Quantification rhetoric - cancer on television

Potter, Jonathan; Wetherell, Margaret and Chitty, Andrew (1991). Quantification rhetoric - cancer on television. Discourse and Society, 2(3) pp. 333–365.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926591002003005


This paper is concerned with quantification rhetoric: the manner in which numerical and non-numerical quantity formulations are deployed when proposing and undermining argumentative cases. The analysis is focused on a set of materials derived from the making and response to a current affairs television programme about the (putative) lack of success in charity-supported cancer research in providing effective treatments. The study demonstrates: (a) how a range of calculation, fractionation, aggregation and presentational practices can be selectively drawn on to form the scaffolding of contrasting versions; (b) the systematic translation between numerical (e.g. `1 percent') and non-numerical (e.g. `small') formulations to obtain specific argumentative effects; and (c) the role of basic, but often inexplicit, definitional decisions to both constitute phenomena in a manner that makes them countable, and also to select arenas for the effective advancing of quantification argument. Overall, the study illustrates the efficacy of recent discourse theory and analysis for understanding the rhetorical orientation of quantitative versions of the world.

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