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Assignment One: Conjectures / Invention

Composing Schedule

Invention Questions 1 & 2: W Feb. 2

Invention Questions 3-6: W Feb. 9

Complete Draft Due:    M Feb. 14

Polished Draft Due: W Feb. 16

The Assignment:

In this assignment, you are asked to study an issue in order to discover how that issue is depicted by people who are interested in it. Depictions of a state of affairs are called "conjectures" in rhetoric. An issue is important to a community; it is any matter about which people disagree, and on which it is possible to take several positions.

If parties to an argument hold different conjectures about the way the world works, this difference may contribute to their inability to agree. For example, a conservative politician might conjecture that people are poor because they don’t want to work, while a liberal politician might conjecture that people are poor because for some reason beyond their control they have been unable to find or get work. A socialist, on the other hand, might conjecture that people are poor under capitalism because capitalism mandates that wealth be unequally distributed. As you can see from this example, conjectures do not establish the truth or fact of the issue under discussion; rather, they represent an educated guess about what might be, or what might have occurred. And since reality may be perceived very differently by people who occupy different social and political positions, people may paint very different pictures of that reality.


The point of this assignment is to use reading and writing to help you to understand that it is possible for events and objects in the world to be depicted differently by people who are advancing their own interests. These differing positions that people take on issues arise from their different positions in culture, from their individual histories, and from the history of the culture they inhabit.


The audience for this paper is the class. Your response to this assignment should enlarge our understanding of how the issue is perceived by the people who are involved in its discussion, and it should also help us to evaluate the various positions taken by persons who are concerned with the issue. In some cases, your study of the various ways in which the issue is depicted may actually contribute to the argument, if you can demonstrate that disagreement stems from the differing depictions of the issue made by various parties to it.

Your response to the assignment should, at minimum:

state the issue; show why it is controversial; lay out the positions taken on the issue by interested parties; develop the conjectures that are made by competing parties; and suggest changes that might be made in order to bring interested parties into agreement. You might suggest, for example, that one party or side has more or better evidence for their conjecture and show why that evidence is superior; however, you may wish to simply characterize or catagorize the available positions and describe their similarities and differences. Or, you may wish to list key themes that appear in the discourse of those who discuss this issue. Whichever sort of response you choose, a successful paper will illustrate the complexity and importance of the issue you study.

Note: Essay #1 and Essay #2 are linked. In Essay #2 you will pursue the topic you have chosen for Essay #1. In Essay #3, you will have the option to stay with your topic or choose something new.

As always, see me with questions, comments and suggestions.


Length: 4-6 typed pages using double space and 12-point font

Put your name on each page and number pages

Give your work a title

Staple your paper


Invention Work for Assignment One

  1. Begin by deciding what issues are important in the communities in which you live. Make a list of the communities to which you might belong: families, relatives, and friends; a street, barrio, town, city, or reservation; a school, college or university; groups you belong to; your country or nation. Even the earth is a community of sorts, these days, given global economic and environmental concerns. What issues are currently being debated in the communities that are most important to you? Make a list of issues for each community you identified. Now ask yourself: On what issues do I disagree and with what members of the relevant community? Are there other members of the relevant community that represent a third or fourth position?
  2. Try to state all the positions taken by interested parties to any issue that interests you. How does/will the relevant community respond to any of these positions? Who would disagree with you and why?
  3. Now choose one issue on which to concentrate your inquiry. Find out all you can about this issue. Use the library and the internet. Interview people who know something about this issue. Generate and take surveys.
  4. Try to figure out how the various parties to the disagreement depict or conjecture the issue. You may find it helpful to ask the following heuristics questions about the issue:


5. Now write out the various conjectures that are made by those who argue about the issue.

6. The next step in your inquiry will be to lay out possible arguments for resolution of the disagreements about conjecture. Compare the pictures painted by various parties to the argument. Where do they agree? Where differ? How could these differences be resolved? What losses would accrue to those whose conjecture is not accepted? What gains would accrue to those whose conjecture is accepted?