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PWR 1KR: Trust, Rhetoric, and Writing

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Catalog Number: PWR 1KR

Instructor: Kevin Moore

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


What is trust? More importantly, how do we trust, and why? This course engages trust as an ancient and persistent rhetorical problem, which impacts how we experience, interpret, and compose information. Socrates, famously, mistrusted writing itself. Why should we trust the written word, he wondered, instead of a speaker who can be held to account for their ideas? Why should we outsource our memory to writing? In our own age of instantaneous global communication and an internet that never forgets, these concerns proliferate. Trust becomes an essential consideration for writers and researchers working to build knowledge at the university and beyond, not to mention a valuable commodity.

We’ll start with texts and images that we should not automatically trust, including unreliable narratives and propaganda materials (including examples from the political poster and psychological warfare collections of Stanford’s Hoover Institution). We’ll explore the distinctions between fact, fiction, and deception, as well as what it means to trust different genres and media. Your first assignment will be to analyze an untrustworthy text, and to show how it persuades, or even deceives. Then, we’ll turn our attention to how trust plays out in specific fields, both in academia and in public discourse at large. The example of the defunct company Theranos will provide an opportunity to rethink how trust and deception can play out in Silicon Valley, and in science and technology more broadly. We’ll discuss interpersonal trust, especially as it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, and gender. We will also explore how public trust gets broken and restored, and how societies have worked to reestablish trust after injustice, in particular Chile’s recovery from the Pinochet regime. In our second unit, you will define a research question related to trust, and engage existing conversations to clarify this question. You’ll learn about research methods and campus resources. Finally, your work will culminate in a longer, research-based argument essay, which you will develop in consultation with your instructor and your peers. Topics may range widely, and you will be encouraged to choose a topic that means something to you as we practice becoming more effective, more trustworthy writers.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) In this assignment, you’ll identify an untrustworthy text and analyze how it persuades and/or deceives its specific audience. Your focus will be on the strategies deployed, the rhetorical situation, and the text’s stated and unstated goals. You might analyze a historical propaganda poster, or a news story of unreliable origin.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) Here, you will break ground on the larger research question you’d like to explore relating to trust, analyzing the conversations that bear on your topic. The goal of this unit will be to identify relevant sources and other materials, and to analyze how those texts interact as discourse. For instance, you might explore how engineers persuade the public to trust a new technology, or you could examine how literary critics deal with unreliable narrators.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Your RBA is the cornerstone of this course. Here, you will elaborate the research question you developed in your TiC, and draw upon the rhetorical analysis skills you have developed to make an extended argument about trust as it relates to your topic. Your argument should contribute to the conversation identified in your TiC essay.