The role of anecdotal story-telling in public debate

Public debate is often shaped by one's personal experience. But what role does anecdotal evidence play when discussing important societal issues?

Jacques Rousseau, lecturer in critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, says anecdotes are important.

Some researchers and analysts believe that number based statistics are more reliable than anecdotes, but Rosseau says both play an important role.

Anecdote matters because people are connected to their emotional experience. As a subjected individual, these are things that define your world and the values that you have.

Jacques Rousseau, lecturer in critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town

But it may be complicated to rely solely on anecdotal evidence to make a point during a debate.

According to Rousseau, it is presumptuous to use all anecdotal evidence in the general sense. This is because subjective experience is unrepresentative or biased. It could be a clue, but should not be the sole basis of one's argument.

However, with some institutionalised views that are prevalent in the country or the world, like racism or misogyny, anecdotal evidence may strengthen an argument in this context, he says, and it will better equip one to have more understanding of situations.

To ensure that your lived experience is sufficient to add to your views in a debate or discussion, Rousseau recommends you identify the ways in which your experience may not be representative or reliable.

Listen to the full discussion below:


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