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Feminist challenges to "academic writing" writ large: changing the argumentative metaphor from war to perception to address the problem of argument culture.

A significant cohort of feminists in the eighties and nineties questioned the gender-identified/patriarchal notion of academic argument as impersonal and disembodied contest/combat. (1) Yet little has changed. In academia and beyond, many continue to identify "good" arguments within logical, abstract, and agonistic (from the Greek agon, "struggle") terminologies. As Richard Fulkerson admits, even as he defended argumentation as being an alternative to violence," [w] hen asked how they think of argument, students usually come up with the idea of two sides in a verbal battle, each seeking victory" (11). While argumentation that is conversational and directed at common goals is not uncommon in informal contexts, public rhetorical praxis continues to focus on "winning" the contest of ideas, exemplified by the either/or extremes of what Deborah Tannen calls our "Argument Culture" with its no-middle-ground positioning and agonistic posturing--a type of argument too often reflected in our students' one-sided and antagonistic essays.

Agonistic argument is effective, but mostly in swaying the nearly converted, establishing coalitions among the already converted, or entrenching and inspiring the opposition (Foss and Griffin 17-19). This is more than evident in television news and in US politics. As Susan Jarratt lamented in 2003, "we live now in a media wasteland so far as argumentation is concerned" and, perhaps, this "is all the more reason to keep making the case for conflict, informed by feminist pedagogical principles and strong rhetorical theory" ("Reflections" 343). Ironically, Jarratt and others who came to the defense of confrontational traditional rhetoric may have effectively closed the doors to any viable feminist alternatives. To date, only one composition rhetoric--Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz's Everything's an Argument--addresses any conception of feminist rhetoric, Jarratt's or otherwise. Most people do not know alternate feminist approaches to rhetoric exist, and references to it are thin after 2004.

One interesting reason is, as Robin Lakoff noted in 1990, that in academia, "women, once the quintessential outsiders, have been taken into the inner circle. Feminism, once a stance of radical external critique, can only be compromised by admission to insider status" (209). That is exactly how feminist resistors were perceived, as biting the hand that feeds them because many used academic arguments to attack academic argument. Though, as Elizabeth Flynn admits in her later reflection on "Composing as a Woman" (an earlier challenge to academic writing-as-is), feminists needed to use the dominant mode or risk not being heard ("Contextualizing" 340), repercussions resulted in a movement that virtually disappeared, with traces mostly in feminist an thologies like the one in which Flynn's reflection occurs. In 1992, when Terry Meyers Zawacki suggested to a colleague that a freshman writing class might be just the place to "present alternatives to traditional academic discourse," her colleague responded, "with surprise and some annoyance, 'What alternatives are out there?' "(315). Unfortunately, this conversation could have occurred yesterday.

The raison d'etre for this essay is threefold. First, academia is in a unique position to address the imbalances of Jarratt's "media wasteland" that remains the most prolific model of public argumentation. Though there is a time and place for agonistic argument, the feminist critiques outlined above suggest positive alternatives that open less confrontational, more conversational argumentation, a goal many aspire to and teach, but may have trouble conveying because they lack a clear alternate model. Second, academic discourses, though theoretically egalitarian spaces, in the case of this feminist critique, functioned dismissively, though many of their observations remain valid. Third, although some of these feminist solutions may have been flawed, it turns out that this feminist critique of academic argument was not only accurate, but also prophetic. The "media wasteland" of 2003 is now even worse. A recent Gallup poll indicated that while in 2003, 35% of Americans had little or no confidence that the legislative branch would "do the right thing," in 2012 that figure had risen to 65 % ("Trust in Government"). Gallup ran a similar article on the media, reporting that "Americans' distrust in the media hit a new high this year (2012), with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004" (Morales). While part of this reaction is due to media biases and other issues, much also has to do with "how" the information is presented. As Tannen notes, we are becoming more and more "disenchanted" with polarized and attack-oriented media programing (Gergen).

Yet, if one considers the overall cultural changes brought about by feminist efforts, one cannot help but wonder whether beginning in 1979, argumentation itself might have been reshaped if more would have responded actively to Gearhart's opening feminist challenge to the academe: "The indictment of the profession is not an attack on the tools of rhetoric ... With our expertise in persuasion, rhetoricians and rhetorical theorists are in the best position to change the use of our tools.... The indictment is of our participation in the conquest/conversion mindset that sends us now as a species pellmell down the path to annihilation" [emphasis mine] (242).

The fact is that many in the field of rhetoric did not even read, let alone heed, Gearhart's most significant perspective: the conquest/conversion mindset is counter-productive, leading humans to their own destruction, and we, as educators, could directly affect the situation by changing the use of our rhetorical tools and encouraging our students to do the same. However, if even rhetorical scholars live and work in an Argument Culture, they may not be aware of their implicit role in extending counter-productive methods. As Tannen laments, "We have--this goes back really to Aristotle--the idea that opposition is the best way to think about anything. But it has certainly gotten worse, where we feel that only debate is acceptable as a form of discourse, that only war metaphors work," later adding "we really need to develop other metaphors and not talk about two sides, but talk about all sides" (Gergen). Given the realities of the widespread oppositional rhetoric in our culture, academics should set the bar in finding and establishing functional rhetorical practices based in positive ways of relating This essay offers an alternate model for understanding argument based in perceptual metaphors to invite a less combative, more multilayered rhetorical environment, the kind of environment many in the field of rhetoric desire but have yet no model for. In contrast to Stephen Toulmin's widespread legal model of informal logic, where data are interpreted through warrants to establish claims (a way of thinking that intentionally or unintentionally underlies much academic writing), the proposed model offers instead a sensory model that frames arguments in terms of "observations" interpreted through "lenses" resulting in "perceptions:"

Toulmin Model: data interpreted through warrants to establish claims, resulting in arguments.

Perceptual Model: observations are seen through lenses to create perceptions, resulting in perspectives embedded within inter-related perceptions, as well as field and cultural horizons.

The perceptual metaphor offered here is already associated with feminist- and diversity-friendly adjectives like "shared," "various," and "multiple;" for the same reason, it opens argumentation to feminist standpoint theory, since it can be used also to examine interrelations among lenses and the status of some lenses as oppressive.

For this reason, and because Toulmin's model exhibits other flaws--it only expresses one argument and is ahistorical and a-contextual (Willard 314)--the fuller model detailed below encircles the basic perceptual model with related perceptions and field and cultural "horizons," horizons being, as Hans Georg Gadamer notes, "the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point" (269). As intersectionality theorists Kimberle Crenshaw and Patricia Hall Collins imply, arguments, rather than objective and impersonal, are created by persons within specific gender, class, cultural and other contexts. The model places these elements as central concerns in both interpreting and establishing arguments.

Following Robin Lakoff's ideas about male and female socially constructed modes of communication, "the ideal" would be if traditional rhetoric and feminist rhetoric could move "closer to some middle ground" (207), but, as she notes, this is problematic. In her context, many men perceive little gain in "changing their style" of communication, and for many women, "it's not clear there is a compromise between aggression and deference." In this essay's context, both traditionalists and feminists may resist change for similar reasons--thus Flynn's remark that feminists have to play the academic game to be heard, and then pay the price.

The perceptual model offered here, however, provides just such a compromise. From a traditional point of view, it offers a way to conceive of argument without emphasizing conquest and conversion and, from this feminist point of view, offers a way to express possibly contentious ideas in a far less confrontational manner, using a perceptual metaphor shared by all rather than terminologies specific to feminism. The following sections begin with some feminist perspectives and concerns about traditional academic argument. The next section focuses upon and addresses the central divisive issue concerning violence and rhetoric. Lastly, within this context, the essays alternative perspectival model is described in detail, along with its advantages, and its implications. The reader may wish to read the description of the model first, and then return to the critiques outlined in parts one and two.

Some Feminist Arguments Questioning Argument-as-is

As noted by detractors, Gearhart used confrontational rhetoric to challenge confrontational rhetoric, but perhaps her remarks deserve better than Richard Fulkerson's cursory response to what he terms her "notorious" piece: "Gearhart's 'argument against argument,' which has been echoed by several feminist scholars, is always what Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca describe as 'autophagia.' It eats itself up" (276). While Fulkerson was open to feminist corrections to our understanding of argument, such a classic conquest-rhetoric reaction from a scholar as well-positioned as he amounts to virtual dismissal from the academic conversation for Gearhart and those who followed her. Even fellow feminist Jarratt's response, though more sympathetic to Gearhart, still faults her because she relies on a traditional sense of "good reason" (265) and she "pays no attention to the power of institutions to reproduce ideology" (266).

Both interpretations seem anachronistic, and demand from a brief call to action the rigor of a much longer treatise. Such a reaction from a significant feminist, added to comments like Fulkerson's, virtually insured the disempowerment of this particular feminist critique. While how a message is framed is a rhetorical issue, fault in delivery has too long been reason for dismissal of ideas. We should not lose the message because the messenger didn't say it the way we wanted it to be said; we need to build upon useful truths, understood contextually, and make some effort to look past seemingly faulty expression. The idea is to develop rhetorical methods that lessen agonism while opening more positive ways of framing ideas rhetorically.

As I noted in my article entitled "An Alternate Use of the 'Uses of Argument,'" (2) the feminist reactions mentioned above were also dismissed for two other reasons. First, because they were seen as essentialist (see Graves), that is, not all women are uncomfortable with the model of argument-as-is or against conflict, and second, tendencies contrary to argument-as-is in many women's writing are social, not natural (3-4). Some feminists, such as Jarratt and Lozano-Reich and Cloud, identify these perspectives as expressing retrograde notions of women's supposed passive position within patriarchy.

Richard Fulkerson details the controversy, referring to these two points of view as the "equity" and "cognitive/development" positions. The equity position reflects a wider impulse within feminism to question so-called normal ways of doing things established in time-honored male-centered traditions, specifically to question and/or reject the dominant argument-as-war motif present in most common understandings of argument, and to replace it with more collaborative, less-confrontational rhetorics.

For feminists like Gearhart, Foss and Griffin, and Tannen, the dominant cultural model of argument relies on a flawed metaphor for its foundations. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, in their book Metaphors We Live By identify this argument-as-war metaphor as a fundamental in informing, in mostly unconscious ways, our concept and practices of argumentation:

   [This war] metaphor is not merely in the words we use--it is in our
   very concept of an argument. The language of argument is not
   poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about
   arguments that way because we conceive of them that way--and we
   act according to the way we conceive of things. (5)

As they observe, this primary war metaphor for argumentation lends itself to whole constellations of metaphorical associations--we fight for ideas, establish and take grounds, stake claims, attack ideas, etc. As the authors note, "[a] portion of the conceptual network of battle partially characterizes the concept of an argument, and the language follows suit" (8). Even apart from the equity and cognitive perspectives, this metaphoric issue needs addressing.

What Fulkerson calls the "cognitive/development" position reflects a second widely accepted feminist impulse, to distinguish ways of knowing, thinking, and interacting developed by women, either related to the physical or socio-cultural aspects of being women, or both--i.e., feminist standpoint theory. This school has been vulnerable to an "essentialist" critique, which rejects the notion that any particular way of knowing is specifically "feminine" or rooted only in women's physicality. Such a critique may generally hold, but it does not effectively respond to the concerns of Olivia Frey, Jane Tompkins and others who, as women, express their personal discomfort with argument-as-is, not to mention Tannens research in her book You Just Don't Understand, which establishes evidence that many women continue have an ambivalent relation to argumentation in public culture, exhibiting more willingness to exchange ideas, more desire to collaborate, less to interrupt, and less to approach all issues confrontationally.

Gearhart's clarion call for the "womanization" of rhetoric in the seventies unifies both the equity and cognitive development schools of thought, calling for an end to models of rhetoric based in conversion and conquest, and challenging women to draw upon and implement perspectives borne in the matrices of women's ways of communicating developed in thousands of years largely outside the public sphere. Her argument is more practical than essentialist. In her view, women have simply been forced to create alternate ways of relating due to widespread historical exclusion from public life, and those ways of relating potentially balance the imbalances in cultural argumentation as is. These alternatives benefit both men and women because they create relationships rather than divisiveness.

Though Fulkerson sees value in the questions raised by these perspectives, he finds both the equity and cognitive development schools unpersuasive. The first he finds self-contradictory because it uses argument to end argument (leaving one to wonder exactly what concerned feminists could have done instead). The second he rejects because his own experience as a teacher, as well as what he identifies as "objective" research, establishes that, in general, "females at all levels make better grades in writing than males do," which does not make sense if there was a "cognitive misfit" between "the female mind and patriarchal patterns of argument" (10-11). Though his comment about "the female mind" may make many bristle, his overall point seems valid. As Tompkins and Frey note, some women may feel at a disadvantage or imposed upon by accepted argumentative practices, but ultimately, they become very adept at it. That, by the way, does not negate their critique.

Further, this supposed dead-end dichotomy bypasses some of the most positive elements of the alternative feminist perspectives. Foss and Griffin, for instance, offer a detailed critique of argument-as-is in two articles both entitled "Beyond Persuasion;" the first is a conference version which details four types of rhetoric, two terms of which--conquest and conversion--they adapt from Gearhart. They identify "conquest" rhetoric as when rhetors attempt "to secure an idea, claim, or argument as the best, strongest, and most powerful among competing positions" (7). This relies on a debate-type structure based in rules and codified rhetorical moves.

Conversion rhetoric reflects another form of arguing to win, focused more on actual change in audience behavior or thought to that of the rhetor (10). In either case, the rhetor speaks from a hierarchically superior position to the audience, regarding their ideas as to be overturned or replaceable. The speaker gains knowledge about the audience only to move them from where they are to where the speaker intends. Most common descriptions of rhetoric involve these two coordinates, and many assume this is what argument is. For instance, even Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz's Everything's an Argument (as noted before, the only rhetorical handbook to even mention feminist argumentation) observes that arguments most commonly are used to "influence the opinions of readers" or "to change what readers believe" (4).

Foss and Griffin also identify what they term "advisory" rhetoric, similar perhaps to traditional "deliberative" rhetoric, where the rhetor speaks with the audience's best interest at heart, listens and adapts, but relinquishes concern over whether or not the advice is followed. As they suggest, not every rhetorical situation allows this reaction, but the point is that other approaches to argument can be envisioned and applied as situations require. There are good reasons to change beyond the equity or cognitive developmental ones.

Foss and Griffin also describe an alternate and feminist theory-inspired communicative approach called "invitational" rhetoric, where the rhetor purposely gives up any attempt to persuade, offering perspectives, listening, and allowing interlocutors to choose, reject, or modify the perspectives of the rhetor. They do not suggest its use in all situations, but they offer that not all rhetoric need be intentionally persuasive. In invitational rhetoric, the rhetor, rather than seeking to change the interlocutors, creates an "environment that enables transformation should audience members choose to be transformed. Its primary communicative options are modeling [enacting bodily the concepts being conveyed] and the creation of the external conditions of safety, value, and freedom." Interlocutors are "seen as equal to the rhetor and as experts on their own lives. The perspectives they hold are respected and honored by the rhetor" [italics mine] (35-36). Whether this is simply persuasion in disguise, as Fulkerson and others believe, it still expresses a fuller context from which we may make rhetorical choices.

While admittedly visual metaphors underlie many speech acts and arguments, Foss and Griffin's description of feminist alternatives rely most heavily upon them. Similarly, many feminist texts rely upon sensory/visual metaphors. For example, Cheris Kramarae defines feminist praxis itself almost entirely in visual/sensory terms: "Many feminists are engaged in recovering and inventing ways of defining, speaking, and writing female experiences and perceptions" (41). She also notes that "feminists recognize there is not a single human way of understanding interactions," and thus welcome a "plurality of perspectives to encourage the instability of analytical categories and to encourage the use of these instabilities as resources for thinking and action" [emphasis mine] (40). Even Aristotle writes that "[m]etaphors ... give style clearness, charm, and distinction as nothing else can" (Rhetoric II 2 1405a 8); perceptive metaphors lessen an argument's tendency toward conflict. What better way to use "instabilities as resources" and change our rhetorical "tools" than to shift the primary argumentative metaphor from opposition to perception, one that structurally invites various perspectives?

Foss and Griffin do not propose a hierarchy of which advisory and invitational rhetoric are the top, and they believe that each has its own purpose and context, but they do summarize significant problems with the conquest and conversion models. The first problem relates to Gearhart's alignment of persuasion with violence: "any intent to persuade is an act of violence" (241). Though the authors, and many other respondents, find Gearhart's phrasing problematic, they do agree that conversion and conquest may imply an assault that could violate the integrity of the respondent: "the attempt to persuade others is an act of violence in that it violates, damages, or abuses the inherent value and integrity of the self" (16). Rhetors should offer perspectives, not assume or demand adherence. This critique bears some merit, but it also oversimplifies the relation of violence and rhetoric to be addressed later in this essay.

Secondly, they observe that "intentional efforts to change others often are ineffective ... Resistance, in sum, often perpetuates creative persistence" (17, 19). When we give our attention to resisting an idea or persons who hold an idea, we elevate and strengthen the status of oppositional ideas while offering those who hold those perspectives a virtual outline from which they may create their identities and counter arguments--such as when protest groups actually create interest in a book, film, or business they are resisting.

Their third observation is that "individuals cannot change others; only they can change themselves" (19). When perspectives are offered in a positive way, audiences feel less compelled and more invited.

Tannen identifies what could be listed as a fourth problem with the conquest and conversion models; they invite oversimplified and dichotomous responses. She notes that, in reality, "[m]ost people often find themselves, their own opinions, somewhere in the middle, and even if we say the middle, were talking as if it were polarized. It's a crystal with many sides" (Gergen). Changing the metaphor to one of perspective almost automatically addresses this problem, since, as noted before, it is common in English to refer to "multiple" and "diverse" perspectives.

The model, described above and detailed below, by changing the argumentative metaphor to offering perspectives, responds to all of these problems while also encouraging a more advisory and invitational environment for persuasion/argumentation. Arguers are not trapped within war metaphors, and do not have to shoulder the burden of pushing their interlocutors to believe what they believe; they may simply offer observations based in acknowledged perspectives, closer to the original Latin arguere, "to make clear." "Do you see what I mean?" is not linguistically an attempt at territorial conquest; rhetors are free to be more nuanced, interlocutors freer to respond positively, or by at least acknowledging that the issue may look a certain way from the rhetor's perspective. While perspectives may be "forced" on individuals, the term at least encourages a less agonistic way of relating. The model also encourages such perspective sharing in the creation of the arguments, as arguers themselves become aware of their own perspectival lenses--ideal goals for argumentation in any case.

Persuasion and Violence: Reconsidering this Central Divisive Issue

The driving issue behind the feminist critique outlined above relies on a perceived relation between violence and rhetoric. This feminist critique implicates academic argument-as-is as a form of violence, both realms historically prohibited to women, to which such concepts as Gearhart's "womanized" rhetoric and Foss and Griffin's "Invitational Rhetoric" offer the clearest alternatives. In response, Fulkerson notes that most argumentation, that is, the day-to-day interactions of people solving problems, is not violent or even based in conquest, but actually serves as an alternative to violence, a method for reaching consensus and establishing policies, directives, and procedures. Megan Foley's essay, "Of Violence and Rhetoric: an Ethical Aporia," may shed some light on both these feminist critiques and Fulkerson's relative dismissal of them. Side-stepping this Fulkerson/Foss and Griffin dichotomy, Foley pulls together an Aristotelian model of argumentation based in both his Rhetoric and his broad work in ethics that actually opens a space for a less dichotomized feminist rhetoric of persuasion. Foley's essay allows us to address problems in the feminist perspectives offered here and, at the same time, offers a basis in Greek rhetoric for feminist perspectives as well as this essay's perspectival model.

The title of Fulkerson's article reacting to feminist concerns, "Transcending our Conception of Argument in the Light of Feminist Understandings" reflects a possible common ground: both he (himself, and as a representative of the field of rhetoric) and the feminists he addresses desire argumentation that is respectful of the individual, egalitarian rather than authoritarian, and ethical in terms of outcomes. Foley is not responding to either the Fulkerson or these feminist views, but her work reflects their common concerns. Rather than begin with public aspects of argumentation, which both the feminists mentioned here and those who responded to them did, Foley begins with the individual. She is exploring possibilities for an ethical and non-violent rhetoric based in the individual, which then potentially results in ethical public rhetoric.

Though her argument is complex, it is easily grasped in two linguistic modals--"must" and "will." She believes that Aristotle's positions rhetoric as the opposite of violence, rather than its alternate (Fulkerson among others) or accomplice (Gearhart et al). While she observes that the common expression "rhetorical force" implicates rhetoric as "species of violence" rather than its remedy (191), Aristotle, in her interpretation, sidesteps this dichotomy by pairing violence with "necessity" and persuasion with "voluntariness." In other words, if one is coerced (must), one is not persuaded (willing).

When rhetoric is defined in terms of the respondent rather than rhetor, the feminist critique outlined above is enriched. No matter how the message is framed, the respondent's choice is all that matters. While Foss and Griffin hinge their whole model on creating an environment where such free choice is centralized, any rhetoric, no matter how confrontational, is persuasive only to the degree that the respondent chooses to think or act upon it. Fulkerson's critique that much argument is not coercive reflects this idea. In Foley's reading of Aristotle, if it were a "must," it would be an instance of violence, not rhetoric.

Feminists such as Gearhart and Foss and Griffin emphasize the sanctity of the individual which agonistic argument seems to violate. Gearhart suggests we should eschew any intention to persuade, while Foss and Griffin propose that rhetors should, in many contexts, exhibit, invite, and offer rather than persuade. Fulkerson zooms in on a potential problem: "Most educational and rhetorical theorists would, I think, say a teacher who did not intend to change the views of her students was not doing her job" (6). Fulkerson misses that Foss and Griffin do not insist that we always use invitational rhetoric; Foss and Griffin, on the other hand, overestimate the rhetor's power to coerce the individual by simply intending to convert or conquer.

Foley's interpretation lessens both of these oversimplifications by stepping behind the screen into the individual psyche. Aristotle describes the human condition as between orexis, "hunger or yearning" and logos, which is better defined, in her view, as the general term "speech" (logical and reasoned internal speech as opposed to the speechless hunger of orexis). Rather than opposites, however, these elements interact in the individual as internal deliberation, reflected in the Greek symbouleutikon, Aristotle's term for deliberative rhetoric. In her model of persuasion, the internal struggle between speech and "yearning" resulting in "deliberative will" in the individual parallels the public striving for sym-boulesis, "collective will" in the assembly, the boulai in Athens, Thebes, and Argos (194). In this view, persuasion always implicates division, whether in personal or public deliberation. The difference between persuasion and violence depends on whether or not one changes as an act of the will or not. Obviously, women's historical experiences as kept out of public deliberations complicates this, but Foley's model still proves useful in delineating aspects of women's experience as violently coerced or persuasively voluntary, even if the voluntary nature of many women's decisions may be suspect because they only had limited options.

Broadly speaking then, the feminist focus upon the ethics of rhetoric, on invitation and offering rather than coercion, aligns with Foley's description of Aristotle's view of persuasion. Their criticisms are valid in terms of modern argument-as-war rhetoric but, given Foley's interpretation, feminists who desire a change in our thinking about argument actually might realign us with Aristotle's intended concept of persuasion.

However, his distinction between persuasion and coercion causes us to interrogate further the relation between rhetoric and violence that feminists such as Spender, Tompkins, and Gearhart rely upon; it may depend upon whether one focuses on the rhetor or the respondent. For rhetors sensitive to feminist concerns, the best approach seems to be to develop feminist rhetorical practices sensitive both to the speaker's intention and the recipient's right for the freedom to choose. As Foley points out, our public reasoning ought to reflect our inner reasoning, and we do not normally "coerce" ourselves. Rather, more often we experience perceptions which we interpret through lenses of beliefs and assumptions.

The Perspectival Model

Agonistic argument is not some monolithic enemy, but it may too often function as the way we argue while the critique above implies that it applies best to only certain limited kinds of discourse. The feminist critique offered here does not suggest a monolithic feminist view either. During their keynote speech at the recent Feminisms and Rhetorics conference at Stanford University, however, Cheryl Glenn and Andrea Lunsford affirmed that non-violence and the lessening of violence in the world remain primary and widely accepted feminist perspectives. One way to lessen violence is to argue less aggressively, in a more relation-oriented manner, and shifting the metaphors of argument to sensory rather than combative terms could help do just that.

In order to develop a model, previous models offer some starting coordinates. Toulmin's widely known model of informal argumentation relies on legal metaphor. Arguers make claims concerning certain data based on "warrants," assumptions or reasons which "allow" the interpretation, like a police warrant allows a household search. This legal and oppositional model relies implicitly on a war metaphor in which our ideas are staked out on grounds, buttressed, and defended.

Interestingly, as noted before, many feminist critics rely on an alternate perceptive metaphor, such as this 2003 commentary on the nature of feminist teaching from Robbin Crabtree and David Alan Sapp: "Classroom environments can be designed to help students and teachers alike examine relationships of power in culture, reject the dichotomy of either/or and replace it with perspectives that allow students and teachers to problematize common-sense viewpoints, discover similarities within difference, and learn to watch themselves through multiple lenses" [emphasis mine] (134). A perspectival metaphor proves to be more fruitful for meeting these kinds of goals and expressing arguments based in multiple perspectives.

The terms of the model offered here were in part inspired by the work of two earlier writers. In 1978, Robert Kendall, for reasons similar to those offered here, partially adapted Toulmin's model to a visual metaphor, suggesting that we call arguments "perspectives" (3) and data "perceptions" (5). While he continued to refer to Toulmin's claim as "assertions," more a conquest model term, to fully embed the visual metaphor, my model identifies the data as "observations," and suggests that the claim is better identified as "perceptions" based in inter-related arguments--i.e., "perspectives." In 1986, Gail Stygall referred to warrants as "the frame through which the data is viewed" (8), suggesting a possible term for the lens/frame of this model.

The model below reinterprets Toulmin's informal legal model as a perspectival model responsive to feminist critiques and the need for alternate rhetorics within our Argument Culture. It opens the door also for advisory or invitational approaches. Arguing shifts from staking claims and taking territory to offering perspectives and promoting a "seeing together."

Toulmin's model (in parentheses in this model) promotes abstract and "disembodied" arguments because of the linguistic expectations embedded in its terms. The alternative model (in bold) consciously highlights the interlocutor's "lenses" and perceptions based in field and culture. The model is not a "translation" of Toulmin's model, but a radical re-interpretation. Rather than a model for an individual argument, it is a contextual and adaptive model for creating, discussing, and responding to arguments within their argumentative, field, and cultural context. Most scholars agree that an argument is some type of statement combined with a reason (see Fleming); the model places this relation in a visual realm to sidestep the unwanted baggage of the legalistic war metaphor usually implied, and within social context to show, as feminists and others have noted, that arguments are never isolated or abstract. The "man behind the curtain" is exposed. Each part of the model makes intentional changes in argumentation.

Consider first the simple shift from "data" to "observations." The term data implies concrete, objective reality, where observation always de facto implies situations and issues interpreted by persons. Computers compute data, only sentient beings observe.

The term lens follows this general theme. Even if we make observations with the "naked eye," we see them through a lens, and here the term encourages the user to recognize that all "truth" is shaped by various interpretive lenses. There is no abstract "self-evident" truth. The lens is multiple in origin and nature, involving the rhetor's culture, education, affiliations, class, gender, sexual orientation, race, age, ethnicity, physical ability and other factors. Observations, as the model illustrates, lead to specific perceptions only through specific lenses. For this reason, what Toulmin refers to confrontationally as "conditions of rebuttal," this model reframes as the more neutral "outside the lens." Our lenses shape our perceptions, but like an actual lens, some things lie outside their range. In this model, this is natural, a contextual issue, not just an element needed to prepare for an "opponents" rebuttal.

In fact, this model is not inherently oppositional. Rhetors see what they see because of their lenses, noted in the model's expression of Toulmin's "qualifier" as "Given this lens" and, if they desire others to see it too, they should focus on communicating not only their observations, but the lenses by which they make them--something effective arguments should do. Argumentation becomes relationship-centered rather than justifying our case in the "court of reason," as in Toulmin's model. The model, being contextual, avoids also Toulmin's assumption that "reason" is something we naturally share. In 1958, when Toulmin released his model, what reasoning meant was taken for granted, as it was for some time after. But as some feminists and others have pointed out, "reasoning" and 'logic" in Western culture bear gender and other biases. The perspectival model, by placing perspectives in fuller context, offers space for perceiving reasoning as both structured (observations interpreted through lenses), and various (lenses vary with speakers, culture, etc.), opening ways to discuss concepts like standpoint theory as we teach, react to, and create arguments. It also avoids the subjective/objective controversy by positing that arguers and arguments embody and express both personally and culturally generated values and elements.

What Toulmin refers to as "backing," or the support for the warrant, is, in the model, the "frame" for the lens--the contextual origins of the rhetor's point of reference. "Backing" implies abstract and solid grounds, while "frame" implies only the context from which the lens originates and bears its explanatory power. Users of this model are invited, for instance, to consider in what context the arguments of an arguer they are reading or responding to make sense. The frame includes the reasons for the reason/ lens in the argument. This is especially helpful when encountering arguments from someone with entirely different lenses. Examining their frame and lens, a respondent may begin to "see what they see." The visual metaphor also moves the user away from Toulmin's legalistic reasons for the backing--to make the argument stronger and to make clear the basis for the warrant--and puts the focus upon the origins and nature of the speaker's experience that leads her or him to adopt a particular lens. Arguments are vehicles of person-to-person experience rather than conveyances of impersonal facts and reasons. Toulmin's model favors logos, but Aristotle's ethos and pathos rise to the surface more within a perceptual model because it positions the speaker as a fellow subjective human being perceiving the world through specific and conscious and unconscious lens frames. The more aware of and sensitive to the audience's lenses and perceptions the speaker is, the more likely respondents will react positively and in dialogue rather than self-defense and resistance.

In addition, the model implies use of certain types of words directly belonging to the perceptual class of verbs--view, point to, consider, signify, indicate, etc. Foss and Griffin's terms "invitation" and "offering," along with related terms like "suggest," fit as well. For example, consider the rhetorical difference between the sensory/visual "It seems to me" rather than the confrontational "I claim that."

As noted before, because Toulmin's original model was a-contextual and ahistorical, the model adds three other elements. The first level, "Perspectives," made up of "Inter-Related Perceptions," reminds the user that arguments rely on other arguments. Pieces of writing, for instance, involve layers of arguments, some articulated and others assumed, that make the "gist" argument make sense. The respondent has to fill them in to respond fully and thoughtfully. While Aristotle noted that often an audience must fill in the missing premise of an enthymeme, this model promotes a more complicated processing of missing pieces. It reminds the user that arguments may not make sense to them because they do not share enough argumentative background with the speaker to make the connections needed--like a traveler trying to understand television in a foreign country. Arguments that do make immediate sense do so because of lens/ frame sharing between interlocutors.

The model's inter-related arguments are represented in the argument itself as references, allusions, or assumptions; some of them are field specific, the next layer of the model. Vision relies not only on interpretive lenses, but also on "fields of reference." Analogically this is related to the idea that people must be in a similar location to see similar things. Standing only two feet away can mean at times that one cannot see the beautiful cardinal bird that one's companion sees. This layer of the model reminds the reader that feminist arguments make the most sense to feminists, etc. Arguments only make the fullest sense when we know something of the conversation within the field at the time of the piece of writing.

The next element of the model includes the cultural context of the argument, its cultural "horizon." Gadamer's term refers to time, place, historical situation, and general historical concerns of the times; in this model, it refers also to the rhetor's societal definitions of gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., all of which shape every element of argument. While investigating all of these elements is neither realistic nor necessary in all cases, in terms of the model they remind the user that every argument takes shape as it does for a variety of personal, social, and cultural reasons. We cannot read or react to arguments as timeless or ahistorical, but rather as interwoven expressions of individuals and groups grappling as best they can, or perhaps as ingenuously or manipulatively as they can, with the issues of their time/space perceptual reality. Just as each of us can only see as far as our perceptual horizon, arguers speak within their cultural and historical horizons.

This aspect of the model also reminds us to resist our tendency to react to arguments from the past anachronistically. We should not too quickly fault arguers of the past for not seeing perhaps what we ourselves could not see if we had lived in those times. We cannot dismiss all of what a person offers because of their horizontal blindnesses. Besides, the model reminds users to actively seek blind spots in their own experiences and in their present cultural horizons, and to explore the horizons of other people to better gain some perspective outside of their own familiar lenses and perspectives. Often teachers encourage these activities, but find that students revert back to the dominant conquest and conversion models in their writing. This perspectival model offers language encouraging a break with those approaches.

Though the structure of individual arguments is at the center, the model is not meant to be hierarchical, i.e. logo-centric. It is designed to be read as an all-at-once expression of persuasion in action, persuasion defined as offering perceptions based in interpretation of observations through lenses. Specific arguments mean nothing without the interactions of all of the encircling elements. This means that discussing or writing arguments involves not just the presentation of ideas, but also thorough interaction with social context, time period, history, and cultural conversation. Researching other perspectives makes more sense in this context than one in which it is only to be used, for example, for assessing pros and cons. Oral and written responses influenced by this model, however, should be nuanced, human, contextual, and sensitive to audience perspectives. These goals are noted by many as what effective argument should be, as Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz add, to "invite others to a space of mutual regard and exploration" (5). The use of the model provides a way to express and centralize these elements as an active aspect of inventing, analyzing, and offering arguments.

In sum, feminist critiques previously addressed agonistic argument as an academic and sociological problem. As Tannen and others have noted, it is also a metaphorical one. As interviewer Duncan Campbell affirms, "we are in the midst of an evolutionary crisis, in which we need as a species to find a way to go beyond the adolescent 'you're either for us or against us' mentality into a co-creative discerning dialogue with mature voices." Many would like to create and teach argumentation that is dialogic and interactional, but may lack a model of argument designed to encourage those goals. The model proposed here responds to all of these critiques. Further, if persuasion is identified, as Foley does, as the opposite of violence, then feminist critiques stating that argument itself is violent carry less weight. If we, however, like Foley, seek a model of external persuasion that mirrors better our inner persuasion, then feminist metaphors and practices based in invitation, offering, and perception seem to make the most sense. This kind of feminist response seems to be the best remedy to the imbalances of the Argument Culture, identifying possibilities for positive argumentative dialogue within a perceptive metaphor that responds to feminist concerns while inviting participation by those who do not identify as feminists to a more productive mode of discourse. Utilizing this model can potentially impact the Argument Culture and encourage argumentative maturity as we redefine what the goals and nature of arguing can be.


In many ways, as the Fulkerson/feminist debate above suggests, critics and defenders of argument-as-is share many values. Both desire argumentation that is sensitive to the arguer's need to express and the respondent's need to freely choose. The apparent impasse between these two points of view, however, rises from various interpretations of the relation of opposition, violence, and rhetoric. A number of feminists questioned the necessity of conceptualizing all argument in one basic confrontational manner, and identified less confrontational alternatives. Defenders of traditional rhetoric rightly perceive this association of rhetorical persuasion with coercion as an oversimplification, but may similarly miss the important ways argument-as-war lingers behind the scenes, indicated in many ways by the relative dismissal of some of these feminist critiques.

The model offered here bridges this gap in two ways. The perceptual model sidesteps intentionally the persuasion/violence dichotomy by defining arguments as observations made because of and within specific personal, field-specific, historical and cultural lens interpretations. In doing so, the model also reflects Foley's interpretation of Aristotle's notion that persuasion is the opposite of violence, and argumentation remains grounded in human perception rather than in oppositional abstractions. Sharing observations allows the kind of freedom to respond many feminists desire without relying on essentialist or cognitive assumptions. Foley's model also offers a space where feminist theory and Greek rhetoric might coalesce in intention.

The model, in lessening the role of speaker from the ultimate interpreter of the rhetorical situation to one person speaking among many voices and perspectives, allows more space for a respondent's free rhetorical response. These kinds of words, combined with the honest effort on the speaker's part to frame the argument in an open manner, establish a caring and open ethos with respondents reminiscent of Cato the Elder's vir bonus dicendi peritus (Quintilian 12.1.1), and develop pathos by establishing real connections with the respondents' points of view. The model's emphasis on a standpoint perspective also increases the pathos for respondents.

One other element that the model should balance concerns the idea of thesis. By encouraging various perspectives and lessening the need for agonistic language, the model allows more complex theses. Users do not have to disprove or attack; they can suggest alternatives, offer options, and indicate various solutions. Perspectives are placed into intersectional contexts, speaker's expressions of orexis and logos, may encourage symboulesis in the speaker's communities.

As for what essays look like shaped by the model, this essay itself almost exclusively relies on visual, as well as "offering" metaphors. Other descriptive metaphors were purposely included. In dealing with sources, attempts were made to depict them within context, as expressions of individuals within a certain field and cultural horizons. The shift is not always easy; it is tempting to adopt a hostile or dismissive attitude toward those who do not agree. The model reveals, however, that though it is sad that the ideas of Gearhart and others found so much resistance, even dismissal, the reactions make perfect sense given the dominant Argument Culture that finds fault as a default argumentative setting. Many, however, desire other ways to relate.

The intention here is to build on what is strongest in the feminist critique, to resist a type of rhetoric that is failing us worldwide, and to find positive ways feminist perspectives can reveal paths to more fruitful and productive approaches to persuasion. Each person who attempts to find and tap into Aristotle's "best available means of persuasion" relies upon unique physical, social, emotional, and mental realities, bounded by field and cultural horizons. We should at least try to see what others see, find what views we share, and create avenues of connection. If we are ever to trust each other and create a functional society, we simply cannot keep arguing almost exclusively in in conquest and conversionary terms. Cultural change begins when we reach out from different metaphors for persuasion.

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(1.) Gearhart, 1979; Spender 1985; Tompkins, 1987; Flynn, "Contextualizing," 1988; Frey, 1990; Lamb, 1991; Foss and Griffin, 1995; Annas, 1995, Emmel, Resch and Tenney, 1996, Berrill, 1996, Jarratt and Worsham, 1996.

(2.) In the article I also offer that this feminist critique was viewed dismissively because it reflected a more general trend toward less confrontational rhetoric in the field of argumentation. For more information concerning these feminist perspectives and contemporary argumentation, see the full article.

Keith Lloyd

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