Stasis Theory and Paleontology Discourse


Stasis theory is a powerful tool for rhetorical analysis, recently under fresh consideration by rhetorical theorists (e.g. Gross) and scholars who identify its utility in the writing classroom (e.g. Carroll). In this study, I apply stasis theory to a paleontological argument involving a controversial fossil, Protoavis texensis. Discourse related to the controversy is examined under the lens of the staseis, and the application of stasis theory to visual components of argumentative texts associated with scientific communication is explored. This paper applies stasis theory to science discourse based on the work of Lawrence Prelli; Frans van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst, and Francisca Snoeck Henkemans; Mark Turner; Jeanne Fahnestock and Marie Secor; and others. Stasis theory illuminates the issues facing a spectrum of audiences, from expert to public, who witnessed the paleontology controversy of Protoavis texensis as it simmered between 1986 and the very recent past. Numerous discursive artifacts provide the corpus for applying stasis theory in order to parse the issues at stake in the Protoavis case: peer-reviewed journal articles; explanations in popular magazines like Discover; personal communications; and illustrations from Chatterjee's publications, most especially his 1997 book, the Rise of Birds: 225 Million Years of Evolution.


English and Technical Communication

Keywords and Phrases

argumentative texts; rhetorical analysis; stasis theory

Document Type

Article - Journal

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