PWR 2KR: Propaganda and Rhetoric
When you hear the word “propaganda,” you might think first of blatant deceptions and lies -- and for good reason. Many of the worst atrocities of the twentieth-century were indeed stoked by false messaging and narratives deviously contrived, propagated by new media and technologies. Yet propaganda is not only a tool deployed by totalitarian regimes, nor is it necessarily negative or evil. It is essential in democratic societies, and for that matter in any social, collaborative situation where the meaning of history must be processed, or future action deliberated. As W.E.B. DuBois wrote, “Democracy does not and cannot mean freedom. On the contrary it means coercion.”
PWR 2: Propaganda and Rhetoric provides students opportunities to examine propaganda and to rethink the relation between propaganda and truth. It also offers students opportunities to study and practice the effective, ethical delivery of argument—including the role of propaganda in argument—as a vital rhetorical skill, in genres/media ranging from documented written research to live oral presentation.
We’ll begin by asking how might different forms of propaganda work as a positive force in influencing human behavior for the better, for instance in matters of racial justice or climate change. James Baldwin’s classic essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1955), on the abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), will help us rethink the effectiveness and limitations of art as propaganda. Because public health is an area where propaganda directly influences our daily habits, we’ll pay special attention to health and wellness propaganda, such as the deceptively influential pandemic-blockbuster Contagion (2011). The digital collections of the Hoover Library and Archives will be a resource for visual examples. Above all, we’ll think deeply about the role propaganda plays in democracy, including its capacity to shape identity, nation, and community. The core of PWR 2 will be your own research project and our efforts to hone effective communication practices. Topics may range widely. You will be encouraged to choose a topic that means something to you as we work together to become more ethical, more influential writers and speakers.
(5-minute oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) This assignment serves as a formal pitch, where you will present the specific topic you are interested in exploring related to propaganda. Propaganda pervades in political contexts, yet it also has a role in fields as far ranging as religion, art, and medicine, as well as in scientific and technological innovation. In the presentation, we’ll begin our conversation about what makes an effective, influential oral delivery, as well as how to write a prospectus for future research.
Written Research-Based Argument
(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) You'll develop your own persuasive argument regarding propaganda in this essay, drawing on research including critical and scholarly texts.
Delivery of Research
(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) In this second presentation, you'll present the argument you've developed about your research-based argument in a live oral presentation, further developing your oral presentation skills in delivery and visual aids.
(length variable) For this assignment, you’ll translate your research delivery to a different medium of influence, such as a series of Instagram slides.