Should Britain leave the EU? An exploration of online argument through a Toulmin perspective

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Michael Hammond
 Marina Charalampidi


The paper shows how a framework adapted from Toulmin (1958) was valuable in exploring the force of online argument in an educational setting. In past research of online discussions there has been a focus on interaction patterns at the expense of exploring questions of content. In seeking to address this imbalance, we used Toulmin’s key terms of claim, data, warrant, rebuttal and backing in an analysis of an educational network for young learners (13-18) in which a debate on whether Britain should leave the EU was carried out. Drawing on these key terms, a framework was constructed in order to categorise messages as: claims with no force; insufficient argument; constructed argument; forceful argument. This framework was used to unpack the claims and warrants put forward in the course of the debate. The paper shows that Toulmin’s approach can be adapted to provide a feasible and useful framework for assessing the force of argument within forums. However, it is recognised that there are also challenges and limitations in using such an approach.

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