Saturday, September 10, 2011

Argumentation: STASIS - The Heart of the Controversy

Commentary: This is a series on effective reasoning as it applies to project management. Using proper argumentation in a project while vetting risk, options, objectives, strategies, and workaround solutions can strengthen a project's performance, improve communications, and develop a sense of unity. Effective argumentations comes down to building the strongest case for a claim. In this series I will be summarizing points made by David Zarefsky in his Teaching Company coursework as well as drawing on other resources.   This series of posts may be reviewed at the Argumentation Series Posts link.

The past post discussed argument structures, jargon, and analysis. This discussion on stasis will now bring us to a point where attack and defense can be discussed in the upcoming postings.

Argumentation: STASIS - The Heart of the Controversy

The concept of stasis originated from legal disputes and is useful to the arguer and for analysis of an argument. The term stasis refers to the focal point of a dispute and means a point of rest between opposing forces. It is the point at which contending positions meet and is determined by the choices that proponents make about what to contest and what to stipulate. Movement towards a goal cannot resume until the opposition has transcended. Therefore, the first decision to be made is what the point of stasis will be. There are four classic stasis identified; conjecture, definition, quality, and place.
  • Stasis in conjecture is concerned with whether or not an act occurred
  • Stasis in definition is concerned with what the act should be called
  • Stasis in quality is concerned with whether or not the act is justified
  • Stasis in place is concerned with the proper form for the discussion
Stasis has several features that should be understood. First, stasis is determined not by the original assertion alone but also with the combination of any of the many ways one may respond to the claim. Therefore, preliminary to attacking a case one must find where the stasis can most usefully be drawn. Second, stasis is generally progressive. Quality implicitly concedes to conjecture and definition. Definition implicitly concedes to conjecture. Thus, advocates should begin the argument as close to the beginning of a chain as can be sustained. Presenting multiple stasis is better than jumping around during the course of an argument. Finally, stasis in place is pre-exempted as an exception.

The concept of stasis is adaptive to non-legal arguments. There are models for non-legal arguments in which one popular model applies conjecture, definition, and quality to the topoi for a resolution of policy. This results in a matrix of possible stasis. Status in place is not often applicable.

Ultimately, failing to agree on a stasis may have serious outcomes for the argument. The argument can be hijacked and/or change the understanding. The argument could be lost. Also e argument could be locked in a stalemate.

The concept of stasis has multiple uses. For the analyst, stasis enables one to locate the cent of the dispute. For the arguer, stasis permits strategic choices for alternative responses for a given situation. This is preliminary to attack and defense. Stasis also focuses arguers and avoids the tendency to talk past each other.

Commentary: The jargon of argumentation may be difficult to follow for some people. The bottom line is the arguer needs to stay focused consistently on the same points of contention structuring the argument in support of that focus. Going off focus can result in an undesirable outcome or result for the original argument. For the project manager, loosing focus can result in scope creep or that important project decisions may not be made or accepted.

The next couple of postings will focus on the more interesting topic of attack and defense of an argument.


Zarefsky, D. (2005) Argumentation: the study of effective reasoning. 2nd Ed. the Teaching Company. Chantilly, VA.

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