Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

PWR 2SM: Dirty Pretty Things: The Rhetoric of Objects and Objectification

Main content start

“Never discard anything without saying thank you and good-bye” - Marie Kondo, (2014)

The insane popularity of tidying-guru Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and Netflix-show illustrates, among other things, how much objects mean to people and yet what a vexed relationship we have with them. On the other hand, stories of human (self-)objectification are all around us, ranging from how we construct our personas on Instagram to racial profiling by law enforcement.

We will use a rhetorical lens to study global contexts and conversations around objects and objectification-- from the relationships shared by cultures, objects, and people to the ways human beings have been objectified, such as through colonialism, enslavement, sex-trafficking, and organ trade. Our class materials will include excerpts from films such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) and Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman (2018) as well as articles such as Martha Nussbaum’s “On Objectification” and Patricia Turner’s “Ceramic Uncles and Celluloid Mammies.” In so doing, students will be encouraged to develop their rhetorical awareness and research acumen with respect to cultural inquiry regarding theories of objects and objectification.

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 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 does the Chanel Miller case offer insight into the objectification of women on college campuses and into rape-culture in particular? What should we prioritize in the growing conversations about specific applications of artificial intelligence, such as facial-recognition, self-driving cars, or autonomous agents used in warfare?

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Building on communication and persuasive skills gained in your PWR 1 class and the work you began in your proposal, you'll craft an original argument about your topic by extending your research, synthesizing sources, substantiating your argument with appropriate evidence, and streamlining your delivery into a logical, cohesive essay.

Delivery of Research

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

Genre/Modes Assignment

(600-900 words or 2-3 pages) You will design an object and brief presentation around it OR create a short podcast OR video of 1-2 minutes for a general audience. You can choose to report on a touchstone object, central source or piece of research in your project, or discuss your main findings and argument. If desired, you can make this component a collaborative effort and organize a brief roundtable with one or more fellow scholars in this course.