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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Megan J Kelly
ENGL 281
Seattle Campus

Intermediate Expository Writing

Writing papers communicating information and opinion to develop accurate, competent, and effective expression.

Class description

Discourses of Birth & Death

Although we don't often think about them, the choices we make as writers, readers, and researchers have very real consequences in the world. This class offers us the space and time to reflect on these choices--to explore the way we use language, as well as the way we interact with and interpret the language of others. By engaging with the processes of writing, reading, and researching, we will consider how we access, evaluate, and use information to solve problems and make sense of the world around us. Ultimately, we will develop our skills in making informed, purposeful choices when we communicate with others, and in articulating the motivations behind and the potential effects of these choices.

Our focus for this class will be on the way information is communicated about (in other words, the discourses of) birth and death in order to examine the cultural, economic, and political implications of these discourses as they are circulated in society. Some of the questions providing the framework for this class include:

What language do people use to describe how we are born and how we die? What affect does this language have on our perceptions of birth and death? How do texts--not only verbal texts, but visual, aural, and spatial texts as well--influence our understanding and experiences of birth and death? How and why have perspectives on birth and death been shaped by changing cultural, economic, and political contexts? Where is there evidence of resistance (or pushing back) against normalized views of birth and death in society? What are the ethical considerations in documenting birth and death? In what ways are birth and death both private experiences and public concerns?

In this class, we will analyze the rhetorical strategies employed to construct the "natural" processes of birth and death. We will read, research, and write about the representations of cancer (particularly breast cancer) and other terminal illnesses, as well as of the practices of midwifery and hospice care. The class will be built around texts that explore these issues; we will discuss our analysis of how these texts construct their arguments, what the assumptions underlying these arguments are, and what evidence is used to support them. At the same time, the various writing assignments and final project provide an opportunity for us to reflect on and share our own arguments about the discourses of birth and death.

Most of the readings for this class are available online, either through the UW library database or another online archive, or will be available on reserve. The only text required for purchase is Sontag's.

Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (ISBN 0312420137) Barbara Ehrenreich, "Welcome to Cancerland" Jerome Groopman, "Dying Words" David Rieff, "Illness as more than Metaphor" Michael Brown, "Hospice and the Spatial Paradoxes of Terminal Care" Mary Lay, The Rhetoric of Midwifery The Business of Being Born

Note: This is only a partial list of readings, and this list is subject to change.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Megan J Kelly
Date: 11/07/2008