Argumentation meets adapted cognition: manipulation in media discourse on immigration

Christopher Hart

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25 Citations (Scopus)
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Critical discourse analysis has focussed extensively on argumentation in anti-immigration discourse where a specific suite of argumentation strategies has been identified as constitutive of the discourse. The successful perlocutionary effects of these arguments are analysed as products of pragmatic processes based on ‘common-sense’ reasoning schemes known as topoi. In this paper, I offer an alternative explanation grounded in cognitive-evolutionary psychology. Specifically, it is shown that a number of argumentation schemes identified as recurrent in anti-immigration discourse relate to two cognitive mechanisms proposed in evolutionary psychology: the cheater detection and avoidance mechanism (Cosmides 1989) and epistemic vigilance (Sperber et al. 2010). It is further suggested that the potential perlocutionary effects of argument acts in anti-immigration discourse, in achieving sanction for discriminatory practices, may arise not as the product of intentional-inferential processes but as a function of cognitive heuristics and biases provided by these mechanisms. The impact of such arguments may therefore be best characterised in terms of manipulation rather than persuasion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-209
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue numberB
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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