This unit takes our thinking in a new direction, turning from the analysis of cultural texts to participation in public and political conversations. Rather than focusing on concepts, we will focus on positions that people take in response to public issues. We will take up our class readings not as sources to draw on in our papers but rather as models of the writing move that Joseph Harris (2006) describes as “countering.” Our work in this unit will allow you to focus on a public issue – such as race relations in the United States, poverty, climate change, or the economy – or an academic issue relevant to your major. You will ultimately be making your own argument in response to this issue, but following Harris’s thoughts on countering, you will do so by building off of and responding to another text. For our writing assignments this unit, we will also be switching from MLA to APA, and this will have implications not only for how we format citations but also how we engage with our research and structure our arguments.
Our switch from MLA to APA will affect our writing process in this unit, particularly in terms of research. In cultural studies and the humanities (where MLA is more prevalent), scholars frequently draw on sources in order to refine their analysis of a cultural artifact. Making an argument through cultural analysis is often less a matter of saying that someone else is wrong than showing how we can analyze a text in a new way. In the social sciences (where APA is more prevalent), scholars frequently draw on sources not to respond to them directly or to draw on them for analysis but rather to map out a larger conversation so that they can situate their own research and argument within it. For our purposes in this unit, you will need to adjust your research goals accordingly, and this will also affect how you organize your paper and develop your argument.
Building on our literacy practices from the first two units, our observations will focus on public texts and the positions that they take in response to public issues. Conceptually, we will turn from focusing on broader concepts for analysis (creativity, gender, adulthood, empathy, etc.) to thinking about how we frame these public issues. In terms of analysis, we will turn from the meaning and significance of a text to analyzing its argument and effectiveness in addressing an issue. We will apply what we learn from this analysis by advancing our own positions in response to the issue.
In this unit, Harris’s notion of “countering” will help us take up a particular position or argument and push back against it in some way, offering alternative perspectives or approaches to an issue. For Harris, forwarding can be described as in terms of saying “Yes, and…” to an author’s thinking, while countering works more as a “Yes, but…” (p. 56). In this case, you will take up one main text that offers an argument in response to a public issue, and your challenge will be to counter it in some way.