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PWR 2RL: The Rhetoric of the Natural

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Dr. Lee discusses PWR2RL.

Journalist Michael Pollan once proclaimed that "the word 'natural' does not mean anything anymore." Yet this controversial word on food labels has generated billions in the food industry and continues to fuel debates around crucial and wide-ranging issues, such as dictated gender norms, vaccination, and drug-free childbirth. The ubiquity of this concept can be further seen in contemporary cultural productions like the film Ex Machina, which pushes us to question and imagine the boundaries of naturalness as they intersect with issues of race, sexuality, and class. In short, the so-called "natural" and its contingent narratives have produced queries into or struggles over rights, membership, and representation in various terrains.

Harnessing these opportunities for investigation and reflection, this class will consider, through a rhetorical lens, how "natural" is understood and/or modified: how it interfaces with social norms and other notions like safety and authenticity, and how the varying rhetorical strategies and situations at hand animate different negotiations of power. Topics may range from literary (e.g. magic realism and the fantastic) to social (our growing proximity and intimacy with tech devices) to medical (homeopathy or bionic implants and prosthesis).

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) In your proposal, you'll outline a research project of appropriate scope related to the course theme. Here, you will identify objects of study, articulate your research question(s) and methods, establish the significance of the project, as well as present existing scholarship and information from relevant sources. A few examples of research questions from past projects include: How can we understand a strange disease like Morgellon's? Why do harmful cultural practices such as FGM/C persist in spite of growing recognition of its deleterious effects? What should we prioritize in the growing conversations about specific applications of artificial intelligence, such as self-driving cars, or autonomous agents used in warfare?

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Building on the work you began in your proposal, you'll extend your research 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.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) In this presentation, you will share your research conclusions and argument, using appropriate media (props, music, film, slides, etc.) as you see fit. This presentation involves a mandatory meeting with an Oral Communications Tutor (OCT) during the drafting stage.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(1-2 minutes recorded presentation; written text 1-3 pages) You will keep a quarter-long research journal to track the development of your ideas, to document and dialogue with your sources, or to engage in writing exercises around style and craft. This assignment will be turned in along with your final essay.

Note: Each of the assignments will require a brief cover memo for the draft, as well as a 250+ word final reflection on your process.