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<xTITLE>Discussions Vs. Disputes Vs. Controversies</xTITLE>

Discussions Vs. Disputes Vs. Controversies

by Colin Rule
June 2009

From Colin Rule's blog.

Colin Rule

A friend in the eBay Israel office shared this with me... pretty interesting...

"Debates are communicative exchanges that evolve in time. Their minimal unit consists in a full set of four communicative “turns”, where at least two “speakers” – a ponens (P) and an opponens (O) – intervene in a P-O-P-O pattern.

Important debates usually extend beyond this minimal unit, through further interventions of P and O or of other participants. Such an extension can go beyond a single generation, especially in philosophical debates. The longer its temporal extension, the more a debate is likely to evolve thematically and argumentatively. Nevertheless, some debates can remain, over their many “rounds”, narrowly focused on the initial issue that sparked them, while in others one may observe significant thematic shifts that lead far away from the original issue. In such cases, the criteria for the identification of the debate are not always precise, and may require the elaboration of rather vague notions such as that of “thematic affinity” or “family resemblance”.

Discussions, disputes, and controversies differ in their inner dynamic behavior, especially regarding their thematic expansion (and consequently their temporal extension). Both discussions and disputes tend to remain narrowly focused on the specific issue that triggers them, whereas controversies are characterized by broad thematic shifts, involving both the object- and the meta-level.

Debates are not static in another important respect: they can shift from one of the three ideal types to another. Such shifts are recognizable through changes in the issues debated, as well as in the argumentative strategies or rhetoric employed. Thus, a discussion may evolve into a controversy when the contenders begin to question each other’s presumptions, and into a dispute when they see in such questioning a sign of the opponent’s irrationality and/or maivaise foi. Full pendulum swings between discussions and disputes are quite common in the participants own perception of their debates, for the existence of a tertium between these two extremes has been generally overlooked.

Obviously, if a debate’s type changes, the ways in which it can be concluded also change. Typically, discussions can be solved and disputes can be dissolved, whereas controversies can at most be resolved. However, the very possibility of type-shifts shows that any of these modes of conclusion may be only temporary. The possibility of such type-shifts can also serve as the basis for a strategy of conflict resolution (or escalation)."

Biography


Colin Rule is CEO of Mediate.com.  From 2017 to 2020 Colin was Vice President for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. Tyler acquired Modria.com, an ODR provider Colin co-founded, in 2017. From 2003 to 2011 Colin was Director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal.  Colin co-founded Online Resolution, one of the first online dispute resolution (ODR) providers, in 1999 and served as its CEO and President.  Colin worked for several years with the National Institute for Dispute Resolution (now ACR) in Washington, D.C. and the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, MA.

Colin is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002, and co-author of The New Handshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection, published by the ABA in 2017. He received the first Frank Sander Award for Innovation in ADR from the American Bar Association in 2020, and the Mary Parker Follett Award from the Association for Conflict Resolution in 2013. He holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a graduate certificate in dispute resolution from UMass-Boston, a B.A. from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997.  You can read many of his articles and see some of his talks at colinrule.com/writing.



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