What is ‘Stance’? – Introduction


When we teach our students to write argumentative ‘essays’, we often tell them to ‘take a stance’, ‘take a position’ or ‘be critical’. Perhaps, rhetorically we would lead a ‘pros vs cons’ brainstorming session, asking the students to list out the propositions on both sides, discuss or even debate on these propositions. As far as I remember, all these were taken for granted when I learnt to write argumentations at school: we ‘copied’ models after those brainstorming sessions, adhered to the 5-paragraph structure, and so on; but we seldom discussed how to express stance – we didn’t see the need to. So now I wish to focus on how we understand ‘stance’ from a discousal or linguistic perspective in the upcoming posts.

(Side note: 5-paragraph ‘essays’ can be more than just argumentative – it can be descriptive, classificatory or compositional, depending on the task nature and the topic one is engaged in. While the discussion of why I put parentheses around ‘essay’ is out of scope here [Dr Erika Matruglio’s thesis extends this discussion])

The quickest way to see how meaning is construed around ‘stance’ is consulting a large corpus. I focus on searching the verbs (or processes) preceding ‘stance’ in Contemporary of Contemporary American English (COCA). Not surprisingly, the most frequent collocation is ‘take a/the stance’ (68 instances, excluding other inflections). Other interesting collocations include:

change/shifted/reversed __ stance             63 instances
soften(ed)  __ stance                                     36 instances
defend/toughen __ stance                             8 instances
maintain __ stance                                         6 instances
support __ stance                                            3 instances

Does it imply that we are good at ‘taking a stance’ and ‘changing’ it, but less would we mention about ‘maintaining’ it?

In whatever way we are doing with ‘stance’, how can we ‘enact’ it through language – how to ‘take’ a stance, ‘shift’ a stance, ‘maintain’ a stance, and ‘express’ it? How do we categorise these expressions as our discursive strategies and apply them in writing/speaking?



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