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PWR 1CNA: Against the Machine? Exploring Anti-tech Rhetoric

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Catalog Number: PWR 1CNA

Instructor: Christian Nagler

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


We live, work, and study here in Silicon Valley, and Computer Science is the most populous major on campus, so we are no strangers to arguments made on behalf of various technologies' capacity to solve problems, generate livelihoods, fuel ambitions, and serve as a driver of progress. But we are no doubt also occasionally confronted with arguments against tech, or at least arguments accused of being anti-tech, in both narrow and broad senses.

The premise of this class is that, no matter where we stand on the issue, we can learn from examining such claims in their contexts and looking at counter-claims, as well as investigating the historical fates of these discursive struggles. Beginning with these oppositional, and often provocative, claims will help us develop insight into how arguments work in general, their anatomies, types, and the media ecologies in which they take shape. This class will help you work out your own analyses and responses to anti-tech arguments in writing, demonstrating how these arguments work, what rationales underpin them, and where you wish to stand in relation to them. We will draw from thinkers, writers, activists, and movements that span many disciplines and regions, including the original 19th-century textile workers who claimed the name Luddites as they organized resistance to automated systems in the factories where they worked.

Examples of Research Topics

Mahatma Gandhi, anticolonial insurgents, striking Hollywood writers, heirloom seed-savers, (certain) Caribbean poets, electro-magnetic hyper-sensitives, Gen-Z meme-posters, science fiction writers, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock, Greta Thunberg, Eco-feminists, neo-Pagans, ‘Blue Zone’ centenarians, the Amish, and defenders of the Atlanta Weelaunee forest, among many others. We will also look closely at a few anthropologists, philosophers of science, and political economists who offer helpful frames for these discourses, and whose texts might also serve as essay topics. 

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence

Rhetorical Analysis 

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages):  This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a text of your choice that makes an anti-tech argument. 

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): This assignment marks the beginning of your research project. Here, you will research and investigate the larger research question you’d like to explore relating to the topic. You’ll analyze how different sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your topic.

Research-Based Argument 

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages):  Your RBA is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation. Here is where you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the Texts in Conversation assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument as it relates to your topic.