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PWR 1MA: The Power of Words: The Rhetoric of Social and Technological Changes

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Our world is undergoing tremendous technological, sociopolitical, and economic changes. We see increasing use of AI-powered cameras for surveillance and commercial purposes. Nationalism and strongman politics are on the rise. Economic inequality is growing fast. Such changes give rise to many issues that dominate our political, academic, and popular rhetoric. We understand the issues through rhetoric and our specific understandings, in turn, shape our responses to them.

Consider the rhetoric from the early 2000s about the internet and smartphone technologies. At that time, many predicted that such technologies would make it hard, if not impossible, for authoritarian governments to control information flow and eventually lead to their collapse. However, such predictions proved naïve. Now the rhetoric about the internet is very different and far less optimistic. This is an example of how the dominant rhetoric about a particular issue shapes our understanding and response in powerful ways. But it also shows how that rhetoric could change dramatically and enable new understandings and alternative solutions. We can observe similar rhetorical shifts on many other issues such as climate change, artificial intelligence, socioeconomic inequalities, and immigration among others.

In this course, you can examine the rhetoric about any issue you are interested in and write about rhetorical shifts across time and space. You might also investigate how a particular change in the rhetoric about an issue presents some understandings as common sense while dismissing others as unreasonable or false and discuss their effects on the people who are directly impacted by the rhetoric.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) For this assignment, you will use rhetorical theory to analyze a text that examines and makes an argument about a particular social issue. In your analysis, you will discuss how the producer(s) of the text understand and portray the issue, how they appeal to their audience, what strategies they use, what genre they choose to present their message and why, what genre conventions they conform to, and to what effect.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment will lay the foundation for your Research-Based Argument. Focusing on a particular issue that interests you, you will read multiple texts and develop an understanding of the conversations about the issue and its sociopolitical and historical contexts. For example, you might engage with scholarly essays on different framings of political violence perpetrated by states and individuals. You might also explore the rhetorical changes over time about effective teaching methods in public schools. Or, you might study the rhetoric about a particular technological phenomenon through the lens of economic disruption or social and ethical implications.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) You will further investigate the issue you focused on in your second major assignment and construct a thoughtful argument about it. On one hand, this assignment provides you with an opportunity to hone your skills in developing evidence-based arguments appropriate for academic audience. On the other hand, your research will make meaningful contribution to our understanding of the issue and provide alternative ways to conceptualize and address it.