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PWR 2SNA: The Rhetoric of Bodies

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Catalog Number: PWR 2SNA

Instructor: Shannon Hervey

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

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


Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

It wasn't until 2018 when all 50 US states legalized breastfeeding in public, though it is still very much taboo in many of these states. And although body image conversations often focus on women, recent studies link male body image issues with anxiety and depression. And did you know that women of color around the world spend more than $8 billion in skin bleaching treatments every year? In 2018, Sonya Renee Taylor's book The Body is Not an Apology became a New York Times bestseller, and in it she writes, "When we speak of the ills of the world - violence, poverty, injustice - we are not speaking conceptually; we are talking about things that happen to bodies."

Communication studies have long postulated that bodies are both objects of communication and also producers or sites of communication. If you think about the various medias you personally encounter, it's likely that you routinely come across communication about a diversity of bodies - surgically modified bodies, disabled bodies, gendered bodies, healing bodies, ailing bodies, aging bodies. It is perhaps not a groundbreaking idea to say that how we talk about bodies influences our material realities by determining things like who gets access to particular roles, settings, or care, how people are treated in social interactions, what is considered acceptable, not to mention what sorts of ideas we internalize about our own bodies and how that plays out in our daily lives.

Our class will ask a series of questions all orbiting around a central inquiry: How does rhetoric shape our physical, embodied realities? To this end, we might investigate what significance the physical, material body still has in a world of virtual reality and genetic cloning; how communication about bodies forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies are normative, thus creating standards of health, beauty, and expectant bodily behaviors; how bodies are politicized, especially racially or ethnically diverse bodies. In addition to taking up any of the above topics, other examples of research project topics you might explore for this course include digital bodies and mental health, exercise science and body image, nutrition science and disordered eating, gendered sports teams and trans identities, or political and social responses to the COVID vaccine. You'll find additional suggestions in the assignment descriptions below.


Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) Students will begin by presenting a robust question about a topic they are honestly curious about. Topics might range from the "Health at Every Size" movement to the political nature of hair(styles). Students might investigate gender norms in parenting, non-gender conforming bodies/identities, or technology and disembodiment. This list is not exhaustive.

Written Research-Based Argument 

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Drawing on substantial research from a wide range of sources, you will compose a coherent and persuasive argument featuring intentional rhetorical choices. I anticipate projects on how medical norms influence social perceptions of the body, the politicization of language pertaining to reproduction and genome projects, or even investigating social responses to the Covid vaccine.

Delivery of Research 

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) You will develop your RBA into a presentation taking into consideration embodied rhetoric and multimodal elements of meaning-making and persuasion.

Genre/Modes assignment 

(300-500 creatively written words) As a stepping stone toward your RBA, you will present your evolving research with an infographic where you will also explore visual and digital literacies.