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Thesis argument about cultural contact zones
March 2, 2013 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Hi Mefites! So I'm wondering if anyone can help me in finding something to argue in a 5-6 page paper regarding 'cultural contact zones' in Orwell's essay ' A Passage to India'. Specifically, "the concept of a “contact zone” emphasizes how subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other, usually involving conditions of coercion, inequality, and conflict. It treats the relations among colonizers and colonized not in terms of separateness but in terms of interaction and interlocking understandings and practices, often within radically asymmetrical relations of power." ( this is part of the prompt). Any suggestions? I'm usually a fairly competent writer but am having trouble here.

I've managed to come up with several philosophical 'nuggets' to argue, but I doubt these can be the basis of a well-fleshed-out essay
These are
- Imperialism as a battle of masculinities
- The loss of concrete identity and subsequent adoption of an 'identity of ideas'
-The elephant as a symbol for the passionate and untamable mystique of the eastern empire
This is what I have so far. Whatever anyone can chime in with would be amazing!
posted by marsbar77 to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does your professor or TA have office hours? This would be a great question to talk over with them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:51 PM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


She wasn't in all of last week and this is due on Monday... not really an option at this point, unfortunately. :/
posted by marsbar77 at 1:54 PM on March 2, 2013


D'oh, just realized I mistyped. The essay is, in fact, Shooting an Elephant.
posted by marsbar77 at 1:58 PM on March 2, 2013


I think you have three good ideas. See if there is any thread they have in common, and you should be able to hit your page length.
posted by elizeh at 2:01 PM on March 2, 2013


I'm not confident enough, though. I usually write my best stuff when I have one 'meaty' idea I can then ramble on about.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:06 PM on March 2, 2013


I agree with elizeh that the ideas you've got so far should be plenty substantial enough to write 5-6 pages about. So here's more of a "how" than a "what" suggestion for writing. Rather than try to go straight to "rambling on about" a central idea, first work on building up your evidentiary base. Take a copy of Orwell's essay and mark up every single word, phrase, or short passage that has anything to do with:

- imperialism
- masculinity
- "loss of concrete identity"
- "identity of ideas"
- elephant(s)
- mystique of the eastern empire

Mark up EVERYTHING that you think could be related, even if it seems like a stretch.

Mark up the shortest units you can identify. Try to avoid just circling entire paragraphs. What are the actual words that tell you the passage has to do with "loss of concrete identity," etc?

Copy your list of textual evidence onto a separate piece of paper and push the evidence around for a while. Put it into categories. Rate it by how strongly it supports your ideas. Look for connections between apparently disparate parts of the Orwell essay. Look for conflicts. Start shaping the evidence into an outline for your paper.

I think this exercise will give you more confidence and add "meatiness" to your ideas.
posted by Orinda at 2:28 PM on March 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


Having read the short story in question, I think all three of them could work as 'nuggets', but you're right to recognize that they are in need of development, especially in relation to the story and the prompt that you have been given. The most mysterious part of the story, to me, was the fact that the elephant would not die — so I think your last topic is good in this respect. Thus if I had to choose among your three, the last is the most compelling, although I might rework the idea of "the passionate and untamable mystique of the eastern empire" to be closer in line to your topic of 'cultural contact zones'.
posted by ageispolis at 2:33 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Orwell's "Burmese Days" is very similar to Forster's "A Passage to India," as I read them, at least, and born out of the same colonial experience as "Shooting an Elephant." It's also, IMO, a quick read. You could perhaps add some flesh to the paper with references to it, unless you have explicit instructions otherwise.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:00 PM on March 2, 2013


[There's a MeTa if you need to discuss honor codes; please stick to the question here. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:12 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've managed to come up with several philosophical 'nuggets' to argue, but I doubt these can be the basis of a well-fleshed-out essay
These are
- Imperialism as a battle of masculinities
- The loss of concrete identity and subsequent adoption of an 'identity of ideas'
-The elephant as a symbol for the passionate and untamable mystique of the eastern empire
This is what I have so far. Whatever anyone can chime in with would be amazing!


Each one of these ideas holds enough scope to be the subject of an entire book, let alone packing all three of them into a 5 to 6 page paper. I would suggest focusing on one idea and gather quotes from the story as specific backup for your argument. I'd personally go with "Imperialism as a battle of masculinities" because you could mine that idea for thousands of words if you wanted to. Good luck.
posted by jokeefe at 9:17 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of looking at another text, maybe another similar one by Orwell. If nothing else you could use a few outside references to create that sort of "lift" a short essay needs at the end.

I also think your three "nuggets" are too many for a 5-6 page essay. In my opinion, 5-6 pages is barely enough to combine two of those ideas. These texts by Orwell are quit dense and using Orinda's suggestions, you may find that less is more, argument-wise.
posted by BibiRose at 9:20 PM on March 2, 2013


Yeah, I see that now. I think my problem is that there is, in fact, too much I could do with it.
posted by marsbar77 at 9:30 PM on March 2, 2013


Meta.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:50 PM on March 2, 2013


That's okay. Good essay topics can be astonishingly narrow. It's not about breadth; it's about depth.

Pick the idea out of your three that excites you most. Find one single aspect of that idea to zoom in on. (So if you do "battle of masculinities," you might pick one aspect of masculinity, or one way of expressing or conceptualizing masculinity, and really just concentrate on that.) And then narrow it down even further. ("Well this one aspect of masculinity comes up three times in the text; I'm just going to concentrate on the first one, because that's the one I find most interesting.")

Basically, as long as you keep seeing interesting details, keep getting closer. When you're zoomed in as far as you can go, start writing. You can always broaden your focus back out again if you end up with extra room.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:56 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The key theoretical text here is James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (Google Books preview here), which reads 'Shooting an Elephant' in terms of 'a disparity between the public transcript deployed in the open exercise of power and the hidden transcript expressed offstage'. Scott argues that power often rests on a very fragile basis and can be fatally undermined by ridicule; he sees this typified in Orwell's remark that 'every white man's life in the East was one long struggle not to be laughed at'.
posted by verstegan at 5:53 AM on March 3, 2013


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