Humanities Unit #1: What is Power? P. Lee-Muratori
Long Paper Assignment #1: Power and Language
“Two different, but not necessarily contradictory, views have advanced the relationship between power and language. One view holds that differences in language are simply a reflection of the way society works. Another view…claims that, far from merely reflecting the nature of society, language serves as a primary means of constructing and maintaining that society” (Susan Sellers)
“It is the world of words that creates the world of things” (Jacques Lacan)
First Draft Due: 10/11
Peer Discussion (both on-line at Turnitin.com and in class): 10/15
Reflection for Revision: 10/22
Final Draft: 7-10 pages, 10/29
Writing Conferences with me are available as needed. My schedule is posted on the wall outside the English office. I am also available before and after school most days (except Thursday) with an appointment.
MLA Format: 12 Font, New Times Roman, Double-spaced, 1-inch margins, MLA
Heading and Citations, and Works Cited page
Through our class reading of William Shakespeare’s Richard III, David Mamet’s Oleanna, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and our viewing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, and partial episodes of Mad Men, The Sopranos, House, and Harry’s Law, we have explored various ways in which power is expressed and exerted through language. In addition, we have read sociolinguistic essays that analyze the power of language in relation to age, race, gender, religion, class, and education/profession (Lackoff, Tannen, McElhinny, Gilmore, West, and Kramarae). Through all of this study, we have made observations about the struggle for power between and among those who have it and those who are blocked/oppressed/marginalized/objectified/demonized (or any combination thereof) in order to prevent them from achieving equality. As language is a mirror for the values of a culture and “power language” is a set of strategies to control those who are less powerful, studying discourse can reveal how language can instigate, enact, promote, and legitimate abuse by the powerful against the less powerful.
Your job is to choose one of the texts we have worked with in class and pair it with a text you have independently explored to generate an inquiry in which you are interested. The outside text may be an Independent Reading book (from the Supplementary list on-line), novel, essay, article, film, short story, commercial, or music video. You are bringing these two sources together in order to push our conversation about power and language forward in a new way.
Start organizing your thoughts with a basic reflection in which you explore what kind of power you are interested in and what secondary source you want to use. Then begin to narrow your focus on how your two chosen texts interact. What do you learn about one through the lens of the other? What are you saying about the conflict of power between/among races, genders, classes, education/professions, or other social/cultural dynamic you isolate? What do you gain by identifying this conflict? What will your audience gain in learning about power struggles within your paper?
Your project hinges on developing an arguable thesis. As discussed in class, successful theses should consist of an observation, and why these observations matter to a reader. What is their significance?
Some questions to start your investigation:
*If you have an approach you would like to pursue that differs from the ideas above, run it by me before getting started. I am interested in your choices of topic and text. The best papers are those which are generated by your own interests, passions, and curiosity.