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PWR 1IYB: Oceans of Rhetoric

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Catalog Number: PWR 1IYB

Instructor: Irena Yamboliev

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Oceans are vital to the character of the Blue Planet we call home—the reason life is possible—and to the cultural and artistic life here, too. Sigmund Freud named the primal feeling of unity and nurture we feel as infants “the Oceanic feeling.” Ancient epics imagine the ocean as a deity, full of mermaids, sea monsters and dragons. Many cultures give thanks for the sea’s nurture in burial rituals that involve returning the deceased to the waters. We meditate on our littleness and vulnerability in that environment in works of art such as The Old Man and the Sea or Jaws. We invite our children into the sea with films such as Finding Nemo and Moana. The ocean is where our technology turns its innovation and meets its limits—the Titanic! The Mariana Strait, deeper than Mt. Everest is tall, has never been plumbed and may never be.

This class invites you to explore the ways the ocean is defined, discussed, and communicated in media, scholarly and non-scholarly. You will probe the resulting rhetoric for assumptions it presents about our relationship to the ocean, and how gender, ability, and economic power, among other things, shape that relationship. A central case study that I will use will be whales, a creature that we consider as a particularly “human-like,” as demonstrated by works of art from Moby-Dick to Avatar: Way of Water. But whales will be just one way into thinking about oceans—which you are invited to extend to writing about different creatures (corals, sea turtles, albatrosses), different aspects of the physical state of oceans, different modes of humans’ interactions with the great waters.

Examples of research topics.  You might explore particular cultures’ rhetorics in relation to the ocean. Or, from a science perspective, you might examine the way climate change and environmental degradation are being communicated to the public; the impacts of invasive species such as the lion-fish. Arts and culture buffs might examine how particular works shape our thinking about seas, including when they get revised, as, for example, The Little Mermaid. Also welcome are topics involving public policy: Who gets to “own” beaches? What should we do as coastlines become unstable and building houses there, unfeasible?

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence                                                                              

Rhetorical Analysis 

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages):  Here, you’ll analyze the rhetorical strategies of a text of your choice that makes an argument about the oceans. “Text” can mean any kind of object: a children’s book such as Humphrey the Lost Whale (published 1986), a museum exhibit about coral reef health; a documentary or fragment of a documentary such as Blue Planet; a news story or piece of investigative journalism about, say, plastics in the ocean; a tourism advertisement.

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): This assignment marks the beginning of your research project. Here, you will investigate the larger question you’d like to explore relating to your topic. You’ll analyze how different sources, voices, and perspectives converse: What are the overlaps and disparities, for example, between the way whales get discussed by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium here in California, which was pivotal in protecting whales, and by the tourism bureau of Iceland, a country that where whales are still hunted and eaten—40% of them by tourists? How might efforts to protect a fish species look from the perspectives of a community whose survival depends on fishing, versus an environmental protection agency, versus a hydroelectric energy company?

Research-Based Argument 

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

Note: Our class will have a focus on films, and a special guest visit by PWR’s treasured Director, Marvin Diogenes.