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PWR 2SBA: The Rhetoric of Human Enhancement

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Catalog Number: PWR 2SBA

Instructor: Shay Brawn

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

Cognitive enhancement. Performance enhancement. Cosmetic enhancement. From Icarus to Iron Man to thousands of Google Glass beta-testers, humans have long aspired to make life better by transcending the limits of their biological inheritance, and science and technology (by way of pharmaceuticals, machines, and genetic manipulation) offer some promising paths to achieving that goal. But what does “better” really mean? And to whom? What are the costs of altering human capacities and who will bear them? In this class, we will explore together some of the critical debates that emerge as we consider the pursuit and impact of enhancement technologies. Along the way, we’ll turn our attention to how the idea of “enhancement” might inform our approach to writing and public speaking: How are practices of invention and delivery impacted by new media?

We’ll look at how these issues are framed in academic and popular genres, with texts for the class ranging from academic research articles about bioethics to documentaries (FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement) and science fiction (“Beggars in Spain”). These texts will serve as inspiration (and provocation) for the research, writing, and presentation that is the central work of the course.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5 minute live oral presentation; written text of 600-1200 words) Students will develop a research question involving some aspect of the course theme and present their proposal to the class. For instance, you might look at current enhancement practices (cosmetic surgery, performance or cognitive enhancing pharmaceuticals, alternative reproductive techniques, etc.), asking how our experience with one of these technologies may help us anticipate the social, psychological, economic or other impact of technologies we seem to be on the verge of achieving. Or, you might consider a domain of enhancement-oriented research (such as longevity research) and consider the strength of claims about the prospects of practical applications. Or you might enter into more philosophical/ethical debates about transhumanism, for instance, looking at the ethics of genetic modification of humans. Or you might look to the cultural domain and examine the arguments that fictional (film, literary, video game, etc.) or non-fictional (journalism, scholarship) representation make about a transhuman or posthuman future.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Students will present the results of their research in written form, adhering to the forms and conventions of the fields for which they have chosen to write.

Delivery of Research

(10 minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) Students will present the results of their research orally, adapting the content, scope and style of their presentations to suit the constraints and possibilities of oral performance.

Genre/Mode Assignment

(length varies)  Students engage in a quarter-long, mostly in-class, exploration of a variety of genres, ranging from documentaries to satire, investigating how different genres offer different possibilities and constraints for communication.