Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Roberts/research - due 3/25/11

The Roberts piece ("How to Say Nothing in Five Hundred Words") is a little bit dated, and some of his vocabulary is obscure. Look up anything you don't know. I still love the essay to bits, though your mileage may vary. Instead of summarizing the article, I'd like you to take its advice and try to apply it to your own work.

I've asked you to start thinking about research questions already, and I'd like to continue with that. For your blog, please write one (or a few, if you're really torn) research question(s) that you think you might pursue for the paper. Write me the question, then explain why you've chosen it, and what you think you might end up doing with it. Think about Roberts as you do this. Example:

How do people use the figure of Adolf Hitler when they make political or moral arguments?

I think this fulfills one of Roberts' recommendations, in that it's an unusual topic. It's not something I already know a lot about, but one of my strengths is definitely looking at how people use language and construct arguments, so I think I might be able to handle this. The biggest problem is really that the question is too broad: I might have to narrow it down to something like "on Internet discussion forums" or "on protest signs." There's an unofficial idea called "Godwin's Law" that essentially says that if an argument on the Internet goes on long enough, it will almost always bring up Hitler or the Nazis, and on some forums, as soon as you bring up the topic, everyone will say you've just automatically lost the argument. (That you've "Godwinned the argument.") I'm really interested in the way that people on both sides of the political spectrum refer to Hitler in really strange ways when they're making their points. I've seriously seen, for example, arguments saying that it's evil to persecute homosexuals because the Nazis did it, and arguments saying that homosexuality is evil because most Nazis were secretly gay. I think I'd like to look at the way it's used in different kinds of circumstances.

It's a sort of difficult open-ended question, and I might end up having to tweak it a little, since there's not a single definite answer. What I mostly want to argue, I think, is that invoking Hitler/Nazism is almost never a logical or reasonable claim to support an argument, and recommend that people should just stop doing it in general. I think I can find sufficient evidence to support that, even though ultimately the paper's conclusion would largely be my subjective opinion.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gladwell blog - due 3/21/11

Fairly standard blog. The reading is in the course reader - Malcolm Gladwell's "Something Borrowed." Our first class meeting after break is going to be talking about plagiarism, in a slightly more complicated way than you may be used to. We tend to treat it like it's a very simple issue, but, in a lot of cases, it's much more complicated than it appears. So, the blog assignment:

First paragraph - same ol', same ol'. Try to give me a one-paragraph summary of the piece that starts with a main claim (thesis statement) that you then support. This is kind of tricky, because in a lot of ways, Gladwell asks more questions than he answers. If you get totally stuck, think about starting it with something like, "Gladwell asks whether . . ." so you can indicate that the final point is fairly open-ended.

Second paragraph - just react, again. Good, bad, weird, whatever. I think this is a really interesting way to think about plagiarism. Did Gladwell's piece make you question your ideas at all? I hope you at least thought it was interesting. I think it's fairly well-written, but, in the past, I've had students become confused about the sequence of events in th eessay because of how many people are involved in the thing (two writers and one plagiarist). So do, please, use this space to ask questions if you can't figure out just what the heck happened.