I Argue. I Insist. I Warn: Academic Writing Tips on Clarifying Your Theoretical Position

Making a stand or clarifying a theoretical position in an academic essay takes various forms. Sometimes, making it explicit for your readers is as easy as just stating it in the first-person anywhere in your sentence, such as:

I argue that…

I posit that…

[The angle I am taking], I propose, is [one way of looking at the dynamics and complexities of the issue]…

At other times, summarising points of view and making a new departure can signal the argument you are intending to make. Or in some simpler cases, hastening the pace (“urgently”) or gravely exaggerating a point (“deeply problematic”, “critical”) can do the trick.

This is not an exhaustive list, obviously, but here are some quick examples from a few books off my shelf.

1. Signal a common understanding, then show a contrast.

“There is no doubt that emotion has always played a central role in the communication of solidarity, yet, I argue, there is something distinct about the ways in which the self figures in contemporary humanitarianism.” (Chouliaraki, p.1)

2. Look at an example, then propose a (new) perspective, angle, or interpretation.

“In drawing attention to the new emotionality of the ‘Find Your Feeling’ appeal, then, what I propose is that the meaning of solidarity today should be approached as simultaneously defined, or overdetermined, by the branding strategies of ActionAid, by a generalized reluctance to accept ‘common humanity’ as the motivation for our actions and by the interactive possibilities of online media. It is, I argue, only when we examine solidarity as a problem of communication, that is, as a moral claim seeking to reconcile the competing demands of market, politics and the media, that we can better understand how the spectacle of suffering is subtly but surely turning the West into a specific kind of public actor – the ironic spectator of vulnerable others.” (Chouliaraki, p.2)

3. Give a theoretical backing, then extend its meanings, or counter-propose, with urgency.

“For example, using Bauman’s ‘age of uncertainty’, art scholar Janet Wolff develops a series of propositions about an ‘aesthetics of uncertainty’, looking to the marginal, indirect and oblique in artistic practice for ‘a new discourse of value without a foundation in certainties or universals’ (Wolff 2008:5). Wolff’s uncertainty usefully challenges any attempt to articulate a politics of performance grounded in a dogmatic set of principles. However, Performance in a Time of Terror is also stimulated by the insistent notion that, amidst such spiralling uncertainties, the effort to more securely define and practise a hopeful politics of performance remains a critical – important and urgent –  tasks for artists concerned about the violence and inequity of late capitalist society.” (Hughes, p.10)

4. Restating and summarising previous points of view or arguments in earlier sections, and offer new perspectives.

“If I am trying to blur the distinctions between entertainment and efficacy, or pleasure and instruction, what force for theatre and performance is suggested? I have already argued that the focus on affect is, in fact, not a departure from a sense of purpose or political ambition for the practice of applied theatre. Whether it be Schechner or Brecht, there is a strong tradition within the field of performance studies for a communicative model of theatre. For many, theatre is perhaps the communicative art form par excellence – with its ability to speak about the broadest range of issues, across and between diverse audiences and participants. I am not dismissing what might be called, somewhat anachronistically, ‘consciousness-raising’, but rather locating that power to affect in what I believe is a richer, more complex and yet ultimately more promising zone.” (Thompson, pp.130-1)

5. Ask a series of provocative questions.

“My analysis is critical in its investigation of Obama’s first term, asking whether Obama’s post-election performances amounted to political difference from George W. Bush or a perpetuation of the status quo. Specifically, I examine the distinction between behaviors and actions against what qualifies as ‘just’ performance – that which remains ephemeral. I ask what, if any, such performances can be said to constitute or even influence political, economic, and/or social change. These questions are difficult, as anyone who analyzes the performance of politics knows. How can the cultivation of political capital not have real value? How can countless promises not amount to anything? What is at stake in promising a lot, reaching for the sky, and accomplishing comparatively little? What role does performance play in these endeavors?” (Brady, pp.140-1)

6. Without using the first-person, a change in sentence lengths or grammatical structures means driving home a point or argument. Or use modal verbs.

“That plays such as The Laramie Project and Stuff Happens, so profoundly political (and moral) in content and orientation, can engender ethical relations on stage. Conventional representation enacts violence upon otherness, reforming alterity according to the knowledge of the self. Moralizing enacts violence, bringing the singular under universal law.” (Wade, p.28, in Patrick Anderson and Jisha Menon’s (eds) “Violence Performed”)

7. Offer warnings or caution.

“This is a book that strongly defends the role that humanitarianism continues to play in sustaining a public ethos of solidarity with vulnerable others beyond the West. It is, simultaneously, an equally strong note of caution against the increasing instrumentalization of the humanitarian field and the neoliberal hegemony of its morality of solidarity.” (Chouliaraki, p.24)

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REFERENCES (in APA Referencing Style):

Brady, S. (2012). Performance, politics, and the war on terror: “Whatever it takes”. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Chouliaraki, L. (2013). The ironic spectator: Solidarity in the age of post-humanitarianism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hughes, J. (2011). Performance in a time of terror: Critical mimesis and the age of uncertainty. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Thompson, J. (2009). Performance affects: Applied theatre and the end of effect. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wade, L. A. (2009). Sublime trauma: The violence of ethical encounter. In Patrick Anderson and Jisha Menon (Eds.), Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict (pp.15-30). London: Palgrave Macmillan.