Research disciplines and topics

I conduct research at the interface of the following disciplines:

  • Pragmatics
  • Argumentation theory
  • Cognitive Science
  • Discourse Analysis

These are my main research topics:

  • Deception and uncooperative communication
  • Cognitive aspects of (fallacious) argumentation
  • Commitment in linguistics and pragmatics
  • Persuasiveness of conspiracy theories
  • Humour
Current research

My current areas of research lie at the interface between (cognitive) pragmatics, linguistics, cognitive psychology, argumentation theory and discourse analysis and are broadly concerned with the relationship between language and beliefs. After my PhD research, which was devoted to the pragmatics of uncooperative communication, I have taken a strong interest in the study of argumentative practices, which I approach from four complementary perspectives. Here is an overview of my research on argumentation:

  1. From a methodological perspective, I am interested in showing how cognitive pragmatics – in particular the framework’s ability to account for the notion of commitment attribution (Morency et al. 2008, Saussure & Oswald 2008, 2009) – can shed light on the reconstruction of material that arguers leave implicit (both premises and standpoints) in their argumentations (see Oswald 2016b, in prep.)
  2. From a theoretical perspective, I investigate how cognitive pragmatic accounts of information processing are able to shed light on traditional issues in argumentation theory such as argumentative effectiveness. The originality of this research lies both in its linguistic and pragmatic approach to rhetorical effectiveness (Oswald 2016a) and in its attempt to exploit the theoretical convergence between argumentation research and cognitive science (see Oswald & Hart 2013, Oswald & Rihs 2014, Lewiński & Oswald 2013, Oswald & Lewiński 2014). See also my co-edited book with Thierry Herman (2014) and my recent co-edited special issue of the Journal of Argumentation in Context (2020).
  3. From an empirical perspective, my latest project is about argumentative features of conspiracy theories (CTs). Drawing on interdisciplinary research on CTs, I try to account for the argumentative patterns that can be found in them in order to provide answers to their circulation at the population scale, which amounts, in this work, to assessing the reasons of their persuasiveness (see Oswald 2016b, Oswald & Herman 2016, Oswald & Herman in prep.).
  4. From an experimental perspective, I am involved in two research projects meant to test the cognitive parameters behind the effectiveness of two argumentative fallacies, namely the ad populum fallacy (Ozols et al. submitted.) and the straw man fallacy (Schumann et al. 2019, Schumann at al. submitted). The basic idea of these experimental designs is to identify the linguistic and pragmatic conditions under which these fallacies are likely not to be noticed as such, which, in turns, would explain their rhetorical appeal.

In the field of pragmatics, I am currently investigating the phenomenon of insinuation, by tackling the quasi-consensual claim that insinuation is not committing by virtue of its plausible deniability (Oswald, in prep.).

PhD Thesis

Pragmatics of uncooperative and manipulative communication (defended 13 December 2010), under the supervision of prof. Louis de Saussure (University of Neuchâtel). Examined by prof. Didier Maillat (University of Fribourg), prof. Frans van Eemeren (University of Amsterdam), prof. Paul Chilton (University of Lancaster), prof. Fabrice Clément (University of Neuchâtel).


This dissertation tackles the issue of uncooperative and manipulative communication from a cognitive pragmatic perspective and develops and documents the fundamental hypothesis that its success depends on whether the manipulator manages to keep the manipulative intention concealed. Specifically, manipulative communication is conceived here as a twofold process meant to i) mislead the addressee into processing limited sets of contextual information and ii) prevent her/him from processing contextual information that would be detrimental to the success of the manipulative attempt.

The dissertation draws on several fields of research in the Humanities and attempts to interface findings from cognitive psychology (mainly research on cognitive biases) and argumentation theory (research on fallacies) into a consistent cognitive pragmatic account of information-processing. To this end, the so-called Contextual Selection Constraint model (CSC) is presented; this model specifies from a theoretical perspective how certain linguistic and argumentative strategies can be used to constrain the comprehension procedure so that targeted assumptions end up partaking in the derivation of meaning and other unwanted assumptions turn out to be disregarded – or unprocessed altogether. These possibilities are conceived as natural potential consequences of our cognitive system’s inherent fallibility.

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