This course explores the role of rhetoric in constituting public problems. The driving question of this course asks how a problem becomes a public problem, and in answering this question, we will uncover the rhetorical forces and strategies that shape, frame, and mobilize a public’s recognition of difficult problems. We will use a series of case studies on topics ranging from homelessness, climate change, contemporary race relations, the opioid epidemic, gender inequality, and rising mental health rates, among others, to practice skills in analyzing, evaluating, and producing communication, images, stories, and artifacts of public life. We will read a range of texts including editorials, Twitter feeds, memoirs, websites, infographics, songs, public performances, Facebook posts, position papers, maps, and films, among others. Writing assignments will ask students to engage with narrative writing, information gathering, glitching, and writing in public.

We will be asking:

  • What is the constitutive power of language in defining and discussing a “public” problem?
  • What are the available means that contribute to justifying public attention?
  • How have digital spaces changed how we argue and deliberate publicly?
  • By analyzing public problems, how might we better understand the norms and practices of public culture?

Please feel free to browse the syllabus, schedule, and course assignments for English 201!