Visual argument or Multimodal argumentation? — Assimakis Tseronis

Visual argument or multimodal argumentation? 
AIM-meeting 17 May 2013
Assimakis Tseronis (
 Since 1996, when Leo Groarke and David Birdsell edited a special issue in the journal Argumentation and Advocacy, entitled “Toward a Theory of Visual Argument”, the interest in what has been customarily called ‘visual argument’ has been growing steadily, despite some early reservations and critiques. But the term ‘argument’ in ‘visual argument’, be it in the discourse of the advocates or in the discourse of the sceptics, invariably seems to be related to the formal concept of argument as product consisting of premises, the acceptability of which is transferred to its conclusion. Moreover, both in the discourse of the advocates of visual argument and in that of the sceptics, a division of labour between the verbal and the visual mode is tacitly acknowledged, whereby the verbal element conveys the standpoint and the visual element the argument(s) in support of it. In this presentation, I argue that this tendency risks restricting the possibilities for analysing the argumentative role of non-verbal elements. Instead, I propose starting from the acknowledgement of the multimodal nature of communication, in which argumentation as a social and rational activity finds its place. In this view, the verbal and non-verbal modes can be studied on an equal footing as to the role they play in contributing directly or indirectly to the various moves that arguers make and the tasks that need to be carried throughout the procedure of critically testing a standpoint. As a result, more functions of visuals (and other non-verbal modes) can be recognised in between the two extremes of a merely ornamental or illustrative role, and the evidentiary one.
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