Category Archives: rhetoric and argumentation

Ownership in children’s justifications. Friedman and Nancekivell

Nancekivell, S. E., Van de Vondervoort, J. W., & Friedman, O. (2013). Young Children’s Understanding of Ownership. Child Development Perspectives, 7(4), 243–247.

This study uses a very simple experimental design to explore how children (ages 3 through 5) use ownership in their explanations about why it is acceptable or unacceptable for a person to use an object. They do three experiments.

In the first two experiments, ownership is not mentioned to children, and researchers test whether children bring up ownership spontaneously in their explanations.

In Experiment 1, researchers focused on the “right of use”, that is, whether it is acceptable for a certain character to use a certain object.

Experiment 2 is similar to experiment 1, but it focuses on the “right of exclusion” (someone shouldn’t use something because it belongs to someone else).

Experiment 3 provides children with explicit information about ownership before asking about acceptability and unacceptability of use.

The conclusions are that, as children grow older, they become more likely to use ownership to explain why it acceptable or unacceptable to use an object. 3-year-olds rarely referenced ownership, while 5-year-olds referenced ownership in almost half of their explanations. 5-year-olds gave ownership explanations more than any other particular kind of explanation (and this is not the case in younger children).

4- and 5-year-olds gave ownership explanations at similar rates regardless of whether ownership was mentioned. However, whether ownership was mentioned (experiment 3) did influence 3-year-olds: When 3-year-old explained why it was unacceptable to use an object, they referenced ownership more often when it was mentioned than when it was not mentioned. 3-year-olds gave more ownership explanations in the unacceptability-of-use condition.

We should emphasize that it all hangs in the narrative context. Children might reference ownership more if asked about why a person is allowed to modify an object; but they might reference ownership less if asked about gender typed objects or objects that are potentially dangerous, as other explanatory factors might be more compelling for such items (i.e., gender norms; safety concerns).

I’m interested in this topic because I think that ownership plays an important role in the development of reasoning. Rather thank considering reasoning as a cognitive, cold faculty that is applied to the domain of ownership, I believe that reasoning develops in the context of the rhetorical fight for object possession (competition, sharing, adjudication of ownership, etc.) Children feel authorized to give permission, forbid, and reason about objects in general in so far as they can appropriate those objects and feel that they are their own. The fact that ownership appears spontaneously in children’s reasoning is therefore relevant for my research interests.

In-formed and co-formed thinking (Sinclaire-Harding, Miserez, Arcidiacono, Perret-Clermont)

Paper #4

Sinclaire-Harding, L., Miserez, C., Arcidiacono, F., & Perret-Clermont, A. N. (2011). Argumentation in the Piagetian clinical interview: A step further in dialogism. In M. B. Ligorio & M. Cesar (Eds.), The interplays between dialogical learning and dialogical self (pp. 1–45). IAP: Information Age Publications.

This is the fourth and last paper on argumentation by Perret-Clermont and her collaborators that we are going to discuss for the time being. Here the authors make a distinction between a) co-formed thinking, i.e. the type of thinking shaped by the desire to comply with relational and contextual expectations and norms, and b) in-formed thinking, i.e. the type of thinking shaped by the desire to voice one’s own identity as an authentic self and author, thus expressing original ideas, creativity and knowledge. This distinction is evidently inspired in the Piagetian distinction between autonomy and heteronomy.

The authors explain that the co-formed thinker tries to respond to expectations without critique, taking little responsibility, obedient and submissive, and sometimes excessively loyal to the obligations of the interlocutor, social group, or institutional context. The co-formed thinker is externally inspired, regulated, or governed by the values, beliefs and ideas of others.

The authors mention that phrases such as “I think that…”, or “Yes, but…” are usually markers that precede the expression of children’s independent opinion or ideas (in-formed thinking). Further, children feel they own such ideas. Of course, Sinclaire-Harding et al. do not seem to take the relationship of ownership as seriously and literally as I do. (As we have insisted elsewhere, I understand the discursive act of taking a position as rooted in the legal act of taking possession).

But the authors do not seem to be interested in argumentation in everyday life and in the context of institutional contexts and normative practices in general, but more narrowly in argumentation as an activity performed in knowledge-related tasks and with cognitive ends. Thus, although they include the social context of argumentation, argumentation itself seems to be essentially cognitive for the authors, and they aspire to improve educational contexts by implementing more participatory and democratic dynamics that favor in-formed thinking.

The article rightly emphasizes the affective aspect of argumentative exchanges. For example, the authors claim that when children feel their opinions are vulnerable, they frequently withdraw in order to protect their ideas and, ultimately, their self. (This might be connected with the ideas of Jack Ito, a rara avis about whom we’ll someday write in this blog).

In any case, the authors end up talking about how children need to defend their public self and manage their reputation, a topic that for some reason seems to be extremely important for Genevan authors (Rousseau, Rochat, and now Sinclaire-Harding et al.)

The authors also mention some interesting conceptual tensions, even paradoxes of argumentation. For example, an excessive desire to cooperate might make an individual want to agree with other members of her group and therefore boost co-formed thinking (which actually is the cancellation of thinking). Too much desire to argue may create too much competition between the interlocutors and end up in aggression and “war” (again: cancellation of thinking). So, for educational purposes, it seems important to calibrate how much to stimulate the collaborative and competitive kinds of argumentation.

 

Perret-Clermont on knowledge-oriented argumentation

Paper #2

We continue with another article by Perret-Clermont and her collaborators, in this case: Perret-Clermont, A. N., Breux, S., Greco, S., & Miserez Caperos, C. (2014): Children and knowledge-oriented argumentation. Some notes for future research. In Language, reason and education. Studies in honor of Eddo Rigotti. Bern: Peter Lang.

The authors of this paper claim that classical studies of children’s argumentation over-emphasize the internal, cognitive aspect of argumentation while underestimating the role of the social context. Psychological research tends to neglect the interpersonal and institutional context in which psychological processes such as argumentation take place.

Of course, as it is obvious for the followers of this blog, I agree with the previous claims. I believe, however, that the authors should offer a clarification of what they understand by “institutions” (they don’t define the term in the paper). They seem to refer to social organizations such as school, family or research team. They seem to be concerned especially with school context, because they suggest it should be possible to design pedagogical interventions that are informed by the theory of argumentation (i.e., create more democratic schools in which students exchange reasoning and opinions freely).

I prefer to give the term “institution” a broader meaning (based on Searle’s theory, as I’ve explained elsewhere). This broader use involves treating “promises”, “ownership”, “barter” and other social practices as “institutions” and thus allows us to see institutionally-rooted argumentation everywhere in the daily life of children (not only in school while engaged in learning activities).

One interesting distinction the authors draw (although not explicitly enough) is that between competitive or adversarial argumentation and knowledge-oriented argumentation. You can find examples of the former in arenas such as politics and litigation. Competitive argumentation aims at proving one party right and the other wrong for whatever means; it’s about destroying the other’s arguments while making one’s own point of view triumph. In this scenario, one never doubts one’s own point of view (the position one wants to defend is a fixed premise). In other words: in competitive or adversarial argumentation there’s no win-win situation; for one party to win the other must lose (zero-sum result). This might involve, in some cases, launching psychological warfare aimed at undermining the other party self-confidence or destroying her emotionally.

Knowledge-oriented argumentation, by way of contrast, is not concerned with defending a fixed position. Rather, it’s about collaborating with others in order to discover something. In knowledge-oriented argumentation, we all work as a team in order to explore all possible points of view about a given topic. Thus children as well as adults have moving standpoints when they are engaged in knowledge-oriented argumentation.

I’m still thinking about these different dimensions of argumentation. One can either compete or collaborate with one’s interlocutor. Competition can play out rationally (one plays by the rules and respects the adversary) or brutally (one wants to win whatever it takes). Collaboration can also play out rationally (we explore all possible points of view and reasons together) or irrationally (we don’t want to diverge from the rest of the group so we just assent to whatever reasons they present while suppressing our own point of view).

I’m sorry

My son is an adorable and smart kid. I have talked about him in this blog, especially to provide illustrations of developmental milestones. But, in order to put his achievements in context, it’s necessary to mention that he’s developmentally delayed. That is, he’s 4 years 1 month old now, and he’s mastering certain behaviors that are typical of 2- and 3-year-olds.

For example, he has recently learned how to say “I’m sorry.” There are several ways to perform this speech act (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969) in Spanish; he uses “lo siento” instead of “perdón”, the latter being more common here in Argentina. I guess he picked up “lo siento” from TV shows such as Caillou or Go Diego Go, that are dubbed in Mexico or Spain.

The speech act of apologizing is a very peculiar and interesting one. It involves a) the recognition that one has done something wrong (something morally bad, or perhaps neglectful or careless), as well as b) the request that the person one is interacting with forgives (gives up feelings of anger and decides not to punish) this behavior. It also implies that the person apologizing is committed to avoid such wrongdoing in the future. There’s a whole conception of responsibility implicit in this apparently simple speech act.

As I have argued elsewhere, I support the Piagetian idea that action precedes thought (Piaget, 1976), which on the level of speech acts translates as: rhetorical moves precede explicit concepts. In other words, my son apologizes because he senses he can get certain pragmatic results by using this speech act. He performs the speech act pretty well, with the right tone in his voice and a cute expression on his face. So he convinces me and I capitulate: “ok, ok, but don’t do that again”.

Yet it’s easy to see he’s not mastered the rules of apology. For example, he tells me “I’m going to wash my hands”, and so I reply, “ok, but please be careful not to make a mess with the water,” and then he says “I am sorry”. Or, when he’s intentionally kicking a chair, I tell him “don’t do that again” and he says “I’m sorry” but continues kicking the chair just as before. So he’s contradicting two felicity conditions of the speech act of apologizing: in the former example he’s not committed the wrongdoing yet; in the latter, he’s not committed to avoid doing it again in the future.

To sum up: my son is pragmatically effective but he’s still not conceptually clear about what “I’m sorry” means. He doesn’t get responsibility, pardon, commitment, etc. Conceptual clarity about the meaning of apologies will arrive later, as a result of reflection on this interaction with the world, favored by social instruction, social representations and symbolic interaction in general.

 

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.2307/3326622

Piaget, J. (1976). The grasp of consciousness (S. Wedgwood, Trans.). Cambridge Massachusettes Harvard University PressOriginal Work Published 1974.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (p. 203). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Speech-Acts-Essay-Philosophy-Language/dp/052109626X

 

 

The doctor will tell you to behave

At about 3 years of age, I tell L. that he will be having a haircut later. I ask him, “Do you know where we’ll take you for the haircut?”. And he replies: “Yes, to the doctor”. This makes sense, I think: both the doctor and the barber do something intrusive with your body.

A month later he is scratching persistently a mosquito bite and I tell him to stop so that he doesn’t hurt himself. He says: “Take me to the doctor”. “Why?”, I ask. His response is: “He’ll ask me to behave” (“me va a decir portate bien“).

A couple of weeks after that he sees me trying to repair my car. He tells me: “call the doctor”. I ask him: “What for?” And his response is: “He’ll ask the car to behave” (Para que le diga portate bien).

So not only behavior problems (or disobedience) are assimilated to physical body problems. In a twist to child animism, the car body is like a human body, and a car can be taken to the doctor to get disciplined, or at least to be scolded and instructed on how to behave.

Foucault lives.

 

 

“Let’s trade” and “my turn”

My son L. is 3y 1m old. He’s started recently to use the expression “let’s trade” (“te cambio”). That is: he produces speech acts aimed at swapping objects with another person. For instance, he gives away his glass of milk in order to obtain a yoghurt cup I have. We exchange goods. He seems to understand that the proto- contract we thus celebrate involves the mutual surrender and handing over of possessions. The rules of reciprocity are no doubt regulating this interaction. Which doesn’t mean that the child can understand conceptually, let alone articulate, such rules.

In addition, when playing with other children, L. knows how to claim his turn to use a toy (shouts “¡Turno mío!”). He also uses this expression in other contexts; for instance, to demand his turn to drink mate (in a mate round shared with adults). Again: his understanding of the reciprocity rules involved is perhaps incipient. But L. is clearly starting to master the rhetorical forms that allow efficient access to the desired objects.

My hypothesis: the child first masters the rhetorical forms, and only later the conceptual content. Piaget’s prise de conscience (the conceptual, explicit insight) is the final product of a process that starts with immediate, un-reflected action. The process goes from the periphery of action to the center of explicit, conceptual thinking. Differently from Piaget, however, in the periphery I do not see the actions of an organism but the utterances of a retor.

The persuasive power of likes and up-votes

There’s a recent article in the New York Times about how “likes” and “up-votes” are contagious. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/science/internet-study-finds-the-persuasive-power-of-like.html

“Likes” and other user feedback systems are at the core of what is called the “Web 2.0”, a transformation of Internet culture (which is like saying, culture) that started around 2006.

A couple of years ago I wrote a book on argumentation (still unpublished) in which I claimed that likes, user feedback, and user ratings are the new form of argumentation. That is, the argument that if many people find something good then that must be good is the main topos of the current era; a purely quantitative form of argumentation. I quote from the article:

“Hype can work,” said one of the researchers, Sinan K. Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “and feed on itself as well.”

Later:

The first person reading the comment was 32 percent more likely to give it an up vote if it had been already given a fake positive score. There was no change in the likelihood of subsequent negative votes. Over time, the comments with the artificial initial up vote ended with scores 25 percent higher than those in the control group.

“That is a significant change,” Dr. Aral said. “We saw how these very small signals of social influence snowballed into behaviors like herding.”

Interesting.