ArgLab • Colloquium

Sally Jackson

Argumentation in Health Controversies

The term controversy is commonly used to refer to sustained differences of views in which various actors see difference of opinion as an obstacle or a threat to their own goals. Controversies always involve disagreement, but to be recognizable as a controversy, the disagreement must be sustained and (more importantly) consequential for at least a subset of actors. Controversies are perplexing objects of study for argumentation theory; as Aakhus and Lewiński have argued, they require new theoretical frameworks and new methods of study that better fit their actual (as opposed to expected) properties. My particular focus in this talk will be health controversies. A health controversy is a sustained set of disagreements about practical choices to be made regarding human health, such as the the infamous controversy over MMR vaccination and the much more recent controversy over strategies for managing the COVID-19 pandemic. I will attempt to show that approaching health controversies as argumentative polylogues allows us not only to better understand individual controversies, but also to uncover interesting and novel argumentative phenomena in need of theorizing.

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