Previous Research Guide
We have entered the creative age, a "design economy" some thinkers argue; we're all designers now. "Design thinking" is one name for this new world, where creativity, attention to human experience, and collaboration are key parts of innovation. Businesses were the first to embrace this new approach to problem-solving; now nonprofits pursue the same path. Whether the goal is a new toothbrush, a new web page, a new health care campaign, a new educational program, or even a research project, "design thinking" brings surprising benefits to people and institutions. Design thinking helps connect ideas about the nature of the world and how we should live our lives to practical action and the creation of diverse kinds of products and experiences. You'll experience this is this course.
We will read works about play and creativity (by Tim Brown of IDEO), the history of design thinking (Professor David Kelley of Stanford's d.school), and the rhetoric of design (Professor Richard Buchanan) and debate the implementation of their ideas in our own work. Using design thinking, you will choose a project idea and pursue research that will culminate in a research-based essay as well as a live oral presentation. This research can be in the area of design studies: you could conduct an inquiry into a material product, like the iPod or a museum, or the new infant incubator or fashion item. You can take on a wicked or messy design problem that challenges our world today: What to do with plastic water bottles? How to negotiate cultural collision when trying to bring healthcare across borders? As you move forward with your individual research, our class will be approaching design from a rhetorical perspective: our hypothesis will be that all products—digital and analog, tangible and intangible—are vivid arguments about how we should lead our lives.
This course approaches business bestsellers through one of their most characteristic devices: the case study, or single example that illuminates a larger idea. The case study makes compelling reading but risks reducing a complex situation to a three-word slogan. We will sample case studies from a range of business bestsellers, including The Tipping Point (2000) and What the Dog Saw (2009) by Malcolm Gladwell, and Freakonomics (2005) by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. We will also consider the criticisms made of these texts, particularly the charge that these works rely on the oversimplification of their subjects to make their claims. We will scrutinize bestseller rhetoric—their clear, persuasive, and readable style, the structure of their arguments, and their use and abuse of logic.
The goal of this course is not to learn to write a bestseller, but a research paper. If bestsellers use simplified case studies to illustrate a single point, a research paper incorporates multiple factors and perspectives. By the end of the course, you will have investigated a particular problem or situation in the business world in order to take a stand on a debate that interests you. For instance, you might look at the future of creative entrepreneurship, intellectual property, labor practices or the relations between business and government, or business and the environment.
Each day thousands of social media users join "awareness groups" that draw attention to the human rights violations occurring around the globe. Groups like "Save Darfur" and "ONE" provide social media users with information about specific human rights violations and create opportunities for users to donate to specific initiatives intended to alleviate human suffering. How social media creates awareness about human rights abuses amongst its users is fascinating to explore from a rhetorical perspective because it allows us to ask the provocative, although oft ignored question: How do we write the wrongs we hope to right?
In other words, how do human rights groups use words, images, and social media to bring their respective problems to the attention of the public? Our work in this course will begin with an examination of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, this document continues to supply the definition of "human" that informs the legislative decisions of governments all over the world, and provides the criteria by which the United Nations and other countries take political and military action against nations engaging in human rights abuses. We will examine a diversity of texts, from personal memoirs to philosophical treatise and of course social media sites, which address various human rights abuses, and, as we will see, many of these texts draw upon the language and tenets of the UDHR in order to write wrongs. At times, the texts we read and the films we watch will challenge our sensibilities and draw us toward somber reflection; however, we will also find moments to laugh together as we explore the rhetorical power of humor to provide levity and hope, two human responses often present in the face of tragedy.
Our work will be varied—we will write essays, make short films, and work closely with others—but ultimately our goal is to develop a nuanced understanding of the rhetorical power of language to create the "wrongs" that we somehow hope to right through awareness.
From one angle of vision, meat is just another thing we consume and matters in the same way as the consumption of paper napkins or SUVs—if to a greater degree. Try changing napkins at Thanksgiving though—even do it bombastically, with a lecture on the immorality of such and such a napkin maker—and you'll have a hard time getting anyone worked up. Raise the question of a vegetarian Thanksgiving, though, and you'll have no problem eliciting strong opinions—at least strong opinions. The question of eating animals hits chords that resonate deeply with our sense of self—our memories, desires, and values. —Jonathan Foer, Eating Animals, 264
Bill Clinton's recent decision to go (at least mostly) vegan, Oprah going vegan for three weeks, Michael Pollan and the Omnivore's Dilemma, locavorism, "happy cows," food miles, "cruelty" free meat etc. The list goes on and on. It seems as though every day there is a new article about animals, food, and, frequently, their shared relationship to the environment.
In this course we will attempt to chart the rhetorical strategies used in this very large debate to try and understand all sides of the issues, preparing you to make better decisions and enabling you to help shape the future of the debate. We will look at the United Nations Report Livestock's Long Shadow to show how it uses rhetorical strategies to inaccurately inflate the importance of its conclusion. We will study how the Beef and Dairy industry, in turn, responded by using a similar strategy, to supposedly, "debunk" this same report. We will read excerpts from the Omnivore's Dilemma and an essay that critiques the Omnivore's Dilemma. And we will study how all of these issues are played out in the news media via their own rhetorical strategies. Throughout the course we will be asking two related questions: first, what are the similar rhetorical strategies that both sides of the debate engage in, and secondly, what do our rhetorical strategies around eating animals, and particularly their relation to the environment, tell us about ourselves as a society?
Whether you are a passionate vegan who wants to work at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or an National Rifle Association (NRA) member who goes on hunting expeditions in Africa, in this course you will be a scholar, charged with finding and evaluating new information, assessing and developing arguments, understanding and addressing complex problems and disparate audiences.