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PWR 1AG: The Rhetoric of Animals

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Animals – massive and tiny, wild and domesticated – walk, swim, jump, swing, slither, and fly across the entire globe. Our relationships with animals are similarly varied: there are, for example, pets and companions, working animals (such as sheepdogs, draft horses, homing pigeons, and military dolphins), laboratory animals, zoo animals, game animals, and animals bred and slaughtered for food and other products. Animals can be a source of wonder and joy, but also of indifference and fear. These interactions and feelings are shaped and influenced by cultural practices, religious beliefs, media representations, national and international laws, and philosophical concepts. In this writing and research course you’ll analyze and make arguments about animal-human relationships.  

In your writing assignments, you can explore myriad topics across a range of disciplines, including biology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, art history, and film and media studies. An increasing interest in veganism and vegetarianism, for example, reflects the real impact of animal rights debates around the ethics of eating animals and the question of how best to convince people to eat less, or no, meat. Animals’ symbolic and metaphorical meanings are multifaceted and have changed over time, with an inestimable amount of representations to consider, including prehistoric cave paintings, literature, photographs, movies, and YouTube and TikTok videos. Animal characters are central to children’s fiction, from Charlotte’s Web to SpongeBob SquarePants, for example, and there are documentaries, such as Project Nim, Blackfish, and Tiger King, which examine the ethics of animal captivity and experimentation. Or you might research the social and political significance of animals in our everyday lives, in urban, suburban, and rural settings, with possible foci being biodiversity and conservationism, animal phobias, “posthumanism,” and zoonotic pathogens.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Assignment

In the RA you will use rhetorical concepts to analyze how an author makes an argument rhetorically, and why they make the argument the way they do. For example, you might look at an op-ed about animal testing, an article on animal cognition, or an essay which focuses on anthropomorphism. This assignment is designed to introduce you to basic rhetorical concepts, strategies of persuasion, and the complexity of rhetorical situations.

Texts in Conversation

With the TIC assignment you will choose a research topic and place texts related to this topic in dialogue with one another, comparing and contrasting different perspectives on key issues.  This assignment primes you for the research-based argument (RBA), as you will carry the work forward from this essay into your RBA. You’ll examine how different writers make their arguments, scrutinizing where the writers overlap and where they diverge.  In this way, the TIC assignment will enable you to develop your understanding, and practice of, research, establishing a foundation for your work in the RBA assignment.

Research-Based Argument

In the RBA assignment you will present a focused argument drawing on library and online research.  The completed essay should clearly contextualize the question it poses and answers; engage thoughtfully and responsibly with accurately summarized arguments; incorporate material from appropriate primary, secondary, and tertiary sources; and exhibit fitting rhetorical choices for your purpose and audience.