Contextual Analysis of an Argument
For this paper, you will construct an account of an argument and identify elements of context embedded in it. These elements of context are the clues that show what the argument is responding to, both in the sense of what has come before it and in the sense that it has been written for an audience in a particular time and place. Examine a writer’s language in relation to his or her audience, context, and community.
The article argument you will be analyzing is “How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers,” Oct. 2013: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/how-the-nfl-fleeces-taxpayers/309448/
Rhetorical Strategies to Discuss (Not Necessarily in this Order)
What is the question at issue, or subject, of the article? Why has the author written this text; what is its purpose?
What is the author’s thesis?
How does the author appeal to pathos; how does he or she use words to connect with his or her audience’s emotions or convictions?
How does the author establish his or her ethos, or his or her authority to address this question?
How does the author appeal to logos; what is the evidence that backs up his or her claims?
Context Categories to Discuss (Not Necessarily in this Order)
Historical context: What is the historical situation that prompted this text, and how do you know that?
How might this argument relate to an ideological context that is specifically American?
How does this text work in the context of its intended audience? Here, think about where the text first appeared (usually where it was published). You can even discuss its tone, style, and level of formality.
How does this text relate to the context of the author’s life, persona, and work?
How does this text operate in the context of common assumptions about the topic?
How does this text resonate in the context of our current times (America in 2011)?
Be sure that you choose a text about which you’ll be able to write a good paper. You will almost always do better by selecting a topic in which you are interested, whether that interest comes from prior knowledge, disagreement with an author’s position, or agreement with an author’s position. Also please note that this assignment may require you to do a small amount of internet research if you do not thoroughly understand the entire text and argument. This research is unlikely to go beyond general knowledge: that is, you should be able to confine your research to sources such as Wikipedia and therefore would not have to cite the general knowledge you are discussing in a works cited page or parenthetically.
Be sure that when you address the rhetorical and context questions, you back up the claims that you make and analyze rather than merely summarize. Let’s take an essay from another textbook: Stephanie Coontz’s “What We Really Miss About the 1950s.” The author of that article discusses sexism in the 1950s. She appeals to her audience’s pathos by telling a story about when she was twelve and her local library limited the number of books that girls could check out. If you wanted to discuss Coontz’s strategy for telling this story, simply claiming that Coontz is appealing to pathos wouldn’t be sufficient. You’d have several other steps to analyze. First, you’d have to describe who the audience is, and then you’d have to analyze which specific emotions Coontz is trying to appeal to and why this specific library example would establish an emotional connection with her specific audience. Your argument might go something like this:
With this example, Coontz appeals to the female half of her audience by subtly evoking the well- established gender discrepancies of the 1950s. She hopes that her childhood experience is relatable not just to women her age but also to all readers who would not like to see their children kept from reading simply because of their gender. Coontz seeks to connect with her readers’ sense of anger and injustice at the double-standard for women that was part of America’s national fabric in the time before second-wave feminism.
Notice how the paragraph analyzes Coontz’s argument rather than merely summarizing it; that is, it focuses more on why Coontz makes the strategic moves she does than simply what those moves are.
What Not To Do:
Do not merely summarize the author’s argument. Focus on how and why the author makes the rhetorical moves he does, not what he says.
Do not attempt to wiggle out of doing weighty analysis. A large percentage of unsuccessful rhetorical analyses say things like, “The author really makes his points clear,” “The author shows how he feels here,” and “The author demonstrates that he truly believes in _____.” Think about the rhetorical triangle: the relationship between author, audience, and claim. Again, focus on how/why he’s trying to persuade his audience; don’t focus on what he’s trying to persuade his audience.