The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue

Deborah Tannen, Author Random House (NY) $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-679-45602-5
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. Author tour. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-345-40751-1
Analog Audio Cassette - 2 pages - 978-0-671-57631-8
Open Ebook - 250 pages - 978-0-307-76553-6
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