Previous Research Guide
Hatred is by far [our] longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure." —George Gordon, Lord Byron
In this course, we will look at the role of the misanthrope in modern society, and at how representations of misanthropes (or people who hate mankind) are rhetorically constructed in literature, music, film, and TV. What are the "pleasures of hating?" How does the figure of the individual isolated by negativity rhetorically appeal to modern sensibilities? Our study of misanthropy will range from figures like Poe and Pynchon, to literary characters in Dickens and Robert Lewis Stevenson. We will also examine misanthropic behavior in film and television, like Dr. House, and in music like that of The Misfits. And all of our examples will be grounded by a close study of the rhetorical mechanisms of misanthropy.
As such, the two central questions of this course will be how misanthropy is rhetorically constructed as a set of behaviors, and what role (if any) the misanthrope has in contemporary culture. We will accordingly conclude our course readings with a look at the phenomenon of anti-social behavior in an age increasingly dominated by social media. What happens to hating in an age in which a social media platform like Facebook only allows one to publicly "like" things—never to "dislike" them? Examining how such anti-social tendencies sit uncomfortably with the projects of social media will help us better understand both the concept of misanthropy and the ways such rhetorical constructions work in our own contemporary culture.
In a culture that rewards people who write and speak with conviction, ambivalence often seems like a personal shortcoming that must be remedied with certainty. Isn't it better to be confident and decisive? Writing teachers and textbooks tend to reinforce this view, insisting that students present a strong thesis as soon as possible. Even if you address counterarguments and offer concessions, your argument should override if not demolish them in the end. Even if you feel deeply ambivalent about a topic during your research, your final draft must demonstrate unwavering conviction: you slam your fist and make your point.
New research by Stanford professor Zakary L. Tormala indicates that this might be a mistake: "Our key finding is that although non-experts become more persuasive by expressing high certainty about their opinions, experts can become more persuasive by expressing some uncertainty."
What if, instead of sweeping your ambivalence under the rug, you tried to embrace it in your research and foreground it in your writing? Is ambivalence always a liability? What advantages can be found in the deep, risky waters of uncertainty? How do scientists, social scientists, and humanists regard ambivalence? What do ambivalent texts look and feel like? Can they move and persuade us? Is it possible to map and tap into a rhetoric of ambivalence?
In this course, we'll explore such questions in an attempt to understand the relationship between ambivalence and persuasion. We'll analyze and discuss the ways that writers such as Annie Dillard, Stephen Jay Gould, and Michael Pollan not only engage their ambivalence but weave it into their prose. Most importantly, we'll explore how you can develop rhetorical strategies and habits of mind to achieve results in your own analytical and persuasive writing. We'll study how to craft compelling arguments that do fuller justice to complex emotions and ideas.
In America we are too often guilty of thinking in stereotypes. A stereotype makes an argument; it is an attempt to categorize individuals or groups according to an oversimplified standardized image or idea. What some people call "stereotypes," one psychologist argues are what scientists call "empirical generalizations;" conceding that the only problem with stereotypes and empirical generalizations is that they are not always true for all individual cases. Are they ever true?
In this course we will examine how stereotypes are developed, barriers created, and misunderstandings magnified. We will seek to understand the powerful effects of stereotypes and their lasting, negative impacts. Focusing on the experience of American Indians, our aim is a broader look at American culture and how Americans culturally classify or stereotype one another based on gender, age, income or race.
Stereotypes are everywhere: we'll look at traditional written texts, images, ads, films, speeches, and multimedia displays. You will choose a group of your own interest (in America) to research and analyze, drawing on the tools of rhetoric to analyze stereotyping of your chosen group. Key questions include: How pervasive are stereotypes? What purpose do they seem to serve—what leads people to employ them, accept them, or reject them? How do they affect audiences—do they persuade or dissuade? Does their impact or effect depend on context? For example, because of time limits most television programs develop identities of characters as quickly as possible; to accomplish this in a short time frame television writers often use stereotypes. A sitcom stereotype may be less controversial than a stereotype in a politician's speech, but what about its long-term effects?
The course begins with an investigation into the “framing rhetoric” of sporting events, particularly the rhetorical use of narrative in Olympic media coverage. From there, we will delve into the narrative genre by studying and practicing creative nonfiction writing. Students will write a series of sports-based narrative and profile essays. In addition to the written work, each student will engage in visual rhetoric by creating either multimedia projects (video, photo essays, performances, etc) or multimedia elements for their written pieces.
This particular PWR 91 course is linked to the Athletic Department’s Home of Champions campaign, a project that celebrates Stanford’s student-athlete heritage through storytelling. The essays written in PWR 91 will be published via the Home of Champions campaign. This course is open to all Stanford students, as the Home of Champions project seeks to showcase a wide range of voices.