Human Studies

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 237–248 | Cite as

The linguistic organization of public controversy: A note on the pragmatics of political discourse

  • William M. Berg
  • J. Michael Ross


This paper does not mean to imply that it is only public controversy that can meaningfully affect political outcomes, or even that it is the most important factor. Rather, we have attempted to indicate that public controversy constitutes a forum on which political actorsact; on which they attempt to implicate each other and the public in terms of some preferred view of the controversy at hand. It is certainly the case that the formal structure of the government and power relationships provides important constraints in terms of which controversy may take place. Yet within these constraints, actors can meaningfully construct various views of the structure of the controversy which differently construe the rights and obligations of participants. In this sense, the course of public controversy may in part be understood as a function of the language employed by these actors, both to the extent that particular expressions stand as documentary evidence of underlying discrepancies about the shape of the controversy and to the extent that the logic of certain speech-acts constrains the forms subsequent statements may take.


Formal Structure Political Philosophy Power Relationship Political Discourse Important Constraint 
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Copyright information

© Ablex Publishing Corporation 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • William M. Berg
    • 1
  • J. Michael Ross
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyWashington UniversitySt Louis
  2. 2.Department of SociologyBoston UniversityBoston

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