1. Preference for agreement
Argument is a means of deriving a new consensus from an established consensus, S. Agreement; Persuasion. Such a construction can be seen as the “macro” expression of a trend observable at the “micro” level of the interactional sequence, preference for agreement. This concept is fundamental for the organization of turns of speech in interaction.
In an adjacency pair, the first turn “prefers”, i.e., is oriented towards a specific kind of second turn. The preferred response to an invitation is acceptance, rather than refusal; proposals are made to be accepted and not rejected; affirmations are put forward to be ratified, not to be rejected, etc.
The preferred sequence is unmarked; the second speaker aligns with the first; agreement is a given, a minimal linguistic mark may suffice: (yes, OK, let’s go…), or a quasi-verbal ratification (mm hm) or a minimal bodily action (nodding).
The preference for agreement is also reflected in practices such as the avoidance of frontal opposition, the absence of ratification of emerging disagreements and the preference for micro-adjustments to reach an agreement without explicitly bringing up the disagreement for an overt discussion.
The dispreferred sequence is marked, that is to say, it contains specific features such as hesitation, presence of pre-turns (underlined in S2_2) and justifications (bold characters in S2_2):
S1_1 — What are you doing tonight?
S2_1 — Well I don’t know …
S1_2 — Come for a drink!
S2_2 — (silence) hmm, well, you know, I’d prefer not to, I have got a little work to do.
Giving reasons for accepting an invitation is almost an offense:
S1 — Come to dinner tomorrow night!
S2 — With pleasure, it’ll mean I won’t have to cook, and I will take down the trash.
This preference for agreement is not a psychological fact, but an observational conversational regularity. It can be compared with Grice’s principle of co-operation, or with Ducrot’s observations on the polemical effect produced by second turns which do not accept the presuppositions of the first turn, S. Presupposition.
2. Conversational divergences and overt arguments
Face to face disagreement is expressed by a series of specific coordinated behaviors, either verbal “I don’t agree”, or paraverbal: fights for the floor; interruptions; non collaborative overlappings; accelerated speech flows; raised voices; negative regulators, heads shaking, sighs, agitation — or ironic excesses of signs of approval; non-addressed partner behavior, etc.
Sequences of conversational divergence appear randomly; they follow unforeseen patterns; they have a potentially negative impact on the goals of the overall interaction; they introduce a delicate balance between somehow sacrificing one specific vision of things to maintain good relations with the other party; or taking the risk of damaging the relationship to maintain and sharpen extreme difference of opinion. In the majority of cases, conversational disagreements are resolved immediately, through step-by-step micro-adjustments and negotiation, to be forgotten.
At other times, conversational divergences serves to deepen differences. When conversational divergences are explained and disagreement ratified, each position backed by arguments and counter-arguments, the interaction becomes strongly argumentative. Such interactions can be momentous, kept in mind, ruminated upon and elaborated. They may generate new interactions, referring to the root disagreement, where the parties will develop planned interventions. The treatment of what has become an issue is now the rationale of these interactions.
3. Enantiosis: emerging argumentation
The argumentative role of an opponent may develop from his or her interactional role as a listener, ratifying the existence of an argumentative situation, where two discourses concerning the same topic are in explicit competition.
During a friendly conversation at a party, between people who barely know each other:
S1 — if we watch the TV candidates debate together tonight, maybe we should know something about each other, personally I vote for candidate Smith.
S2 — oh, well, for me it’s not quite so…
Before this exchange, S2 is simply the interlocutor of S1. During the exchange, a political divergence emerges, which initiates a restructuring of the interaction, that can lead to a re-framing of the interlocutors as political antagonists. A full-blown argumentative situation can develop from that point, depending on whether or not the subsequent turns will thematize the emerging opposition.
The figure of rhetoric called enantiosis seems particularly well suited to designate this transitional moment, where opposition is looming large without yet being ratified by the participants. The Greek adjective [enantios] can mean:
- Being in front of, such as shores that face each other; things that are offered to the gaze of somebody.
- With an orientation towards hostility, which stands in front of: “those in front of us”, that is the enemy; in general, the opposing party, the adversary.
- Opposed, contrary to: the opposite party, the opponent (after Bailly, [enantios]).
According to this development of meaning, in a dialogue, the adjective enantios refers first to the person standing here, in front of you, for example, in the interlocutor’s position. The idea of hostility appears in a second instance, and then the interlocutor becomes the opponent (the “adversarius” in a rhetorical encounter, Lausberg , §274).
The word enantiosis is also used as a synonym of “antithesis”, and can refer to oppositions such as “good vs. bad; even vs. odd”; one vs. multiple” (Dupriez 1984, Énantiose). This kind of binary opposition is characteristic of the sometimes Manichaean diptych corresponding to antagonistic argumentation. The semantic palette of enantiosis covers the dynamics of this emergence and the initial stabilization of the argumentative situation:
facing you >
|> with hostility:
the opponent >
|> the argumentative antithesis,
discourse vs. counter-discourse.
4. “Deep disagreement”