Stasis Theory


Arguments, at times, can prove confusing. When they do, it could be because the people involved aren't talking about the same thing. If that's the case, stasis theory can come in to put arguers on the right track.

Stasis theory, developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a way of isolating relevant arguments in legal cases, offers a helpful way for us to find out just what it is we're talking about. As mentioned above, sometimes miscommunication occurs because interlocutors simply aren't dealing with the same issue. When someone is thinking more analytically about what's going on, however, she may put a halt to the proceedings and say, for example, "Hey, we're not dealing with whether it happened. We're trying to decide how to categorize it." In this instance, stasis theory has been applied. If others agree to that statement, then argument can then proceed from that stopping point
here, that stopping place is definition.

Stasis means an instance of halting. In argumentation, the stop is merely temporary, a way to "take stock" of the situation so that all involved can get going again from the same place. When arguing a point, we need to be sure that we and our audience have stopped at the same "place"
the same point of disputeso that the rest of the argument may profitably continue. So understood, stasis theory assists in everyone's getting a bearing on the discussion and then proceeding. In other words, it's a way of making sure everyone is "on the same page."

Stasis theory

Rhetorical scholar Michael Carter, in an article published some twenty years ago, placed kairos and stasis into dialogue, demonstrating how learning these two ancient concepts can prove useful for modern-day students of composition.

Stasis and Kairos: Principles of Social Construction in Classical Rhetoric


Applying Stasis Theory


How does stasis theory work? As one scholar puts it, stasis works "progressively," with the exception of the stasis of place (called "translative" in the first link and "procedure" elsewhere). For example, if one is out to assign definition to an act, it is assumed that the act has, in fact, occurred. If one seeks to assign quality to an act
as when looking for any extenuating circumstances that may, for example, lessen its intensity or, on the other hand, seeking to ascribe malice aforethought to an act, thereby heightening its intensitythen one has already agreed to a certain definition of that act. When one is discussing whether one is in the right venue (place) to examine the matter correctly and fully, however, all of the other stases (plural of stasis) are suspended. (This can prove to be a great tactic: calling for a change of venue may allow you more time to compile a stronger case!)

In class we'll discuss a few examples of how stasis works in more detail.