Entering Conversations with Stasis Theory #VCUoculist

You will soon (very soon, in fact) make an argument involving some aspect of the problem you established in your Unit II work (Look to the Unit III assignment for precise details).  The purpose of this paper is to make a debatable, supportable, and significant claim about the issue: what the reader should understand and believe.  So, it is important that we hit the ground running and figure out what you want to assert.  When writing such an argumentative essay, it is important to understand (1) the relevant research, and (2) what you want to say.  With (2), there are many ways to enter conversations regarding topics, and not everyone wants to tackle a particular topic in the same way.  As a way to help figure out how to enter the conversation, it is helpful (I think) to look at stasis theory.  The term stasis is derived from a Greek word meaning “a stand.” [1]  In order to help refine one’s point regarding a particular issue, ancient rhetoricians would address these four questions (or staseis):

  1. Conjecture—Is there an act to consider (Does the thing exist?)?
  2. Definition—How should we understand the act (How should we define the thing?)?
  3. Quality—How serious is the act (Is the thing good or bad?)?
  4. Policy—Should this act undergo any particular procedure (What should be done about the thing?)?

 Many students think that they have to prove something should happen: to take a specific position (ex. we shouldn’t eat meat, we shouldn’t factory farm, etc).  However, these kinds of positions tend to be broad and miss the potential for creating an argument that is useful and more important given the particular kind of conversation one finds necessary with the topic.  Questions of conjecture, for instance, can be very powerful: demonstrating that something is actually a problem can be all that you need to do as a writer.  That is, you do not always need to (1) demonstrate a problem exists and then (2) pose what should be done about it.  Surely, posing solutions is wonderful.  However, a lot of the work can come from just demonstrating how a problem should be understood (a conceptual issue!).  It all depends on how you want to tackle the issue and what you want the reader to understand.  The key here is that your thesis be precise and significant with the issue!

It’s important to note that topics do not need to entertain all of the staseis.  For instance, questions about the death penalty in America would not consider questions of conjecture—we know the death penalty exists.  HOWEVER, questions about how we define it and should understand it are very important to constitutional law (and so are questions of quality and policy).  It’s not that the conversations you enter with your topics should hit every question—it’s that considering these kinds of questions will help you figure out where the conversation is with the research you’ve compiled and your stake in the matter.  

Ideally, considering staseis will help you do several things:

  1. Clarify thinking about the point in dispute
  2. Help consider assumptions and values shared within an audience
  3. Establishes areas in which more research needs to be done
  4. Suggests what focus is important to privilege 


Below is an example of using stasis theory to examine what you want to say about your given topic.  I did this analysis for a paper I once wrote about the Miranda warnings, and though I go through all four of the questions, note that the real focus here was with Definition and Quality.


I used stasis theory to show how stasis regarding the Miranda warnings has been interrupted.   Though having a history of going unimpeded, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has changed the Miranda warning’s status in its staseis, sending it back to definition.  The four points are as follows:

Conjecture: Miranda exists.  It does so because the under the 5th and 14th Amendments, suspects should not be coerced by police to incriminate themselves.  It came into existence after Ernesto Miranda signed a confession without being told he had right to counsel.  Miranda’s case made the U.S. Supreme Court enact the Miranda warnings to make sure that all suspects are aware of their rights when questioned by the police.

Definition: Miranda is a set of procedural safeguards that are read to avoid self incrimination by knowingly and intelligently waiving one’s rights, and to help alleviate coercive pressures inherent in custodial surroundings.  It belongs to a larger class of principles that exist to inform citizens of their rights.  Its parts are the actual rights that are read, and they are related because they represent what is stated in the 5th and 14th Amendments. 

Quality:  The Miranda warnings are a good thing and should exist because many don’t understand their rights, and those who do still run the risk of being intimidated or coerced by the police to incriminate themselves.  Miranda is better than any alternative because it enforces the point of the 5th Amendment–to prevent self-incrimination—while not making it impossible for police to continue interrogating possible guilty individuals. 

Policy: Miranda has to be enacted when questioning suspects, and should remain to be the case because of the potential for self-incrimination and the inherent coercive nature of the law (as stated in definition and quality).  However, the new policy is that the Miranda warnings should still exist, but whatever right the suspect invokes during question, that invocation has a shelf-life of fourteen days.  After fourteen days, if the person is Mirandized again, whatever right he/she invokes (or doesn’t) at that time stands, and the original request is disregarded.

This policy change causes the following changes with the Miranda warnings:

Definition: With the new rule, Miranda has an additional part that includes a time limit for salience of rights invoked by suspects.  This part is not related to the other parts that are connected to the 5th and 14th Amendments.

Quality: The new understanding of Miranda is worse than an understanding of Miranda without the time constraint, because the new Miranda neglects to consider the power of coercion inherent in custodial settings.  We should give suspects a leg up when they invoke their rights and let the invocations stand.  It is more detrimental to the suspect to not have counsel when questioned rather than have counsel present, and preventing self-incrimination should be at the forefront of the issue.  Furthermore, we can only assume that there is something intervening when a person requests counsel in one instance but waives the right in another. 

The Court ruling takes Miranda back to definition because it has to account for its new time constraint.    This then causes a problem for its quality, because it undermines the point that, even though suspects are read their rights, coercive pressure can still exist.  In letting one’s invocation of his/her right last as long as he/she is questioned on the same issue, the coercive threat is fought as best as possible.  However, with this new policy, it makes the current state of Miranda—one with a time limit—less desirable than Miranda warnings that would promise that an invocation of a right is indelible.  Therefore, because of the new policy, the definition of Miranda has changed for the worse and has produced a quality for Miranda that is less desirable than something else—Miranda warnings without the time constraint.  Though the policy regarding the Miranda warnings may be better than having no policy ensuring police read suspects their rights, it is not as desirable as the original policy regarding Miranda that did not include the time limit.

[1] Note: Information regarding stasis theory comes from Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students.


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