E12: re:blurb - Stasis Theory

On this week’s show, we change things up a bit and bring you the first in a new series of mini-episodes entitled re:blurb, where we break down concepts from rhetorical theory and history in practical terms and use contemporary examples to illustrate their usefulness in examining language in action.

For this first installment, Alex takes the mic to explain stasis theory: a set of concepts reiterated throughout rhetorical history that help speakers and writers both analyze and invent arguments. This theory holds that all arguments contain “stasis claims” about the facts at hand in an issue, the definition of key terms and elements in the debate, the evaluation of those elements, and prescriptions of action. Using the stases, we can see how arguers try to “get ahead of” different potential points of disagreement and address specific audiences. In addition, we can think about how we can make better arguments by predicting how others might view each stasis category of a particular issue. This is especially useful when analyzing why arguers choose to stay at a particular stasis level to reach a specific audience.

To illustrate how stasis theory can widen our understanding of an arguments and their audiences, Alex uses the stases to analyze Brett Kavanaugh’s Wall Street Journal op-ed “I Am an Independent, Impartial Judge,” published in the wake of his and Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prior to his confirmation and appointment to the Supreme Court.

Works & Concepts Referenced in this Episode:

Fahnestock, J., & Secor, M. (1988). The stases in scientific and literary argument. Written communication, 5(4), 427-443.

Hohmann, H. (2001). Stasis. In T. O. Sloane (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Rhetoric (741-745). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kavanaugh, B. (2018, Oct. 4). I am an independent, impartial judge. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/i-am-an-independent-impartial-judge-1538695822

Further Reading on Stasis Theory:

Braet, A. (1987). The classical doctrine of status and the rhetorical theory of argumentation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 20, 79-93.

Heath, M. (1994). The substructure of stasis-theory from Hermagoras to Hermogenes. The Classical Quarterly, 44(1), 114-129.

Jasinski, J. Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2001.

Liu, Y. (1991). Aristotle and the stasis theory: A reexamination. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 21(1), 53-59.

Nadeau, R. (1959). “Classical Systems of Stases in Greek: Hermagoras to Hermogenes.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 2(1), 51–70.

Pullman, G. L. (1995). Deliberative rhetoric and forensic stasis: Reconsidering the scope and function of an ancient rhetorical heuristic in the aftermath of the Thomas/Hill controversy. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 25(1-4), 223-230.

Thompson, W. N. (1972). Stasis in Aristotle's Rhetoric, Quarterly Journal of Speech, 58(2), 134-141.

Alex Helberg