Critical Voices in Conversation (CVC)

The CVC assignment asks you to use a range of sources to orchestrate a critical research conversation.  In academic language, this kind of project is sometimes called a “literature review” or “source dialogue” in which scholars situate their own work among a host of voices.

Crucially, the voices that comprise such conversations reflect different levels of critical engagement and provide various framing contexts that help the author set the stage for her specific project. Some voices that you include in your own conversation might compete with your argument, others might substantiate it, and some might do a little bit of both. Some sources might offer crucial historical background, and others might help define relevant theoretical and cultural contexts.

In less academic terms, you might think of the CVC assignment as resembling a talk show or conference panel where you have invited 4 guests to discuss a specific text.  You, in this case, are the moderator, orchestrating the conversation and showing how the contributions of your guests dynamically relate.  It is your job to control the conversation, making sure there is a compelling conversational arc or story. As you work through the sources–each of which you will deal with in 1 or 2 paragraphs–you should gradually begin to make connections between them. Keeping the conversation connected will distinguish this essay from a mere series of summaries.

Your position as a moderator here is crucial: though your argumentative position will be clear in the dueling thesis statements, you are not launching your own argument yet, even if you know what that argument is–we’ll save that for later in the semester. But you will craft a conversation that creates an opening for that argument.


After completing this assignment, you will have the ability to:

  • Describe the debate or conversation surrounding your particular research question by deploying the critical summary and analytical skills.
  • Establish the ethos or credibility of each participant in your conversation as you make their role in the conversation clear.
  • Build a research base for your own argument, which will begin to emerge in the proposal.
  • Define the relationship between your sources in complex and compelling ways (moving beyond the compare-and-contrast, or agree-and-disagree models).
  • Begin to voice your own emerging point of view as it speaks alongside, and beyond, your sources

And the details?

We will discuss successful structures and strategies for this essay in the weeks ahead, and separate assignment sheets will present crucial building block such as the Proposal and Annotated Bibliography.  For now, you just need to know that your paper should be 4-5 pages long, and that it should deal closely with 4 well-chosen sources. Note that if you use a source in your intro, that does not count as one of the 4 sources that comprise the conversation. While everyone will have a credible mix of books, academic articles, and other documents, the key is variety.  I encourage you to locate sources that represent productively different voices surrounding your chosen text.

Though these assignments each ask you to accomplish specific tasks, they also will begin to merge with one another. Some of the language you use in your annotations, for example, will find its way into your CVC Essay. And the intro moves you perform in your proposal will likely form the basis for your intro to the CVC essay as well. Your CVC essay will, in turn, ground the Final Project, serving as the entry point for the “Close Reading Capstone,” which, in turn, leads to your conclusion. It’s all cumulative and connected from this point forward.

Note: Your chosen text does not count as a source–only the primary and secondary sources you use to situate / interpret that primary text count. Also, informational sources–such as encyclopedias, wikipedia, and other biographical & background materials–are a great place to start as you inform yourself about a given topic, but such sources should be used only to direct you towards more substantial sources surrounding your topic. Similarly, a chapter from Dobie or a particular sections in The Theory Toolbox might provide a great starting point, but you would want to check their own bibliographies so you can find the source itself: not Nealon and Giroux on “power,” but Foucault on power; not Dobie on psychological criticism, but Freud on the tripartite psyche.

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