Coming to Terms with Issues

For this short assignment (500-700 words), you should start to work toward analyzing and responding to the main text that you will address further in Paper 3. This text should make an argument or take a position in response to a public or academic issue. For both the short assignment and the paper, we want to draw on Harris’s (2006) notions of “coming to terms” and “countering” so that we can better understand the position represented in the text and how we can push back against it or offer an alternate way of addressing the issue.

One challenge will be choosing a text to analyze and counter. This text might be a speech, an article, a film or documentary, an interview, or something else along these lines – anything that makes an argument or takes a position in response to a public or an academic issue. If you do not already have a text in mind, it could help to start looking for a text by focusing either on a particular issue or person. If you know that you want to focus on, for example, race relations, poverty, climate change, or some other public issue, you can use this issue as a framework or search term to find texts that address it. If you know that you want to focus on a particular person – perhaps a politician like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, a journalist, an activist, or someone else contributing to public conversations – you can look through texts that this person has authored.

Once you have a text to address, your writing should address the following prompts:

  • Before you work toward countering the text, you should first “come to terms” with it. How would you define the author’s project? What is the purpose of the text? What is the main issue that it addresses, and what argument or position does it take in response to the issue? What are the main claims, examples, evidence, and/or counterarguments the author offers to support the argument?
  • In what ways is the text effective in making its argument? Regardless of the extent to which you agree with the text, why might some people agree with this text’s thinking? What sort of beliefs, values, or assumptions does it appeal to?
  • What do you see as the limitations of the text’s position? What does it fail to address or consider? These questions give you an opportunity to take up Harris’s notions of “arguing the other side,” “uncovering values,” and “dissenting.” In this sense, can you attach “a positive value to something [the text] denigrates or a negative value to what [the text] applauds” (p. 60)? Can you uncover any hidden values in the text that limit its understanding of the issue? Can you show how this text contributes to a consensus about the issue “so you can then define your position against” this consensus (p. 64)?