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PWR 1KA: Rhetorics of Innovation: Transformations and Missed Opportunities

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Did you know that birdcages were the inspiration for the world’s first skyscrapers? Or that without the Eiffel Tower, we wouldn’t have the Ferris Wheel? Or, that the first fully electric, zero-emission car was invented, tested, and then discontinued—almost thirty years ago? Or, that the doctors and engineers who made the first fully functional prosthetic limbs credit emotional rhetoric for their success? What contributes to one invention’s success—but another’s failure? This class will study the rhetoric and writing that contributed to invention transformations and missed opportunities through the lens of social, financial, and political pressures.

Geared toward those who love inventions, this course will ask: How might invention be improved and gain social and political support through writing and rhetoric? Who has the capability to bring a new idea to the public? Who has been silenced? Why? How should inventors frame their invention within an understanding of audience, context, race, religion, social practice, and situation? We will analyze the rhetoric that has contributed to the success or failures of invention to learn to harness the power of rhetoric to support our future ideas and innovations.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) For this assignment, students will choose from a variety of genres of writing on or about their chosen invention (Tweets, letters, poems, audio interviews, academic articles, interactive media) to analyze how a particular text functions as an argument. Texts might be highly different from one another; for example, documents from the 1893 World’s Fair alongside Gladwell’s TED talk on Norden’s Mark 15 bombsight.

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) The texts in conversation essay will allow students to write research proposals to develop a research question that will become the focus of their Research-Based Arguments. This assignment will also allow students to understand their chosen invention as socially situated and influenced by financial, social, and psychological factors. Students might choose to analyze the course that Apple took to success, focusing on the rhetorical influences. Or, students might trace the arguments made for an against implementation of a new system—digital, social, or governmental. Students may also take the opportunity to critically analyze how and why an invention was stymied, or succeeded.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Students are invited to conduct research to arrive at a stance in relation to the same invention or idea explored in the TIC essay. Students will then compose an academic research-based argument to support that stance. This will be the culmination of students’ gathered knowledge both of a single invention or idea as well as of the rhetorical factors contributing to the success or subversion of inventions. The argument should demonstrate an understanding of social and political systems as well as pathways to using rhetoric assist an invention’s success.