Humanities Unit #1: What is Power? Dr. 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: 10/11/2019
Peer Discussion (both on-line at Turnitin.com and in class): 10/18/2019
Final Draft: 7-10 pages, 10/30/2019
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 Thursdays) 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 our viewing of scenes from Mad Men, The Godfather, House, and The Iron Lady, we have explored various ways in which power is expressed and exerted through language. In addition, we have discussed sociolinguistic studies 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?
• Observation: How does your choice text explore the topic of power and language? Does this text reinforce, resist, or subvert the dominant power in the culture of the day? How is this similar to your in-class text? How is it different? How does one inform the other? What does it tell you? How does it do so? How does it extend your knowledge regarding power struggles and language?
• Significance: How does the discussion of the two texts affect the reader? What do they learn about the nature of power and language? What is gained or lost in this representation of power?
Some questions to start your investigation if you need help:
• Who represents the Power in the texts? How does this character exert his/her power through language? What rhetorical strategies are used? Are they consistent between the two texts? Is this representation of power supportive or transgressive to the culture in which it occurs?
• Who qualifies as the "Other" in the texts? (Note: "Othering" is often used by societies and groups to exclude or subordinate those who are marginalized by the power hierarchy within the culture of the time.) Is it the same or a similar character, or does the Other differ wildly between the two texts? What purposes does the Other serve in these texts? Where are your texts’ Others found in relation to the rest of the society (are they an outsider or an insider)? What conclusions can you draw from your analysis of the Other?
• In the texts we have studied, the female characters often appear to be tragic victims who transform into manipulative heroines who bring down the male protagonist. What is the nature of the victimization, and what roles does it serve? How might the concept of "agency" complicate our readings of these characters? (Do they have their own agency, i.e. a means of exerting power or influence, or do they rely on the intervention of others?) What conclusions can you draw about the role of women in the cultures that explored this power struggle?
• There appears to be a strange dichotomy between the male protagonists in the texts we’ve studied: they serve as either villains or heroes, often within the same text. What characteristics distinguish between a male's role as hero or villain? Why might this dichotomy exist? Do you read these qualities as subversive or supportive of the dominant role men held within patriarchal society, or both?
*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 that are generated by your own interests, passions, and curiosity.