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PWR 1TSD: Seismic Shifts: The Rhetoric of Disruption

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Catalog Number: PWR 1TSD

Instructor: Tesla Schaeffer

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Disruption has entered the cultural lexicon as a catchall term for radical upheaval, revolutionary innovation, and deep social change. In the tech and business worlds, of course, there is an increasing premium put on innovation of the status quo--but what does it mean to live, as Gary Officer of the Huffington Post puts it, in “the age of disruption”?

In this course, we will explore what it means to witness deep social, cultural, political and environmental upheaval: how do we orient ourselves in relation to such radical change? What do disruptive practices grant us in terms of perspective shifts, or alternately, what is at stake in the fetishization of the “new”? Further, whom does the social construct of “newness” serve, and who gets erased? Students can encounter this theme in projects across a variety of disciplinary frames, focusing on innovations in technology or business; growing political and social justice consciousness; changing information dissemination; ecological upheaval; and traumatic emotional or perceptual fissure. Our conversations are interdisciplinary, and the readings and writing projects will prepare students to complete their own research projects on disruption in the context of their choice; topics could include anything from a critical analysis of a particular community’s engagement with the Border Crisis, to an exploration of the effects of the “gig economy” on Gen Z, to an argument about institutional responses to the 2019 Global Climate Report.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) In the first assignment, you will use rhetorical theory to analyze a text and consider how the speaker or speakers appeal to a particular audience, what strategies they use, in what situation and to what purpose. For example, you might analyze a Silicon Valley start-up’s self-branding around innovation, perform an analytical close reading of a political text around a rising populist movement nationally or abroad, or engage a personal narrative from the MeToo movement.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) In the TiC you will engage with primary and secondary research on a particular question related to our theme. Synthesizing your research and analyses, you will examine how different sources engage your research question. You might approach the topic of PTSD through analyzing clinical, psychotheraputic or institutional models. Or, you might explore the global refugee crisis through the lens of climate change, analyzing the intersections between scholarly and popular sources on these topics.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Building on your research for the TiC assignment, you will gather sources and case studies in order to craft a thoughtful and complex argument; this is an opportunity to deepen the work you did in the second assignment and to develop an inquiry-based argument that has real stakes in the world. The topic of disruption is a capacious one, so you should feel free to explore your question from whatever lens is of interest.