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PWR 1RLA: The Stuff of Nightmares: The Rhetoric of Fear

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Catalog Number: PWR 1RLA

Instructor: Raechel Lee

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


What are you afraid of, and why?

While fear is undeniably physiological and psychological, it is also shaped through discourse. In this class, we will make legible some of those discursive dynamics and analyze how different fears manifest. As our understandings and experiences of fear vary widely, the topics covered in this course via common readings as well as your individual writing and research projects will span a broad range. Possibilities include the weaving of trauma and the supernatural in cultural productions such as Guillermo del Toro’s films; how Stranger Danger campaigns have evolved or differ from one another; the ethics of representing risk in scientific and medical journalism; the imaginative conceptions of historical and modern monsters, and what they might tell us about the time and place of their emergence.

As we analyze these diverse rhetorical situations, we will build our writing, discussion, and research skills. These practices will be fundamental to how we explore larger questions such as the variability of fear (who experiences what kind of fear, in what ways, and on what scale?), the ethics and effectiveness of appealing to fear, and the power relations involved: Which fears are normalized, which dismissed or attacked? Whose voices are amplified, and whose muffled or silenced? Ultimately, through an attention to rhetoric, we ask: what do we do with fears, both ours and others’?

You are encouraged to take fear as a starting point and pursue your own interests through the following assignments.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) You will choose a text that calls upon some version of fear and analyze its rhetorical strategies. For instance, you might study how Greta Thunberg builds momentum and urgency in one of her speeches on the climate crisis, examine the visual and textual rhetoric in a brochure for extreme sports or adventure travel, puzzle through what makes the trailer for Jordan Peele’s Us so unsettling, or dissect one of the haunting short stories by Samantha Schweblin.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment presents an opportunity to investigate the context and tensions around one issue or question related to the course theme and will provide a foundation for your Research-Based Argument. You are welcome to focus on an issue related to explicit treatments or representations of fear or to turn to your own fears and mine them for questions of interest. You will research the academic and popular discussions surrounding your issue and create a conversation between 5-7 texts that show how different understandings of this issue relate and interact.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Here, you will enter the conversation sketched out in the second assignment. You will continue to practice the skills gained from earlier in the quarter to develop a nuanced and substantiated argument about your chosen issue. Your argument should be informed by both primary analysis and thoughtful engagement with existing scholarship.