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Stasis Theory

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.

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 facts (conjecture)
  • The meaning or nature of the issue (definition)
  • The seriousness of the issue (quality)
  • The plan of action (policy).

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

  • Did something happen?
  • What are the facts?
  • Is there a problem/issue?
  • How did it begin and what are its causes?
  • What changed to create the problem/issue?
  • Can it be changed?

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

  • Where did we obtain our data and are these sources reliable?
  • How do we know they're reliable?

Definition

  • What is the nature of the problem/issue?
  • What exactly is the problem/issue?
  • What kind of a problem/issue is it?
  • To what larger class of things or events does it belong?
  • What are its parts, and how are they related?

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

  • Who/what is influencing our definition of this problem/issue?
  • How/why are these sources/beliefs influencing our definition?

Quality

  • Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
  • How serious is the problem/issue?
  • Whom might it affect (stakeholders)?
  • What happens if we don't do anything?
  • What are the costs of solving the problem/issue?

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

  • Who/what is influencing our determination of the seriousness of this problem/issue?
  • How/why are these sources/beliefs influencing our determination?

Policy

  • Should action be taken?
  • Who should be involved in helping to solve the problem/address the issue?
  • What should be done about this problem?
  • What needs to happen to solve this problem/address this issue?

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

  • Who/what is influencing our determination of what to do about this problem/issue?
  • How/why are these sources/beliefs influencing our determination?

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.

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.