighting" in such places as Bali, Crete, and Ireland's Tory Islands, as well as her reflections on the implications of pervasive debunking and one-upmanship in academic life. "When there is a need to make others wrong, the temptation is great to oversimplify at best, and at worst to distort or even misrepresent other positions, the better to refute them. . . . Straw men spring up like scarecrows in a cornfield." Tannen is a fine, crisp writer and very skillful in succinctly synthesizing her material and advancing her argument. But her main point isn't new, nor does she look far enough beyond the culture of language to explain the phenomenon she describes. Consequently her solutions (suchas advising that people talk about all sides, as opposed to both sides, of an issue) feel insufficient. Perhaps our polemical society is too far gone in fetishizing the often harsh culture of American capitalist individualism for such rhetorical nostrums to have much effect.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679456025
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/24/1998
Pages:
348
Product dimensions:
6.39(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.19(d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand was on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly four years. A frequent guest on national television and radio, including Good Morning America, the Today show, ABC World News Tonight, 20/20, 48 Hours, and Oprah, she has been featured in and has written for such magazines and newspapers as Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. An internationally recognized scholar, she is university professor and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Washington, D.C. metro area
Date of Birth:
June 7, 1945
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
Education:
B.A., Harpur College, 1966, Wayne State University, 1970; M.A. in Linguistics, UC Berkeley, 1976; Ph.D., 1979

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