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Michael Hill

1997 Research


Abstract: Public Discourse on Controversial Issues: A Study of Strong Arguments Used in the "Culture Wars"
Mentor: Dr. David Cornelius, Communication Studies


This is a study of the arguments used in public discourse surrounding controversial issues associated with the culture wars...Often this public discourse is characterized by polarization and theoretical extremes. This study attempts to find the characteristics of the arguments that would be considered strong arguments and be accepted by people on both sides of an issue. Twelve students participated in taped in-depth interviews to get the arguments they consider strong and acceptable on five issues in the culture wars - abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, prayer in schools and English as the official language of the United States. These arguments were transcribed and coded. Results showed that people are able to state acceptable arguments on both sides of an issue, even when they feel strongly about an issue. The results indicated certain patterns of argument shifts allowed people to accept and state view points on both sides of an issue. The patterns tended to be different for each issue, however indicating that an analysis of which pattern works best should be done before discussion of the issue.

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