Sunday, September 27, 2009

America's Best Idea

Is anybody else watching the new Ken Burns doc on National Parks? The discourses of nature deployed both in the guiding conceits of the piece itself as well as in evidence in some of the most moving materials it cites are enormously interesting for our course-community. Some marvelous stuff so far in ep 1, do others agree, disagree?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Co-facilitating Discussions and Writing a Precis

One of the key assignments for our course will be your co-facilitation of class discussion of one of the assigned texts. This assignment also requires that you generate a précis of the text you are taking responsibility for. This precis should provide a point of departure for your contribution to the discussion in class, and you should publish it to the blog the day before class to give everybody a chance to think about the text in the terms that interest you.

Think of this precis as a basic paraphrase of the argumentative content of a text. Here is a broad and informal guide for a precis, consisting of questions you should always ask of a text as you are reading it, and again after you have finished reading it. Don't treat this as an ironclad template, but as a rough approach to producing a precis -- knowing that a truly fine and useful précis need not necessarily satisfy all of these interventions.

A precis should try to answer fairly basic questions such as:

1. What, in your own words, is the basic gist of the argument?

2. To what audience is it pitched primarily? (Do you see yourself as part of that intended audience, and how does your answer impact your reading of the argument?) Does it anticipate and respond to possible objections?

3. What do you think are the argument's stakes in general? To what end is the argument made?

a. To call assumptions into question?
b. To change convictions?
c. To alter conduct?
d. To find acceptable compromises between contending positions?

4. Does it have an explicit thesis? If not, could you provide one in your own words for it?

5. What are the reasons and evidence offered up in the argument to support what you take to be its primary end? What crucial or questionable warrants (unstated assumptions the argument takes to be shared by its audience, often general attitudes of a political, moral, social, cultural nature) does the argument seem to depend on? Are any of these reasons, evidences, or warrants questionable in your view? Do they support one another or introduce tensions under closer scrutiny?

6. What, if any, kind of argumentative work is being done by metaphors and other figurative language in the piece? Do the metaphors collaborate to paint a consistent picture, or do they clash with one another? What impact does this have on their argumentative force?

7. Are there key terms in the piece that seem to have idiosyncratic definitions, or whose usages seem to change over the course of the argument?

As you see, a piece that interrogates a text from these angles of view will yield something between a general book report and a close reading, but one that focuses on the argumentative force of a text. For the purposes of our class, such a precis succeeds if it manages

(1) to convey the basic flavor of the argument and
(2) provides a good point of departure for a class discussion.

Needless to say, in our course it will always be in point to direct our attention to the interplay of the discourses of nature we have been elaborating, to point out the ways in which argumentative strategies, assumptions, problems, figures, frames recur in the piece under discussion in variations familiar from earlier texts, and so on.


You'll notice that I've updated assignments for Reports on the syllabus. Always just a click away. More updates on the way. Veeeeeery exciting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Schedule for In-Class Reports

You need not know what campaign, site, or project you will be reporting on when you sign up, so pick a date based on your sense of scheduling demands, thematic resonances with your own concerns in a broad sense, and that sort of thing. Please sign up via the Comments to this post, and I'll add your names on a first-come, first-served basis. No more than two reports should take place on any given day.

Week Three | Deep Ecology and Deep Economy

Tuesday, September 15
Thursday, September 17

Week Four | Political Ecology, Green Urbanity

Tuesday, September 22
Thursday, September 24

Week Five | Eco-feminism

Tuesday, September 29
Thursday, October 1

Week Six | Environmental Justice

Tuesday, October 6
Thursday, October 8

Week Seven | Eco-socialism and Social Ecology

Tuesday, October 13
Thursday, October 15

Week Eight | Natural Capitalism and Greenwashing

Tuesday, October 20
Thursday, October 22

Week Nine | Bright Green or Dim? Sustainable Technoculture

Tuesday, October 27
Thursday, October 29

Week Ten | From Agriculture to Polyculture

Tuesday, November 3
Thursday, November 5

Week Eleven | Green Eats

Tuesday, November 10
Thursday, November 12

Week Twelve | Extracting Ourselves From Extraction

Tuesday, November 17
Thursday, November 19

Week Thirteen | Toxic World

Tuesday, November 24
Thursday, November 26 Thanksgiving Holiday

Week Fourteen | Green Ethos

Tuesday, December 1
Thursday, December 3

Aftermath | Reading/Review/Recitation Period -- Finals Week

Thursday, December 10 -- Extended Office Hours Off-Campus
Monday, December 14: Take-Home Final Exam Due

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


If the Thoreau seems overwhelming given the Emerson and Leopold we are taking up, focus on these sections especially:

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
The Village
Baker Farm
Brute Neighbors

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Today's Film

Remember, we are screening the film "An Inconvenient Truth" in class this evening. Although most of you have seen the film before, this time you will be watching it with a rhetorician's eye, taking notes throughout.

You should pay attention to pathos, logos, and ethos moves, that is to say, appeals to emotions (fear, greed, hope), appeals to clarity (logical clarity as in relations of conclusions to premises or to evidence, definitional clarity, organizational clarity as in the provision of distinctions to relieve conceptual tensions or the organization of a case into easily digestable chunks or an easily digestable narrative or serial order), or appeals to character, through the presentation of the arguer as reliable, admirable, authoritative, one-of-us, etc.

You should pay attention to argumentative strategies that seem to aim to interrogate assumptions, or to seek to convince audiences to change their minds, or seek to persuade them to change conduct, or seem to aim to find ways to compromise in the face of irreconcilable or intransigent aspirations.

You should pay attention to strategies that seem to assume sympathetic, unsympathetic, and apathetic audiences, differences in levels of awareness among audiences, differences in the positionality of audiences, nationality (how would appeals to patriotism play to non-American audiences, for example?), gender, class, race, age, education, and so on, as well as strategies that seem to solicit audience identification or dis-identification and how these change over the course of the argument.

You should pay attention to pacing, volume, lighting, arrangement of the visual field, location of the protagonist (when is he speaking directly to you? when is he in voice-over?), to documentary footage, computer graphics, tables and charts, cartoons, and what kinds of claims seem to accompany these differences.

Your assignment is to write a paragraph (and publish it here on our blog by midnight Sunday at the latest) that makes an observation about a striking moment or recurring feature in the film as an argument.

It can be something that you regard as especially effective, or perplexing, or misleading, whatever. But it must be something that highlights a relation between two or more of the discourses of nature that I spoke to you about in our first lecture. It can be a scene in which two discourses of nature are juxtaposed, in which they complement each other, in which they compete with each other, in which they contradict each other in your view, either directly in play in some scene, or through a call-back to some earlier discourse, or as a strangely different framing of some scene compared to earlier variations in the film.

Whatever, all that is up to you.

These other things I mention you should be attending to -- visuality, pacing, Aristotelian appeals, aims of argument, solicitations of identity, and so on -- may provide the questions, the material, the language you use to describe what it is you take to be salient in the scene you are using to compare these two discourses of nature as they play out in the argument of the film.

Think about all of this before you go to class tonight, think back on the film if you have seen it before, get into an observant frame of mind, prepare to look for details in an active way rather than simply getting carried away in the argumentative/narrative flow of the film itself. See you all soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Please review, revise, and edit: 6 "discourses" of nature

These are from first class 8/27, words of Dale. They are not complete so please feel free to add what you've got (explanations, clarifications, corrections, additional words etc) especially where there is a ... or ???

Nature #1: denotes known against supernatural (and knowable). Natural system of knowledge. Can't actually know the knowable

Nature #2: That which is susceptible to instrumentable description. scientific... [missing at least 2-3 sentences here] business of science is discovery or knowledge for prediction and control

Nature #3: conventional against nature. "its only natural" statistical behavior, normitivly...???

Nature #4: Nature/natural as wilderness against artifice and artificial. Ex: wilderness areas are artifacts, genocidal obliteration as human...[missing info here]

Nature #5: What is beyond utility in sublime indescribable in instrumental terms place in which nature can't be...reduced to instrumentality, immersion into creation (???)

Nature #6: Mark our imperfect on systems we depend never the less for our survival. "Precautionary principle" know enough to know we don't know enough.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Don't forget that you're going round the room, introducing yourselves to the community of the classroom, in two-to-two-and-a-half minutes' time. Some prepare for this sort of thing more than others do, obviously, but I recommend that everybody have at least something on hand to turn to in the event you go blank or what have you. See you all soon.

By the way, all enrollees should be blog-vited at this point, let me know if there are problems.