WRT 105: Analysis, Argument, and Academic Writing: Project 2

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Fall 2007
TR 7-8:20 | UC118
Section U002 | No. 22430

Project 2: Geographies of Invention

Unit Readings
David Sibley, "Introduction to Geographies of Exclusion," CEWT, pp. 547-556
Nick Paumgarten, "Getting There: The Science of Driving Directions"
Steven Flusty, "Thrashing Downtown: Play as Resistance to the Spatial and Representational Regulation of Los Angeles," CEWT, pp. 175-188
Sara Ahmed, "Recognising Strangers," CEWT, pp. 19-34
"No Photography Allowed," Student essay on Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Selections from Writing Analytically

The American landscape often seems like little more than a crowded tapestry of gas stations and Quick-E-Marts, 7-Elevens and burger joints, massive concrete Parkstructures shoulder to shoulder with plywood sheds, wires and cables crisscrossing the heavens-the whole thing saturated with layers of signs and billboards that float in mid-air, disrupting the continuity of experience like a webpage littered with pop-ups-all connected by an intricate network of highways breeding highways breeding shopping malls and bourgeois residential utopias. We could also describe this landscape as a series of affluent (but anxious) islands, fully equipped with guarded perimeters and cutting-edge surveillance technologies, buttressed on all sides by an ever-expanding sea of impoverishment, disempowerment, and decay. These are the spaces we inhabit.

For Unit 2, I would like each of you to explore this landscape, focusing specifically on the spaces from which you emerged as well as the particularities and peculiarities of those spaces. Like social cartographers setting out on a ground-truthing expedition, we will devote the greater part of the next five weeks to an ongoing investigation of this omnipresent "culture of congestion" in an attempt to determine the role it plays in our designed environment, as well as the rules it presupposes for social interactions in such Intersectenvironments. Space, in all its complexity, will constitute our shared object of study.

Writing Assignment
Unit 2 lasts five weeks and culminates in a 5-7 page analysis essay. Each of you will build upon the work you've done in Unit 1-observing, describing, interpreting-only this time you will analyze the spaces and geographies of your hometown. Think of the essay as an opportunity to register an encounter with a place you know well (street, house, neighborhood, etc.), where your life and the social forces that surround you connect and collide. Our collective goal for this unit is to generate meanings about spaces, identities, and cultural beliefs and practices. Toward this end, each of you will:

1) attempt to understand a particular place in relation to its broader social and political context;
2) attempt to make provocative claims about what the spaces of the locale illustrate, conceal, reveal and celebrate; and
3) try to generate new ideas and theories for the rest of the class--and your audience--to consider, challenge, and complicate.

Unit 2 is also intended to serve as an introduction to the conventions of academic discourse. We will spend significant time over the next five weeks practicing critical reading strategies-annotating, summarizing, paraphrasing, unpacking, responding-by carefully reading and grappling with some complex texts. We'll also examine each not just for what the author says but also for how the author says it. In other words, we'll be reading these texts rhetorically to begin making sense of the contexts--historical, social, political, cultural--in which these texts were written, the author's explicit and/or implicit reasons for writing the text, the structure of the essay, the claims and evidence, and so on.

We'll work at making analytic claims, writing rich descriptions, and recognizing and articulating connections between personal experiences or memories and larger cultural issues (like race, gender, class, ability, sexuality, ethnicity, education, etc.). From our careful readings and discussions of these texts, and from your own "memory work," interpretations, and observations, you should be ready to richly describe, analyze, and make claims about the connections between your chosen site and larger cultural, social, and political spaces.

Along with the issues of inclusion and exclusion, you’ll also want to keep in mind the following additional questions or prompts as you pursue your analysis for Unit Two:

  • Is your chosen site located in an urban, suburban, or rural region?
  • What are some of the relationships between your town and the people or places in neighboring areas?
  • What are the component parts of the space? Memorable identifiers?
  • What kinds of people or identities emerge from the space?
  • Is this predominantly a space of production or consumption? Is one form of labor privileged over another?
  • How is your chosen site composed in terms of race, class, age, or religious affiliation?
  • What are some of the power relationships revealed or obscured by the space?
  • How is the history of your town grounded in its buildings and structures?
  • What ideologies are embedded in the landscape (at the level of billboards, bumper stickers, symbols, and icons)?
  • What is the relationship in your locale between natural and built environments?
  • Is the community devoting resources to development, or conservation? Is it building new homes, or restoring old ones?
  • Where are the “dead spaces” or “wastelands” in your community? How are these “unprogrammed” spaces (local streets, courtyards, sidewalks, apartment staircases, vacant lots) occupied by teenagers or adolescents?
  • Is the community composed of spaces that encourage boredom or engagement?

Just because there is pressure on you (the "I" of the essay) to be critical in your Gridexamination of a specific location, that doesn't mean you will be working all alone. That's one of the ways secondary sources can help. Your analysis will be both richer and more persuasive when you contextualize your claims in some way, offering your readers some insight into larger cultural forces and phenomena. You are asked to reference at least 2 of the readings for this unit. We will spend time in class discussing and practicing incorporating these readings into your own analysis.

The first step of the assignment is to pick a location (street, house, lot, block, park, etc.) that you would like to examine in more detail. It will be important for you to move beyond narration and description, in order to examine the details of your location carefully enough to be able to explore what it means, what it suggests, and why it seems significant. As Rosenwasser and Stephen claim in Writing Analytically: "[t]he process of noticing, of recording selected details and patterns of detail (analysis), is already the beginning of interpretation" (39). There is no predetermined formula to follow or structure to imitate as you attempt to organize your essay, but your writing and critical thinking are bound to be more successful if you adhere to the following suggestions:

  • Provide readers with a rich, detailed description of your site, so that they can imagine the space for themselves
  • Keep your narrating to a minimum, and make sure that any stories you tell serve the purpose of supporting a claim.
  • Make regular, repeated references back to the details of the space. Readers will appreciate being reminded of what you see and why it's noteworthy.
  • Let your discoveries, insights, realizations, claims, or theories serve as the driving force behind the essay. In other words, make these things prominent-use them to create shifts or transitions as you build paragraphs or make your way from one discussion to another.
  • Keep in mind an academic audience that is ready to challenge ideas that are unsupportable, over-generalized, obvious, or poorly articulated.

However, it won’t be sufficient to narrate your personal experience of the space, or simply to describe its various features. These are all important aspects of analysis (in other words, things that you’ll want to include in your paper), but you can’t stop there. Ultimately you’ll need to ask questions about the space: Who is it for? Whom does it exclude? How are these prohibitions maintained in practice?

Invention Portfolio (IP) Contents
May include but are not limited to:

  • Maps of imagination and memory: Where from?
  • Sibley's "Introduction" to Geographies of Exclusion: sites and claims
  • 10 on 1 Analysis, p. 38
  • Spatial analysis list: materials, activities, moods
  • Ground-truthing: Contrastive routes.
  • Draft of the essay (3+ pp.)
  • Invention Portfolio cover letter

Bonus Pieces

  • Spatial constraints on the expected and unexpected (one paragraph)

Evaluation Criteria

[1] How well does the title provocatively and productively focus the reader's attention?

[2] How effectively does the writer organize the essay, with a focusing idea, thesis, or umbrella claim, and with good transitions between sections?

[3] How well does the writer provide a rich, detailed description of the site as well as analysis variations related to "while this space appears to be x, it is really y" and "so what"?

[4] How well does the writer develop specific, analytical claims about a particular place while providing prescise, nuanced evidence, including memory work, to nest the claims?

[5] Does the writer frame the analysis with formal citations to at least two carefully chosen and appropriately supportive outside texts, either from the assigned reading or the recommended web sites?

[6] How well does the writer make things explicit (e.g., details, not generalizations; claims, not clichés)?

[7] How well did the writer address surface level matters related to grammar, style, and usage?

Contact Information
Derek Mueller
Office: HBC 002
Fall '07 office hours: Thur., 8:20-9:20 p.m. (after class)
Phone: (315) 443-1785