Parliamentary Debate as a Case of Joint Problem-solving

Cornelia Ilie & Lennart Hellspong

As a subgenre of political debates, parliamentary debates are meant to achieve a number of institutionally specific purposes, namely position-claiming, persuading, negotiating, agenda-setting, and opinion building, usually along ideological or party lines. One of their major functions is to contribute to problem-solving tasks regarding legal and political deliberation, as well as decision making processes. The problems under consideration often require generating acceptance and, ideally, getting support for a specific policy or reaching consensus or some form of agreement. The parliamentary debate as a cognitive process is basically about jointly deciding upon a suitable line of action. This is typically done by arguing the pros and cons of available alternatives as a collective discursive undertaking.

In order to carry out a cross-cultural investigation of parliamentay conceptualizing and confrontational strategies, we have examined two sets of trancripts, namely several transcripts of debates in the House of Commons (selected from the Hansard records), and transcripts of debates in the Swedish Riksdag (selected from the Rixlex records). Our approach is located at the interface between cognitive pragma-semantics and discursive argumentation analysis. It draws on insights about human thought and meaning construction (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Lakoff, 1988; Fauconnier, 1994/85), critical institutional discourse analysis (Van Dijk, 1995), use and misuse of political cognitive frames (Morgan, 1997), and linguistic and rhetorical analysis of argumentative structures (Perelman-Tyteca, 1969, Ducrot, 1996).

The institutionally based dialogue of parliamentary debates is envisaged in our study as a form of cognition process, which reflects culture-specific social and political thinking patterns, while at the same time it plays an important role in shaping beliefs and attitudes, in imposing certain norms and values, and in putting forward short-term and long-term goals. We propose a multi-level interdisciplinary analysis, focusing on semantic and textual markers of cognitive argumentation, such as management of agreement and disagreement, accountability and evidentiality, mental state attribution, recurrent discursive topoi, on the one hand, and institutional constraints, such as frames of self-presentation, role distribution, the sharing and transfer of responsibilities, questioning and answering conventions, on the other.


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Key words: parliamentary debate, joint problem-solving, cognitive process, agreement-disagreement