Workshop and discussion exercises
Practice with these exercises to prepare for your seminars and wider research.
1. Find the speech given by Barack Obama in March 2008. Obama responds in this speech – often referred to as his ‘race speech’ – to the controversy surrounding comments made by his local pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, including remarks suggesting that the United States had provoked the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Obama was elected as the USA’s first African-American president in November 2008. Read the extract and consider the following questions:
(a) Consider the different discourses or interpretive repertoires that are being drawn upon to construct the speaker’s arguments: for example, which moral, historical and political ideas are being mobilised in order to support the speaker’s position?
(b) How does the speaker construct a particular ‘identity’ or ‘voice’ for himself? What is the potential effect of such a voice – how might it be heard – within discourses of race?
(c) Which other individuals are invoked in this extract? How are their stories positioned in relation to this account? You should look here not only for references to specific individuals, but also ‘types’ – such as ‘fathers’ or ‘lobbyists’. How do the references to these types of actors draw on other discourses from outside the text?
(d) How does the speech use variation and patterns of emphasis to create its rhetorical effect
(e) Can you identify strategies of nominalisation or passivisation in this speech – that is, where agency is imputed not to social actors but to impersonal nouns or abstract processes? Alternatively, can you identify moments where agency is imputed to individuals or groups? What is the effect of these contrasting versions of agency in the speech?
(f) In what ways does the speaker characterise America and Americans?
(g) Ask yourself the same questions about the speeches by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 as they competed for the 2016 presidential election. How do the three speakers compare?