Rhetoric of Contemporary Politics
150 | D | CCN: 15207
Instructor: Anooj Kansara
Location: Dwinelle 223
M/W/F 1-3:30pm | 4 Units
From conspiracy theories and climate change denial, to ‘fake news’ and targeted disinformation campaigns on social media, controversies about matters of fact animate politics today. Yet debunking and fact-checking alone do not seem adequate to the task. This course explores the idea that ours is a ‘post-truth politics’.
Together we will examine lying, skepticism, paranoia, mistrust, and expertise in politics today and the recent past. Alongside scholarly texts and essays, we will read and watch films on conspiracy narratives, analyze their rhetorical strategies, and evaluate the efficacy of attempts to debunk them. We will also investigate the rhetoric of climate- change denial as well as activist campaigns in opposition. The next approach of the course is to explore the effects different media forms have on ‘post-truth politics’; to that end, students will write about an episode of a Twitter controversy, discuss impeachment hearings as covered by different news channels, research political candidates’ social media campaigns, and assess efforts to regulate platforms like Facebook to protect against disinformation. We will then draw on cases from different countries to develop a comparative approach to these problems. In addition to these activities and leading a seminar discussion, students will develop a final paper on a topic of their own choosing addressing our shared questions, which are:
What is novel, historically, about today’s ‘post-truth politics’?
How might we understand conspiracy narratives and their persistence as a way of making sense of the world?
What is the positioning of the truth-claims of science and other expert discourses in politics today?
By the end of the term, students will have deepened their analytic, interpretive, and critical thinking and writing skills essential not only for a broad range of majors in the social sciences and humanities, but also for navigating the political terrain of today.