Argumentation is a cognitive, discursive and social activity aimed at solving issues of fact, value or policy by presenting reasons from which a standpoint on the issue can be inferred (cf. van Eemeren 2018).
In the financial markets, investors need inferences to bridge information and decision. Investors act as inference-makers who use received information as premises (arguments) to connect disclosed facts to conclusions concerning the investment-worthiness of a firm or asset. The very concept of material information is defined precisely in terms of the ability of a rational investor use information to draw inferences affecting investment decisions. In their communication activities, listed companies, and, in general entrepreneurs, have a compelling interest in persuading investors to invest in their ventures rather than in those of the competitors. Financial communication is therefore an inherently rhetorical enterprise in which parties go beyond the mere disclosure of information deploying strategies aimed at shaping the inferences of investors (cf. Palmieri 2018). These strategies can range from sound argumentation to mere impression management (Merkl-Davies & Brennan 2007) exploiting attentional limitations and cognitive biases of investors via superficial cues. Financial intermediaries, financial analysts and business journalists also enter this conversation acting as information intermediaries and sometimes as advisors on behalf of investors, yet they are themselves subjects to limitations and conflicts of interest. The ability of assessing the argumentative quality of financial communications and to design sound arguments is therefore of paramount importance for financial communication professionals.
Considered since Aristotle’s Rhetoric as a key element of persuasive communication affecting decisions in public life, argumentation is currently at the forefront of exciting interdisciplinary developments in political science (deliberative democracy theory, cf. Steiner 2012), cognitive science (argumentative theory of reasoning, cf. Mercier & Sperber 2017) and artificial intelligence (cf. argumentation mining and debating agents, like IBM’s Watson).
The course provides students with a method to analyze and design arguments on the basis of in depth case studies and simulations.
In the first part, the course will focus on argumentation in general as a strategic communication resource that organizations deploy to gain the sustainable trust of their stakeholders, withstand scrutiny by media and other stakeholders in accountability processes, recover lost reputation and trust through strategies of apologia.
In the second part, we will focus on the specificities of argumentative practices in the financial markets looking at argumentative discussions in disclosure processes at large, with a special focus on discussion in Earnings Conference Calls and arguments in Profit Warnings. Argumentation acquires a particular prominence in special circumstances, where standard indicators for establishing value do not operate: this will be illustrated by an in-depth analysis of argumentation in Mergers and Acquisitions (cf. Palmieri 2014) and a case study on entrepreneurial pitches in the context of start-up communication.
Students will use collaborative visualization and debating tools to map the structure of media arguments and will be able to reconstruct which argument schemes (cf. Rigotti & Greco 2019) are used in in different contexts (distinguishing, for example, argument schemes such as means-end argumentation, analogy and appeals to authority), analyze their implicit premises and evaluate their validity. Combining case studies and role playing simulation, they will become able to reflect on the reasonableness and persuasiveness of moves at the different stages of a debate situation.
Classroom interaction will allow significant space for students’ discussion, group-work, and guided controversy in order to see how argumentation works in practice. A complete syllabus will be made available at the beginning of the course.
Eemeren, F. H. Van. (2018). Argumentation Theory : A Pragma- Dialectical Perspective. Dordrecht: Springer.
Merkl-davies, D. M., & Brennan, N. M. (2007). Discretionary disclosure strategies in corporate narratives : incremental information or impression management ? Journal of Accounting Literature, 26, 116–196.
Palmieri, R. (2014). Corporate Argumentation in Takeover Bids. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Palmieri, R. (2018). The Role of Argumentation in Financial Communication and Investor Relations. In A. V. Laskin (Ed.), The Handbook of Financial Communication and Investor Relations (pp. 45–60). JohnWiley & Sons.
Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2017). The enigma of reason. A new theory of human understanding. Allen Lane Penguin Books.
Rigotti, E., & Greco, S. (2019). Inference in Argumentation: A topics-based approach to argument schemes (Vol. 34). Dordrecht: Springer.
Steiner, J. (2012). The Foundations of Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge / New York etc.: Cambridge University Press.