Language and Power: The Rhetoric of Nationalism and Social Justice

Brian Dempster

RHET 195
Core A2


Course Description:

Exploring the relationship between language and power, students will analyze the use of rhetoric by those with often differing goals: on one hand, government and media have utilized rhetoric to promote nationalism, justify practices, and influence public opinion; on the other hand, language--both spoken and written--enables marginalized individuals to articulate traumatic experiences, protest unjust conditions, and reshape others' perceptions. Nonfiction memoirs by Japanese Americans about their incarceration and post-war resettlement will be useful to illustrate these concepts and, hence, a central focus. These texts will offer a point of reference by which students can make relevant parallels with and distinctions between other nonfiction works, which cover topics ranging from the detention of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island to the changed view of Arab and Muslim Americans in post-9/11 America. Students will also be exposed to other forms of social protest and documentation, including poems, speeches, letters, film, photos, and even rap. Guest speakers and field trips will bring texts into a real-life context. With an emphasis on argumentation, research, as well as rhetorical and critical analysis, essay assignments will allow students to evaluate the complex nature of rhetoric and demonstrate their command of rhetorical strategies. Essays will also encourage students to make connections between readings, their own family and cultural histories, and issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. This course requires writing placement in RHET 195.

Faculty Bio:

Brian Komei Dempster received B.A.s in American ethnic studies and English at the University of Washington and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Michigan. Dempster is the editor of From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps (Kearny Street Workshop, 2001), which received a 2007 Nisei Voices Award from the National Japanese American Historical Society, and Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday, 2011). Topaz, his debut book of poems, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2013. He is a professor of rhetoric and language and a faculty member in Asian American studies; in 2010, he received--along with Ronald Sundstrom--the university's Distinguished Teaching Award.