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PWR 2KRA: Rhetoric Unhinged: Writing and Speaking amid Crisis

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We live in unhinged times. Whether it’s our ongoing political pandemonium, Twitter feuds, or the lingering disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis and rupture surround us these days. This course centers the “unhinged” as a category of inquiry for student researchers at the university trying to make sense of it all. We will study and theorize the experience of crisis, as well as how individuals and institutions respond to and emerge from it, including our own experiences. Along the way, the course will facilitate opportunities to cultivate strategies for effective speaking and writing amid the noise. 

Our work together will begin by modeling approaches to researching the unhinged. For instance, in the moment, an all-too-public spectacle like the “Slap” at the 2022 Academy Awards generated considerable controversy and for that matter grief as observers and communities worked to process its meaning. How might we revisit such an incident and place it in a broader cultural context, for instance Will Smith’s cultural impact over the course of his long career? The feminist, revolutionary, flame-throwing reggaetón dance troupe depicted in Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s recent film Ema provides a stunning example of unhinged behavior. How might it direct us to asking historical questions about the 2019 Latin American feminist protest movement it represents? Together, we’ll confront challenging questions regarding the unhinged. When does a breach with norms constitute necessary resistance to the system? What happens when it crosses ethical or legal lines? New media forms demonstrate a special power to unhinge even the most rigorous academic conversations and could provide fertile topics for student projects. In recent years, we have witnessed Twitter squabbles in which distinguished scientists argue serious pandemic policy under the threat of “cancellation.” Yet unhinging traditional disciplinary boundaries can also generate innovative research, for instance Gary Tomlinson’s work on how the concept of “emergence” in systems theory offers a rubric for rethinking discovery and knowledge-building for fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, technological innovation, as well as the arts. 

Your work will culminate in designing your own research projects on a topic related to the unhinged, where we’ll foreground approaches to effective writing and speaking amid challenging moments (like ours). Research topics may range widely. You will be encouraged to choose a topic that means something to you as we work together to become better writers and speakers amid our sometimes unhinged reality. 

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) In this formal pitch, you will present the specific topic you are interested in exploring related to the unhinged. Unhinged situations pervade in political contexts, yet may be found in fields as far ranging as religion, literature, science, and engineering. In the presentation, we’ll address 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 pp) You'll develop your own persuasive argument regarding the unhinged in this essay, drawing on research including critical and scholarly texts.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live presentation with 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.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(3-minute recorded video) Here you’ll revisit your research delivery to a create a short digital video for circulation on a platform such as YouTube or TikTok.