ENGL 206 A: Rhetoric in Everyday Life

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
CHL 015
Me at the Wordsworth Trust, Summer 2014
Shane R. Peterson

Syllabus Description:


Image result for colorado river drying up

Instructor: Shane Peterson

Email: shrp98@uw.edu

Class Time:  TTh 12:30 – 2:20PM

Class Location: CHI 015

Office Hours and Location: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:00 am–10:00 am (or by appointment) in Padelford B-37


Course Description

With the ever-increasing rise of global temperatures, sea levels, extreme weather events, and rates of mass extinction, it has become all but impossible not to address the pervasiveness of climate change in our public discourse. This crisis now affects our everyday existence whether we’re aware of it or not and has raised some serious philosophical, political, academic, artistic, and even spiritual questions about the future of humanity and our role as a species here on Earth. Therefore, this class will be devoted to studying the rhetoric(s) behind the climate crisis, namely how people argue, communicate, deliberate, and create meaning in light of this whole issue. We will discuss how both classical and more contemporary theories of rhetoric—dealing with inquiries of materiality, place, ecologies, bodies, affect, non-human entities, and non-Western rhetorics—should be applied to or reconfigured in this crisis. We will also cover a wide range of related topics, including climate denialism, scientific communication, environmental activism, climate justice, public policy, and apocalypticism. My hope is that we will use this opportunity to identify means of addressing the climate crisis in ways that are both ethical, equitable, productive, and hopeful for other people and species that we share this planet with.


Course Objectives

  1. Practice and apply critical reading skills that include the ability to critically analyze instances of rhetoric and other texts within their specific social, historical, academic, and cultural contexts
  2. Form complex, analytical claims supported with textual evidence in writing about theories of rhetoric
  3. Engage in collaborative, intellectual, generative discussions with other writers, rhetors, and scholars about topics related to rhetoric and the climate crisis


Content Notice

Because this isn’t a science course, the focus of this course isn’t necessarily the science behind this issue, though we will cover that material briefly and so far as it relates to our primary focus on rhetoric. In other words, we’ll mainly discuss how people communicate about this issue through the lens of rhetorical theory. We will also rely on the overwhelming consensus from scientific, academic communities that this issue is a material reality that affects everyone and everything on this planet. Finally, and most importantly, this can be an anxiety-inducing and emotionally charged topic, so self-care and compassion will be a priority for this course.


Course Materials

  • Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton
  • Losing Earth: A Recent History by Nathaniel Rich
  • The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh
  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

These are the only required “textbooks” for this course. All other reading materials—scholarly articles, chapters from other books, news editorials, and videos—will be made available to you through Canvas or will be texts that you select for your own research.


Course Schedule (subject to change)

Week 1: Course Introduction, the Climate Crisis, and Rhetorical Theory

Week 2: The Rhetoric of Science, New Media, and Scientific Journalism

Week 3: Public Policy, Environmental Legislation, and Land Rights

Week 4: Climate Skepticism and Anti-Environmentalism

Week 5: Activism, Climate Justice, and the Rhetorics of Protest

Week 6: Environmental Humanities and Climate Change "Art"

Week 7: New Materialism, Animal and Non-human Rhetorics

Week 8: Religious, Indigenous, and Non-Western Rhetorics

Week 9: Apocalypticism and Climate “Realism”

Week 10: Rhetorics of Hope and Resiliency

Assigned readings and assignment due dates related to these units will be announced on the Canvas announcement page and made available on the Canvas modules page about a week in advance. Any changes related to the schedule will be announced through email or in class.


Course Assignments (subject to change)

1) Assignment #1: Group Presentation

As opposed to simple group presentations, you and some groupmates will be in charge of more or less "teaching" assigned material to your peers, providing discussion questions tied to homework readings, and leading this discussion as though you were the instructors or formal researchers. You will treat this assignment as you would an academic conference presentation with a subsequent "Q&A session" afterword. Other groups will be in charge of providing additional questions or comments in response to the presentation to help contribute to this conversation.

2) Assignment #2: Project Proposal

Your second assignment will be a research proposal outlining your plan for the final paper (please see below). Treat this as a formal description of what your project is, what scholarly discourse you are contributing to, what theories of rhetoric you will engage, what your object of study will be, what methodologies you will employ, and what the overarching stakes of this topic are.

3) Assignment #3: Research Paper

Your final project will be the only traditional academic research paper that you will complete for this course. It will also function as your opportunity to apply rhetorical scholarship to a chosen topic related to the course theme, mainly to use the theories and methodologies that we’ll cover to analyze a specific instance(s) of rhetoric related to the climate crisis. You are allowed to write about any topic of your choosing so long as you follow these essential parameters along with the usual expectations of academic writing in the field of English.

All assignments will be graded on a 4.0 scale according to the UW grading scale. Prompts, rubrics, and deadlines for each assignment will be provided well in advance.


Weekly Discussion Posts

Throughout this class, you’ll be completing a series of eight guided discussion board posts on Canvas that will help you contextualize and utilize our course content. Each post should be 150 to 200 words along (or several sentences long) and either respond to the prompt directly or respond to another classmate's post. I will be grading these posts for completion (please see the "Participation Grade Contract" section below for more information), and while I won’t be directly responding to every post, be aware that I might draw upon your insights or have us revisit certain questions for in-class discussions.


Deadlines and Late Work

All major assignments and Canvas discussion posts are due at 11:59 pm on the Mondays on which they’re assigned (unless directed otherwise) and will be submitted online through Canvas. For the major assignments, if you are unable to meet any of these deadlines due to some sort of emergency, please let me know ahead of time if you need an extension, which will only be offered for extenuating circumstances. If you turn in an assignment late or are absent from the group presentations without my approval, you will receive no credit for your work, and I will not give feedback on that assignment. So please plan ahead, save your work often, and try not put things off until the last minute.


Course Participation

For the most part, this class will be structured as a reading-intensive seminar, meaning that the reading load will be extensive, and most of our class periods will consist of reading discussions, either in small groups or collectively, as opposed to traditional lectures from the instructor. So in order to foster a productive and enriched learning environment, I will expect everyone to come prepared each day with comments and questions about the readings in order to contribute to these conversations. I would also ask that everyone maintain a professional, welcoming atmosphere by not using technology like laptops or cellphones in ways that are distracting for others; not talking with yours peers while someone else has the floor and is speaking to the entire class (either the instructor or another classmate); and not being disruptive or disrespectful in general. We will be using a grading contract to assess everyone’s participation, which will be graded on a 4.0 scale, as described below.


Participation Grade Contract

In this course, we will use a grade contract system for participation, which enables you to be in more control over the grade you receive. I’ve created contracts for each grade option, with the obligations for each one listed on your handout and posted here on the syllabus. If you have any questions about these contracts at any point in the quarter, please come see me.


  • The participation choices for grades in this course are: 4.0, 3.7, 3.3, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0, or 0.0.
  • To earn a particular grade, your goal is to meet all the obligations assigned to it.
    • If you find out that you will not be able to meet an obligation (e.g. you are on a sports team with UW sanctioned travel and will miss a class session or if a family emergency comes up), then communicate with me as soon as possible so we can discuss alternative obligations.
    • If you accidentally miss an obligation, then you must communicate about this mistake with me and do an agreed upon “extra credit opportunity” assignment to make up for it. Extra credit opportunities can only be used up to three times. 
  • If you have any questions, you should communicate with me immediately. Please do not let confusion get in the way of your success.

What you can expect of me:

  • I will be available during my posted office hours. If I need to cancel office hours, I will provide additional hours when I will be available within one week, barring any illnesses or emergencies.
  • I will do my best to provide clear expectations for all homework assignments and major assignments and provide clarification for any questions asked before the assignment due date.
  • I will provide at least one week’s notice of any changes to the syllabus unless that change is to cancel an assignment or reading.
  • I will participate in class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways.
  • No writing assignment prompt will be posted less than two weeks before it is due.
  • If I mark any assignment as “incomplete” but you think otherwise, I will explain why.
  • When providing feedback, I will try to be as clear and prompt as possible, and I will answer any questions you have about your feedback.


Below are the contractual obligations for each grade. You can also use the checkboxes below to confirm your progress. Remember, you must meet these obligations to attain the grade you sign up for, but we can work together to create make-up work if need be (unless this becomes a habit and then we may have to re-evaluate your grade choice).

4.0 Participation Grade:

  • Participates in all class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways. 
  • Misses no more than one day of classroom activities as an unexcused absence.
  • Misses no more than one reading discussion post and turns in posts that are complete, thoughtful, professional, and engaging.
  • All major assignments are turned in on time and are complete by the day the project is due. (Stipulations for “completion” will be fully articulated in each assignment prompt.)
  • Comes to at least one office hour to discuss the course content.

3.7 Participation Grade:

  • Participates in all class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways.
  • Misses no more than two days of classroom activities as unexcused absences.
  • Misses no more than two reading discussion posts and turns in posts that are complete, thoughtful, professional, and engaging.
  • All major assignments are turned in on time and are complete by the day the project is due.
  • Comes to at least one office hour to discuss the course content.

3.3 Grade:

  • Participates in most class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways.
  • Misses no more than two days of classroom activities.
  • Misses no more than two reading discussion posts and turns in posts that are complete at the very least.
  • All major writing assignments are turned in on time and are complete by the day the project is due.

3.0 Grade:

  • Participates in most class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways but is occasionally engages in disruptive or unprofessional behavior (e.g. consistently coming in late, distracting others with inappropriate use of technology, talking about non-class related topics, etc.).
  • Misses no more than three days of classroom activities.
  • Misses no more than three reading discussion posts and turns in posts that are mostly complete.
  • One major writing assignment is turned in late or is incomplete.

2.5 Grade:

  • Participates in some class activities, but has a pattern of engaging in disruptive or unprofessional behavior.
  • Misses no more than four days of classroom activities.
  • Misses no more than four reading discussion posts or turns in mostly incomplete reading discussion posts.
  • One major writing assignment is turned in late or is incomplete.

2.0 Grade:

  • Participates in few of the class activities and has a pattern of engaging in disruptive or unprofessional behavior 
  • Misses more than four reading discussion posts and turns in mostly incomplete reading discussion posts.
  • Only one of the major writing assignments are turned in on time.

1.0 Grade:

  • Does not participate in class at all, is consistently disruptive, or engages in behavior that is overtly disrespectful to others.
  • Misses more than four reading discussion posts and turns in mostly incomplete reading discussion posts.
  • Only one of the major writing assignments are turned in on time

0.0-0.6 Grade:

  • Does not complete any of the assignments and reading discussion posts and is absent for a majority of the quarter.


Percentage Breakdown

Class Participation   20%

Discussion Posts        20%

Assignment #1            20%

Assignment #2            20%

Assignment #3            20%


Code of Conduct

We at the English department have a zero-tolerance rule for hate speech. According to the American Bar Association, hate speech is “any speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” While this could and does apply to many groups, one of the tenants of this course is that hate speech is violence, and this violence does not impact everyone equally. Rather, the force of their impacts is dependent on systems of power. Marginalized communities and people are vulnerable to and impacted by such speech in ways that groups or individuals in power are not. With this in mind, I will specify that I interpret “hate speech” to be any forms of speech that targets already vulnerable people/communities. Racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated in this course, nor will transphobia, homophobia, ableism, classism, or other statements or practices that uphold white supremacy. Violations of this code of conduct will result in removal from my classroom.


Language Policy

Class lectures and discussions as a whole will be conducted in English, and all class assignments must be completed in English. If English is not your first language and you are still in the process of learning it, do the best you can and remember that correct grammar isn’t as much of a priority as fulfilling the assignment requirements or applying the class material. Also, if you find it helpful, you’re more than welcome to write in another language for your personal class notes and talk with a partner (when appropriate) in that same language during breakout discussions. Bear in mind that many of the principles of rhetoric, writing, and research can be applied to other language contexts as well. Other resources for international students or multi-language learners (MLLs) are also available outside of class through the Odegaard Writing and Research Center, MLL Studios, and others. I will provide more information about these resources, but come see me if you have other questions or concerns.


Land Acknowledgment

The University of Washington acknowledges the Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations. We acknowledge the people–past, present, and future–of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh, the Duwamish Tribe, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and other tribes on whose traditional lands we study and work.


UW Statement on Religious Accommodation

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).


Disability Resources for Students

If you need any accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information can be found at http://www.washington.edu/students/drs. Though in any case, please let me know what accommodations I can make.


Q Center
The University of Washington Q Center builds and facilitates queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, trans, intersex, questioning, same-gender-loving, allies) academic and social community through education, advocacy, and support services to achieve a socially-just campus in which all people are valued. For more information, visit http://depts.washington.edu/qcenter/.


Counseling Center

UW Counseling Center workshops include support for a wide range of issues such as managing stress as a student, dealing with depression, handling issues involving mental health, experiencing culture shock as an international student, and much more. Check out available resources https://www.washington.edu/counseling/. Please don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help or let me know if any of these problems affecting your work in this class; I’m more than willing to make reasonable accommodations when necessary.


Writing Resources

There are two excellent writing resources here on campus at UW. Both are free of charge to students, and I would strongly encourage you to take advantage of them. The Odegaard Writing and Research Center allows you to schedule 45-minute tutoring sessions with a trained tutor to discuss your writing or specific assignments for any class. You may book these online at http://depts.washington.edu/owrc. Also, the CLUE Writing Center offers late-night drop-in tutoring on any academic topic at Mary Gates Hall. You can find more details about CLUE at http://depts.washington.edu/clue/dropintutor_writing.php.


Academic Integrity

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is blatantly presenting someone else’s ideas as your own and not citing them properly. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people’s work as long as you give them due credit through formal citations. As a matter of policy, any student caught plagiarizing in this class will be reported immediately to the College of Arts and Sciences, who may take disciplinary action. This is a matter I have zero tolerance for, and the university will deal with each instance seriously


Concerns or Complaints

If you have any concerns about or issues with the course, please come talk to me first. If you are not satisfied with my response, then you may get in touch with English Department Undergraduate Director, Jesse Taylor, at jot8@uw.edu.


Campus Safety

Preventing violence, harassment, or abuse is everyone’s responsibility. If you’re concerned about your safety or someone else’s, tell someone immediately and follow these guidelines:

  • Only call 911 if you or someone else are in clear, immediate danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence.
  • Don’t walk alone at night. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk at 206-685-WALK (9255).

Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies at https://www.washington.edu/alert.

Catalog Description: 
Introductory rhetoric course that examines the strategic use of and situated means through which images, texts, objects, and symbols inform, persuade, and shape social practices in various contexts. Topics focus on education, public policy, politics, law, journalism, media, digital cultural, globalization, popular culture, and the arts.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 29, 2019 - 10:50pm