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The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words Paperback – February 9, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Do Americans argue too much? Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand and That's Not What I Meant!, is an expert on miscommunication. In The Argument Culture she posits that misunderstanding is endemic in our culture because we tend to believe that the best way to a common goal is by thrashing out all our differences as loudly as possible along the way. Thus we are treated to a whole array of confrontational public forums, from congressional partisan politics to media circuses à la Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones, all based on a metaphor of war. What gets lost in all the shouting, Tannen says, is thoughtful debate and real understanding. Perhaps it's time to consider other methods of communication, she suggests. In addition to outlining what she considers the worst excesses of our argument culture, Tannen revisits some of the territory covered in You Just Don't Understand as she discusses the different ways in which young boys and girls express disagreement or aggression. Finally, she offers a survey of other, mostly non-Western ways of dealing with conflict, including the use of intermediaries and rituals. After reading The Argument Culture you might never again look at the evening news in the same way. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Tannen's bestseller You Just Don't Understand was a guide to gender-based differences in conversational style that set the stage for follow-up titles on talk at the office and in relationships. Here she branches out, applying linguistic theory to the whole compass of American culture and public life. In law, education, multiculturalist policy making and particularly in journalism, Tannen finds that "our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention," and that we thus most often argue emotionally when we should instead be trying to understand and evaluate rationally different points of view. The Georgetown linguistics professor is impatient with journalists who think that a two-sided debate between extremist positions makes the best story. The attack-dog posture of the press, she argues, is responsible for public cynicism about politics. Politicians in turn find that aggressive sound bites are the ones most likely to be publicized. This results in bickering partisanship that disenchants voters. She sharply criticizes our legal system for pitting one party against the other on the theory that justice will emerge out of a survival of the fittest, comparing this type of advocacy to the trials by battle used to settle disputes in the Middle Ages. Tannen's obvious passion for helping people understand one another is well served here by her clear, direct writing. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345407512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345407511
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
How often does a person get to argue about a book that says we argue too much! I disagree, with a smile, with the other reviewers, and think that Tannen has deepened and extended her research by focusing her linguistic talents on the broader cultural domains of politics, journalism, and academia. While some overlap with her former work regarding the difficulty in communication gender, I found her other insights quite relevant and sagacious. I live and work in Japan, and I can assure you that this book has opened my eyes to look at myself and how often I approach discussions here with the argument attitude. Alfie Kohn (No Contest) and others have pointed out how our competitive attitudes are a result of the social structures that we inhabit. Tannen skillfully paints a accurate picture of the American system that reinforces and rewards arguments and acheivement. It is easy to see how easily how distrust, skepticism, and misunderstanding occurs when discussion is replaced with debate. It is easy to see too why we have become such a violent society when you have to fight to be heard. Our whole system is built on persuasion and politics, geared to attack people and their positions, not to promote cooperation and dialogue. As an academic, I can certainly identify with the one-upmanship that constantly occurs among university professors. Tannen has not covered all of the bases regarding conflict, nor needs to. I would recommend other works like Morton Deutsch's Handbook of Conflict Resolution, or Stephen Toulmin's The Uses of Argument, or Wiliam Ury's work Getting to Yes, Getting Past No for some practical applications.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The author compiled a powerful case against the "culture of critique" that we live in. She chronicles the emergence of an "attack dog" media from the days of Watergate, and shows the damage they do to the political process and the people who serve us in public office. She thoroughly analyzes the impact that our "agonistic" culture has had on politics, particularly the difficulty of appointing people to office and passing the media's intense scrutiny. Gender differences are covered fairly and related to our love of a good fight, our education system, and our legal system. The author finishes off the book with a host of cultural comparisons that serve to give perspectiveand offer alternatives to our "war of words" culture. The only weak point in the book is the lack of concrete methods to turn our culture in a better direction. I agree that this cynical, attacking atmosphere has gone too far, but the book doesn't address the issue of what specifically is to be done about it. Overall an intelligent, scholarly review of contemporary culture, and well worth the read. The best books leave you with new ways to see the world and this one certainly opened my eyes to what I had become blase and indifferent to.
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Format: Paperback
Dr. Tannen's publisher proves one of her theses within the book by retitling it in the transition from hardcover to paperback.
The change in title which in the hardcover was "The Argument Culture : Moving from Debate to Dialogue" to the paperback "The Argument Culture : Stopping America's War of Words" illustrates her claim that the media have taken a position that only battle and war are interesting and will inject the language of contention wherever possible whether or not it is true or relevant.
One reason that she may be light on suggesting solutions is that she does not have one. She is investigating an idea with its examples and relevance. With no need to battle for dominance or start a crusade, she does not need to wrap everything up in 30 second sound bites, even if the publisher thinks she should or readers demand short snappy answers.
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Format: Hardcover
The Argument Culture, by Deborah Tannen, is a great exploration into why we argue and how we see argument as an unavoidable aspect in our world. Tannen cites several examples of how argument is used as a weapon rather than a method of exploration into subject matter. The profuse numbers of examples cited builds a strong case for her point of view. Although I enjoyed reading her book, I found her examples a bit repetitive and unnecessary. Finishing the book, I did not feel a true sense of completion and speculate others had the same feeling. Over all I would recommend reading The Argument Culture. However,I warn potential readers that this book could have been sent to the presses about 150 pages lighter and still convey the same message.
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Format: Hardcover
Mrs. Tannen's "The Argument Culture, Moving From Debate To Dialogue" is an exceptional work.
The book examines social interractions that elicit societal discoarse and offers alternatives that can be used toward having a more healthful commune.
I have continuously observed that the solving of social issues is crippled by a polarity complex that pits individuals or groups of people (and alternate agendas) against each other.
My belief is that our struggles in personal, professional and cultural invironments are multidemensional and much more complex than we frequently assume or are coaxed to believe. There is a certain meanness that is sweeping across the nation and the world as a whole.
This book assists us in understanding how our daily interractions as well as observations and participation either contribute to a more peaceful union or promote segrigation, hatred and widespread dissention.
Good public policy involves courteousness. Thorough examination and openness helps us to advance real, lasting resolutions.
The Argument Culture will prove to be useful in building consensus and building better relationships amongst one another--which is untimately necessary (and now often times absent)for our cultural welfare.
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