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Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource provides an overview of stasis theory and what you can do with it to help you conduct research, compose documents, and work in teams.

Stasis Theory

Introduction

Stasis theory is a four-question, pre-writing (invention) process developed in ancient Greece by Aristotle and Hermagoras. Later, the stases were refined by Roman rhetoricians, such as Cicero, Quintilian, and Hermogenes. Working through the four stasis questions encourages knowledge building that is important for research, writing, and for working in teams. Stasis theory helps writers conduct critical analyses of the issues they are investigating.

Specifically, stasis theory asks writers to investigate and try to determine:

The four basic stasis categories may be broken down into a number of questions and subcategories to help researchers, writers, and people working together in teams to build information and compose communication. The stases also help people to agree on conclusions, and they help identify where people do not agree. Here are the stases and some questions you can ask to help you conduct research, write, and work toward solving problems:

Fact

It may also be useful to ask critical questions of your own research and conclusions:

Definition

It may also be useful to ask critical questions of your own research and conclusions:

Quality

It may also be useful to ask critical questions of your own research and conclusions:

Policy

It may also be useful to ask critical questions of your own research and conclusions:

Note: Related to stasis theory are the six journalistic questions (1) Who? (2) What? (3) Where? (4) When? (5) Why? (6) How? Lawyers also move through a similar knowledge building process known as IRAC: (1) Issue; (2) Rules; (3) Application; (4) Conclusion.

Achieving Stasis

Achieving stasis means that parties involved in a dialogue about a given issue have reached consensus on (or agreed upon) the information and conclusions in one or more of the stases. In ancient Rome, if legal disputants could not agree with the presented information in one of the stases, the argument would stop (arrest) and plaintiffs would attempt to agree (achieve stasis or find common ground) within the disputed information. For an example of how team members can work toward stasis, refer to the Stasis Theory for Teamwork page.

It is also important to achieve stasis with the issue you are investigating. Put another way, if you are trying to solve the parking problem on your campus, it will not do anyone any good to suggest that students stop smoking. The solution has nothing to do with (does not achieve stasis with) the issue at hand.

Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource provides an overview of stasis theory and what you can do with it to help you conduct research, compose documents, and work in teams.

Stasis Theory for Research

Stasis theory can help writers build information for all types of communication, and it can help writers conduct careful inquiry for exploratory and empirical research.

Stasis theory is good for conducting research, because it acts as a series of analytical questions that helps writers collect information about the problem, issue, or topic under investigation. When answering the stasis questions, writers should try to gather information from a number of different credible resources, both primary (interviews, etc.) and secondary (literature review, etc.), to triangulate their data. For more information on conducting research, see the OWL's research page.

The graphic below illustrates how information built using the stasis questions is used in an exploratory white paper, an audience analysis and problem solution report. These documents might be assigned in a composition or professional writing course, or you might have to conduct research for these types of communications in the workplace.

This image lists the stases (fact, definition, quality, and policy) and illustrates where information from the stases of fact and policy might be placed in an exploratory white paper and a problem-solution report.

Image Caption: Stasis Questions in Exploratory and Problem-Solution Reports

The stasis questions can also be integrated into maps that illustrate exploratory and empirical research methods. The map below illustrates how the stases can be used to help explore an issue before writers form a thesis or argument.

This image shows how the stasis questions can be integrated into exploratory research. During exploratory research, the stasis questions are used to build data and reveal gaps in knowledge before writers arrive at a thesis.

Image Caption: Stasis Questions in Exploratory Research

The stasis questions can also help guide empirical research and argumentative work associated with problem-solution papers and reports, as illustrated in the map below.

This image illustrates how the stasis questions can be used to help conduct empirical research. While triangulating your research, the stasis questions are used to build data and show gaps in knowledge.

Image Caption: Stasis Questions in Empirical Research

Lastly, the stasis questions can help identify important gaps in knowledge. If you cannot answer some of the stasis questions effectively, you have identified a gap in knowledge that might need to be filled by conducting more research.

Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource provides an overview of stasis theory and what you can do with it to help you conduct research, compose documents, and work in teams.

Stasis Theory for Teamwork

Stasis theory can also help writers work together in teams to build common ground and solve problems. When used as a process for talking through information related to a writing topic, the stasis questions can help teams generate and continue dialogue so that consensus may be reached - so that team members may achieve stasis with one another.

For example, if students are working with other writers to compose a report on racism in America, different team members might disagree about which actions are considered racist. Here is a sample dialogue from a team meeting where a group is working through their report on racism in America:

"Flying the Confederate battle flag is racist."

"Flying the Confederate battle flag is not racist."

"Yes, it is because it represents the Confederate states that supported slavery, and it's generally accepted that slavery in America was racist."

"Flying the Confederate battle flag is not racist, because it's a part of American history and Southern heritage."

These two team members disagree about whether or not flying the Confederate battle flag is a racist act. This sort of disagreement might lead to a complete breakdown of group work if common ground is not built.

In this example, the team members go on to agree that people still exhibit the Confederate battle flag (fact) on their vehicles and on their clothes, but that the flag is also displayed in museums (fact). They go on to agree that the issue is still very important to some people since a number of American states have recently debated the flag in legislatures and assemblies (quality).

Moreover, group members note that a number of legal suits have been filed for and against the display of the flag in public places, so it's clear the issue still matters to a lot of people (quality).

In this sense, the team members have achieved stasis on two of the four stases - fact (people still display the flag, though in different places) and quality (it's a very important issue). Where the team members disagree, however, is in the stases of definition (is the display of the flag "racist") and policy (what should we do about this?).

Thinking about this disagreement using stasis theory allows people to build common ground so that parties who disagree can move toward resolution and action even if they can't agree on all levels. For example, team members who disagree about whether or not flying the Confederate battle flag is racist might still be able to agree on what to do about it.

"Ok, we disagree about whether flying the flag is racist, but we can agree that flying the flag is probably protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, that flying the flag is protected by our freedom of speech."

"Yeah."

"So, people are free to display the flag on their vehicles, on their clothes, and on their property, as well as in museums. But, state legislatures and assemblies will have to debate and vote on whether or not the flag can be displayed on publicly funded property or in public symbols, such as state flags and seals."

"That sounds pretty democratic. Sure."

Not every team situation is going to end this amicably; however, by using the stasis questions to help keep the dialogue going - on a reasonable course - team members can find common ground and work toward action that is acceptable to most, if not all, of the group members.

Sources

Brizee, Allen H. “Stasis Theory as a Strategy for Workplace Teaming and Decision Making.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 38.4 (2008): 363-385.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard. Writing Proposals: Rhetoric for Managing Change, 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2007.