Unit 1 - Mapping a Controversy
You will begin this unit by selecting and securing your instructor’s approval for a specific controversy to study throughout the semester. Select something that matters to you and that is complex enough to sustain your interest and attention for 16 weeks. A controversy usually involves a debate among several people or groups about an issue, event, or cause; if you’re unable to discern more than two distinct positions regarding an issue, you’ve likely found not a controversy but a mere difference of opinion. Still, it’s not unusual for a diverse range of perspectives to be hidden under oppositional language, such as “pro versus con,” “good versus bad,” or even “Republican versus Democrat,” so you’ll have to read carefully and with an eye out for subtle distinctions. Remember also that people who share a similar position may hold that position for very different reasons. A major goal of this unit is to cultivate an appreciation for the wide range of differences—some subtle, some dramatic—among viewpoints within a single controversy and therefore to combat the usual tendency to think that any controversy comes down to a simple opposition.
Ultimately, you will be asked in Unit I to produce an essay that details the history of your selected controversy, maps out the central (and perhaps a few marginal) positions held in regard to it, examines the stakes of each position, and explores the ways in which the positions are interrelated (dependent upon one another). The assignment will require descriptive analysis rather than evaluation or argumentation; at this early stage, your particular position concerning this controversy is beside the point. You are to remain neutral as you survey the scene for us.
To prepare yourself for this task, you’ll need to do some research, go beyond the obvious and seek a nuanced understanding of what’s at issue and for whom in this controversy. Begin by finding and studying several sources pertaining to it; read broadly and with the aim of determining the greatest concerns for each position, what if anything the various positions hold in common, and how the arguments made by one position influence those made by another. Then select the 3 or 4 sources that best express this controversy’s major positions. You’ll work closely with those selected sources for this first assignment.