A civil discussion: Wake Forest hosts argumentation conference

Argumentation is a tough word for many people.

It sounds like a confrontation might be involved, but argumentation is actually the term for the rational analysis of discussion, or persuasion, explains Alessandra Beasley Von Burg, director of the Wake Forest University Argumentation Conference to be held on campus March 19-21.

“I know that’s a word that can be sometimes intimidating because people think of argumentation as arguing,” says Von Burg, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication. “Argumentation is about how we talk to each other, how we discuss with each other.”

Argumentation involves the study of how logic and reason are used in communication, and how that affects everything from politics to personal relationships. It draws from various disciplines including philosophy, psychology and law.

The conference will include speakers from about ten foreign countries and from several American universities, as well as faculty from Wake Forest and other local universities. They will discuss topics such as political arguments; how presidents use arguments to advance their agendas; how practical arguments affect interpersonal relationships; how arguments about religion and science intertwine; and how doctors and patients use arguments to communicate. For a full schedule, see the conference Web site. The conference is free and open to the public.

The first argumentation conference was held at Wake Forest in 1982. After another meeting in 1984, the conference was next held in 1988 at Casa Artom, Wake Forest’s study-abroad facility in Venice, Italy. Since 1988, the conference has been held at Casa Artom every four years and occasionally in the U.S.

Von Burg says organizers are looking forward to the conference returning to Wake Forest. “Many of the prominent people in the field have associated it with Venice, especially international scholars,” she says. “They know the conference well, but they don’t know Wake Forest all that well.”

Professor of Communication Mike Hazen, who is co-directing this year’s conference with Von Burg, was instrumental in launching the conference. The first conference was organized by Hazen and David Cratis Williams, who taught at Wake Forest at the time, to bridge the gap between the competitive world of intercollegiate debating and the real-world application of argument in academics and society.

“The idea of argumentation is very much linked to a lot of the elements of democracy and civil society, going back all the way to the Greeks,” Hazen says. “So in a sense argument is really at the core of what our society is about.”

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