Persuasion in Society
eBook - ePub

Persuasion in Society

Jean G. Jones, Andi McClanahan, Joseph Sery

  1. 366 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Persuasion in Society

Jean G. Jones, Andi McClanahan, Joseph Sery

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Über dieses Buch

This fully-updated fourth edition introduces readers to the rich tapestry of persuasive technique and scholarship, interweaving perspectives from rhetoric, critical theory, and social science and applying their insights to practical political, social, and business contexts.

This text examines current and classical theory through the lens of contemporary culture, encouraging readers to explore the nature of persuasion and to understand its impact in their lives. Employing a contemporary approach, it draws from popular culture, mass media, social media, advertising, political campaigns, and social movements to help readers become informed creators and consumers of persuasive messages. Case studies show how and why people fall for persuasive messages, demonstrating how persuasion works at a cognitive level. This new edition includes extended treatment of the ethics of persuasion, including opposing views on handling controversial issues in the college classroom; a new chapter on propaganda and ideology; and a greater focus on digital contexts and social media. Discussion questions, exercises, and key terms are provided for each chapter.

This textbook will be a valuable tool for students of communication, media studies, politics, psychology, and business and advertising.

Online resources for instructors include PowerPoint slides and test bank.

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PART ONE Understanding Persuasion

1The Study of Persuasion

DOI: 10.4324/9781003107651-2
Today’s practice of persuasion is mired in controversies that mirror those in ancient Greece almost 2,500 years ago, and they are unlikely to go away any time soon. At issue still are questions of truth, justice, ethics, and power. One of the earliest groups to study and teach the persuasive arts were known as the sophists. As their name continues to suggest, the sophists tended to be seen as sophisticated or worldly wise, but also, in some quarters, as “sophistic” in the negative sense of putting rhetorical power and effectiveness above truth and justice. The sophists made considerable fortunes for the coaching they offered to Athenians in the arts of oratory, but they got mixed reviews for their ethics. No Athenian was more scathing in his criticism than Plato, a student of Socrates who has earned a reputation in his own right as the “father” of Western philosophy.
Plato’s primary way of sharing his views was through his Socratic dialogues, a series of scripted conversations in which the respected Socrates is cast as the questioner. In the dialogue on persuasion bearing the sophist Gorgias’s name, the conversation centers upon the issue of whether rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is corrupt (Plato, 2006). Gorgias evokes Socrates’ ire when he observes that the ability to impress an audience is the surest path to power:
By the exercise of the ability [to persuade], you will have the doctor and the trainer as your slaves, and your man of business will turn out to be making money for another; for you, in fact, who have the ability to speak and convince the masses.
Gorgias’s student, Polus, adds that power is the greatest good. Socrates affects surprise at these seemingly superficial claims. Is there not, he asks, a difference between true knowledge and mere belief? Socrates does get Gorgias to concede that power can be used for both good and ill, but Gorgias and his fellow sophists continue to argue that ultimate success comes through knowledge of persuasion. They even boast at one point that knowledge of anything else is unnecessary, arguing for the position that it is a worthy goal to simply create the appearance of knowing more than the experts.
The discussion continues, and Socrates will have none of it. Sophistic rhetoric, he maintains, is an art of hoodwinking the ignorant about the justice or injustice of a matter, without imparting any real knowledge. This kind of rhetoric does great damage in the law tribunal by making the worse appear the better argument and allowing the guilty to go free (Plato, 2006).
Years later, Plato’s student, Aristotle, would offer a defense of rhetoric (Aristotle, 2004). Aristotle’s response to Plato (and to Socrates) concedes the dangers of rhetoric but rejects their alleged inevitability. His arguments can be summarizes as follows: Rhetoric can be—indeed, often is—an instrument for giving effectiveness to truth. And truth is not always easy to come by. Still, those debating about issues of policy need eventually to come to a conclusion, and those brought before the court of law have the right to defend themselves. While philosophers like Socrates and Plato have the luxury of suspending judgment until they have arrived at universal principles, ordinary citizens will need help in their roles as decision makers in assessing alternative courses of action. In addition, as persuaders ordinary citizens will benefit from guidance in determining the best available means of persuasion for a particular audience or occasion. A solid understanding of rhetoric is therefore useful.
Both Plato’s critique of rhetoric and Aristotle’s defense of it contain a good deal of wisdom. Plato’s analysis paved the way for critiques of today’s sophistic practices in our corporate, legal, and political world that Plato himself could not have possibly imagined. Still, as you might have anticipated, this book gives Aristotle the edge in the debate with Plato. To be sure, persuasive speech can be used to deceive, mislead, exploit, and oppress. Clever persuaders can exploit what Aristotle called the “defects of their hearers.” Unwise actions can be made to appear wise by use of sham arguments, known as fallacies, which appear reasonable on first impression but fall apart on close examination. All this is possible, as Plato claimed in the Gorgias, but it is not inevitable. Persuaders can serve the interests of their audiences at the same time as they serve their own interests; they can achieve power with others and not simply power over others (Burke, 1969; Grunig et al., 2002).
Insufficiently appreciated by Plato was Aristotle’s key insight: Persuasion deals in matters of judgment, rather than matters of certainty. Matters of judgment cannot be settled by fact alone or by sheer calculation. On controversial issues, we expect honest differences of opinion. Even experts can legitimately disagree on what the facts are, which facts are most relevant, and, most important, what should be made of them.
For example, when researching the effect of sun exposure on humans, scientific studies often take diametrically opposed positions. One concludes that due to the links between sun exposure and skin cancer, we should not to leave the house without sunscreen on. At the same time, other studies show that we need to be exposed to the sun to be able to allow our bodies to absorb vitamin D (Jio, 2014). Or consider calcium in our diets. On the one hand, scientific studies proclaim that calcium is considered essential for maintaining strong bones and avoiding fractures, especially for older people. On the other hand, new studies are finding that calcium supplements may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease deaths (Kim, 2013). As these examples demonstrate, the scientists offer judgments, and in these cases, conflicting judgments. There are at least two sides to most stories, a point repeatedly emphasized by the sophists. This is surely true of the sophist–Platonist controversy and it is no less true today than in ancient Greece. Now as then, say public relations experts L’Etang and Pieczka, “There is no simple way of providing moral and intellectual comfort to practitioners. Consequently, the fundamental ethical questions have to be confronted daily in routine practice” (2006).
But just because persuasion deals in matters of judgment rather than certainty, Aristotle did not view this as an invitation to impulsive or random decision making or to perpetual indecision. Nor was Aristotle of the opinion that any decision was as good as any other, any argument as good as any other. As much as audiences might be taken in by clever deceivers, for Aristotle truth still had a natural advantage over falsehood, and logic a natural advantage over illogic—all other things being equal. The power of truth and logic is best appreciated when we agree to them reluctantly, as in the following case:
At an inner-city junior high school for troubled students who had been booted out of other schools, an eighth-grade English class came to life when a student proposed that the school be put on trial for unfair rules. But the student who proposed the mock trial found himself in the role of the defense attorney for the administration, and he could not resist doing a convincing job in its behalf. Witness 1 for the prosecution was destroyed on cross-examination as he was caught over-generalizing. No, he admitted, the milk at the school is not always spoiled. In fact, it rarely is. Witness 2 was forced to concede that the school doesn’t really enforce its rule against bringing candy to class. Then the defense attorney caught the prosecution off guard by pressing an objection: The prosecution had been leading the witness. And so it went. When the deliberations were concluded, the seven student judges voted 6 to 1 for the administration.
(Michie, 1998)

Why Study Persuasion?

The study of persuasion has grown exponentially since Aristotle’s day—from oral communication to written communication, from the verbal to the nonverbal, from the unmediated to the mediated, from the obviously intended to the non-obvious, and from the public arena to the study of all or virtually all symbolic action or interaction, including the study of persuasion about persuasion. Persuasion’s increased scope places increased demands on practicing, analyzing, and understanding of persuasion. Let us consider each in turn.


Effective persuasion is a crucial component of personal and career success. But, complains business and political consultant, Frank Luntz:
The average CEO cannot communicate their way out of a paper bag. The average CEO only knows facts, figures, statistics and what to say on a balance sheet. And so there’s no resonance. There’s no empathy. There’s no understanding of the anger and frustration that some Americans feel towards corporate America 
 The CEOs, they just speak from their head and it’s not coming from their heart.
(Luntz, 2004)
And how important is persuasion in business? As Allied Signal’s CEO recently explained,
The day when you could yell and scream and beat people into good performance is over. Today you have to appeal to them by helping them to see how they can get from here to there, by establishing some credibility, and by giving them some reason and help to get there. Do all those things, and they’ll knock down doors.
(Conger, 1999)
Now, more than ever, persuasion is “the language of business leadership” (Conger, 1999).
The same is true of the professions. The “people professions”—law, sales, social work, etc.—could just as well be called “persuasion professions.” Moreover, virtually all professional associations require persuasion consultants. Within colleges and universities, the interdisciplinary nature of the subject is reflected by the variety of courses in different academic departments that bear upon it: “Public Opinion and Propaganda,” “Argumentation and Debate,” “Rhetoric and Composition,” “Media Literacy,” “Rules of Evidence in Criminal Law,” “Strategic Communication,” “Homiletics,” “Perception Management,” “Community Organizing,” and many others.
Beyond the private and professional levels, you may be interested in working for social and political betterment. Alone or in groups, you may be seeking more funding for environmental issues, intervention in areas where famine and genocide are occurring, racial and gender equality, or greater participation by students in university governance.
Having a solid understanding of how persuasion functions helps you determine the means that are most appropriate for achieving your goals. It helps you evaluate situations and weigh options. For example, if you are seeking donations for Doctors Without Borders, you are confronted with a dilemma. Should you ask potential donors for much more than you expect them to give in the hopes of getting what you bargain for? Or, conversely, if you ask for a larger donation than you need, would you be risking outright rejection? And what if it is societal change you are after? Should you be a moderate who signs petitions or a militant who stages confrontations? Too often, these decisions are made purely on a gut level, without sober analysis of their consequences, and the study of persuasion aids you as you seek to make the better judgments.
A balding man faces a jury of 12 people. The man is gesturing to the jury as he is speaking. A woman is seated to the right of him, listening to the lawyer.
Figure 1.1 Lawyers are an example of a “persuasion profession”—that is, employment that requires the use of persuasion. Credit: RichLegg / Getty Images


Persuading others is one side of the persuasion equation; the other is responding intelligently and discerningly to the litany of message makers who compete for your attention, your agreement, your involvement, and your money. Much as we may practice persuasion, most of us spend more time on the receiving end of persuasive messages throughout the entire day.
Think about the last time you visited a department store or even a supermarket. Virtually every object there was market tested, advertised, and merchandize...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Preface
  7. Part One Understanding Persuasion
  8. Part two Approaches to Persuasion
  9. Part three Contexts of Persuasion
  10. Index