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Argumentation in the Media


Rocci A.

Course director

Zampa M.

Course director


Argumentation is a cognitive, discursive and social activity aimed at solving differences of opinion by presenting reasons in support of a standpoint (cf. van Eemeren 2018). In an ideal argumentative context issues are solved reasonably, relying on “the unforced force of the better argument” (Habermas).
Media organizations are interested in argumentation both as an instrument for sound decision making and conflict resolution within the organization itself and as a fundamental part of their mission as providers of argumentative contents and platform for argumentative interactions in the networked public sphere.
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 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 use rich authentic data to look more closely into argumentation in the process and product of newsmaking (Zampa 2017), exploring the decision making of journalists in newsroom meetings, their writing processes, and the argumentative design of the final news products. Finally, we will look at the medialization of debate, examining both the staging of debates in television formats and the large-scale interconnected debates supported by social-media platforms.
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 became 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.
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.
Zampa, M. (2017). Argumentation in the Newsroom. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: Benjamins