1. Reading responses (25%)
  2. Rhetorical object lesson (25%)
  3. Mock conference presentation (25%)
  4. Research paper (25%)

Reading responses

[This assignment is adapted from an assignment by D. Diane Davis.]

For each course meeting where there are assigned readings, you will compose a short, insightful response to those readings and perform it for the class. This assignment will not only be one of critical and rhetorical analysis, but also one of active and sympathetic listening.

Your responses will serve multiple purposes. They will allow you to flesh out your ideas about the readings in a way that informs our course discussions, and your accumulated responses—and those of your classmates—will serve as a resource as you prepare for your other major projects, such as the object lesson and the final research paper.

To sum up, the requirements for your responses are as follows:

  • Each response should be single-spaced and fit on one side of a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Source citations should be appropriate for oral delivery.
  • The response should summarize the assigned text(s) before responding to them.
  • The response should be a polished piece of professional writing.
  • You will perform the response for myself and your classmates and submit it to me as a hard copy on the day it is due.

Rhetorical object lesson

Bogost (2012) describes metaphorism as “a critical process for characterizing object perceptions” (67). In the book and essay series “Object Lessons,” Bogost and co-editors Christopher Schaberg, Alexis Madrigal, and Haaris Naqvi characterize the genre of the object lessons as “start[ing] from a specific inspiration: an anthropological query, ecological matter, archeological discovery, historical event, literary passage, personal narrative, philosophical speculation, technological innovation” and using that starting point as a foundation for “develop[ing] original insights around and novel lessons about the object in question.”

For this project, rhetoric will be your starting inspiration for an object of your choosing. In this object lesson you will attempt to describe the rhetorical inner life of an object in a presentation for your classmates. That is, not just the ways in which an object might be, but how an object might persuade, addressing the nature of that persuasion and its function and effectiveness with regard to the object’s potential audiences.

To provide some perspective: over the course of human evolution, we have developed a highly nuanced approach to interpersonal, then group, then mass communication via multiple media. From a single person speaking to a group to the complexities of online social media, as a species we have developed a sophisticated array of heuristics and tools for overcoming the limitations of our physicality and persuading each other of our viewpoints, and for most of our history the agency of that persuasion has been straightforward.

One way of approaching this assignment is to explore what affordances enable or limit the rhetorical output of your chosen object. How can we speak of agency with regard to this object? What media might it use to communicate? To whom? And why?

The object lessons essays linked to above tend towards heavily researched historical approaches. This is not what I am asking of you in your object lessons (although, you would not be penalized for such a project.) Rather, as I stated above, I want you to use the tool of metaphorism as a methodology for understanding the rhetorical affordances that attend to an object.

Your object lesson will take the form of an oral presentation. The presentation should be between 10-15 minutes long and make use of the classroom’s projector. In addition to the display, students are welcome to create and share any other media as they see fit.

The purposes of this project are many. Practically, it will allow you to experiment with—and receive feedback on—the affordances of oral presentations before your mock conference presentation. Additionally, it will encourage you to begin thinking about the nature of things, testing the potential, uses, and limits of how we speak about and interact with our things both within philosophical and rhetorical knowledge-making. As the semester develops, you will have the opportunity to develop your understanding of the thingness of your object, and possibly use this project as the seed for your other assignments.

Mock conference presentation

During the second half of the semester, we will hold a series of mock conference panels where students will present their work in progress on the research paper in the form of a conference presentation. In groups of 3-4, you will form a panel, give your panel a title and description, and then give presentations of 10-15 minutes each. After the presentations, your panel will answer questions from the class about your projects.

These presentations can be speculative. While they should contain more detailed research and arguments than your proposals, they are not required to be finished, polished arguments (although finished, polished arguments are certainly welcome). Rather, you can use these presentations as an opportunity for you to showcase your work in progress for an audience of engaged peers, testing your arguments before you submit the final version of the project as your research paper.

Your presentation should be accompanied by some form of visual or handout that helps elucidate your argument or supply your audience with crucial evidence or sources that are difficult to share via oral means alone.

The purpose of this assignment is to further familiarize you with the genres of academic knowledge-making, including both oral presentation and reasoned, researched arguments. Further, the act of presenting and the resulting Q&A will give you the opportunity to solicit feedback on your argument before submitting your final research paper.

Research paper

Your final project for the course will be a 10-12 page paper that engages with the themes of the course to create a thoughtful, thoroughly-researched argument. This paper should be of professional quality and demonstrate the argumentative, organizational, methodological, and stylistic features characteristic of the conference-paper genre. The paper and references should be formatted according to the guidelines of one of the major citation systems (APA, MLA, etc.). This project will be the culmination of your work for the course, and it should incorporate feedback that you have received from your peers and myself following your presentation.

The final paper will be due before our last class meeting, on Monday, April 27.