G4: Rhetorics of Social Media I
Fight Club and Social Media: Turning to Electracy and Technology to Teach Argumentation
Eric James Stephens, Clemson University
When I taught argumentation, the importance of conceding evaded my students. After some reflection, I realized I needed a new plan. As a writing instructor, I’ve tried to show my students how the various principles of writing and argumentation permeate their lives even when they don’t see it, so I wanted to do the same with conceding and argumentation. I brought my love of movies and social media into the classroom to help students understand why “losing” can be so effective.
To frame the project theoretically and pedagogically, I turned to Ulmer’s electracy found in Internet Invention: “In electracy the body mood is augmented in the digital prosthesis and becomes capable of supporting sophisticated intelligence. Our larger project is to develop the educational practices (the rhetoric) for using the prosthesis. A literate person reasons on paper (text); an electrate person feels online (felt)” (2003). I wanted my students to see their rhetorical arguments (their sophisticated intelligence) on social media (their digital prosthesis), but I also wanted them to feel them like Ulmer’s electrate person.
Students should start a “fight” on social media—and lose it. This assignment will show students the value of conceding and critical thinking in their own writing and help them to see those principles in their day-to-day interactions on social media.
Part One: Introducing Losing (The Sophisticated Intelligence)
Whether in class or for homework, have each student watch these two TED Talk videos about argumentation:
Then lead the students in a discussion about the videos using these questions as guidelines:
- How does Daniel Cohen define arguments?
- Why do people argue in the academic sense?
- Why does “losing” an argument really mean you “win” the argument?
- Are good arguers better at “losing” arguments?
- Do most of us avoid being wrong?
- Why is the need to be right a problem for our culture?
- According to Kathryn Schulz, what are the three assumptions we make when we think other people are wrong?
- How do we avoid making those assumptions?
Part Two: Fight Club
After discussing the videos and the importance of being wrong during an argument, provide some context for the following scene from Fight Club:
In the preceding scene, the main character and founder of Fight Club, Tyler Durden, started a fight with an owner of a bar and intentionally lost it. After losing the fight, the owner of the bar allowed the club to continue meeting in his basement. Then, Tyler Durden gave each member of Fight Club their first homework assignment—to start a fight and lose it.
Part Three: Social Media (The Digital Prosthesis)
Now, introduce the writing portion of the assignment to your students. I recommend giving this assignment over the weekend to allow time for completion.
After watching the Fight Club scene within the context of the two TED talks, tell your students that their homework assignment is the same assignment in the scene—to start a fight and lose it. Using whichever social media platform they chose, students should make a strong claim and engage with others. In the process of that engagement, students should concede to a point another user makes. This serves several pedagogical purposes:
- Students will develop their sophisticated intelligence develop by engaging in argumentation.
- Students will use social media as a digital prosthesis to their learning.
- Students will feel uncomfortable by pushing their comfort zones.
- Students will see how others respond and what happens to the argument when they concede.
To turn in the assignment, students should take screenshots of the discussion. There are also two important recommendations I have after completing this assignment a few times:
- It is helpful to have students make their claims regarding their current research project. This way the assignment can serve multiple functions and illustrate that research can be a communal practice.
- Have an explicit discussion about the difference between argumentation and trolling.
Part Four: Class Discussion (Electrate Feeling)
With each student prepared with his or her discussion thread, have them divide into groups to explain and discuss their overall experience.
Then, lead the class in a discussion using the following questions as guidelines:
- What were some of the claims the students made?
- How long did it take for others to engage in the conversation?
- At what point did they conceded?
- What happened in the discussion thread when they conceded?
- How does Daniel H. Cohen’s talk about arguing apply to your discussion threads?
- How does Kathryn Schulz’s talk about the importance of being wrong apply to your discussion threads?
- What are the differences and similarities of argumentation on social media vs. writing a research argument?
- How can we transfer the principle of conceding to your own writing?
- Why is it important to concede to others’ arguments in your own writing?
In my experience, several of my students dreaded the prospect of this assignment when explained; they felt uncomfortable. After the assignment, though, students were excited and engaged as they described their own experiences. For the most part, they really enjoyed engaging in social media in a deeper way than they usually do. They also came away from the experience with practical knowledge of why conceding improves the quality of their own thinking and writing with the know-how in order to apply it.
Link to conference presentation: https://spark.adobe.com/page/zgKyb/
Fight Club and Social Media: Turning to Electracy and Technology to Teach Argumentation - Eric Stephens
In light of Ulmer’s larger project to discover the various ways technology and electracy make powerful impacts on education and pedagogy, the speaker developed a lesson plan utilizing entertainment and social media to teach important rhetorical principles in argumentation; namely, concessions and rebuttals. By drawing on Tyler Durden’s first homework assignment in Fight Club—to start a fight and lose it—the speaker asks students to make a strong claim on a social media platform, discuss it, refute others, and, ultimately, to concede.
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