Thursday, January 3, 2008

How to Read

Susan Bickford conveniently tells us her task for this article, in the bottom paragraph of the first page:
"This essay attempts to reconnect political theory to the study of cities by probing the link between built environment, public life, and democratic politics. By doing so, we can discern critical and troubling dynamics shaping contemporary democratic citizenship in this inegalitarian social context."
Having laid out the work she's taking on, she also forecasts her overall findings, in the first paragraph on page 356:
"In this essay, I argue that the architecture of our urban and suburban lives provides a hostile environment for the development of democratic imagination and participation."
Can't get much more straightforward than that. So your job is to examine the ways in which she offers evidence for that claim, how she complicates and extends that claim, and whether you believe that evidence to be a) pertinent and b) compelling.

It's a long (22 pages) and dense paper. If you find yourself struggling with really comprehending the overall form, I have a suggestion.
  1. Print a copy of the paper
  2. Take a pen and number each paragraph
  3. Open a fresh Word document
  4. Using the same paragraph numbers, summarize each paragraph into a sentence. You'll lose a lot of the complexity, but you can organize the big ideas.
  5. Study your new outline. Where does the paper change directions? Are there big thematic chunks you can identify?
One thing to keep in mind is the way she's using the words "democratic" and "democracy." She's not using the partisan Democratic, nor referring to the governmental structure of majority rule through one-person, one-vote. Rather, she's referring to equality of public access, universal freedom of speech, and other forms of civil rights that stem from the notion of equality under the law.


Eric Randall said...

Setting aside my commentary on the ideas set forth in the article for now, I appreciate your hints on "how to read" it. I found myself doing effectively what you have laid out vis-a-vis summarizing Bickford's thoughts in concise one or two sentences. While doing this it help to generate questions or arguments I hope would be addressed in the article. It is indeed a challenging read - her part IV requiring mulitple reads for me.

And perhaps its the Okie in me, but I found myself constantly in need of to help decipher some of her nuances.

Article analysis at 11:00....

Nick Graal said...

Your not alone. The writer has a vocabulary that rivals what is on the GRE exam. I also found myself scrambling to more than a few times. Aside from the vocab, the read is very dense, but does have some good ideas/points. They only problem is that the essay was written by a politician. They tend to muddy even the most cleanest waters.....
(Yes, I do realize that I took the liberty of lumping a political scientist with elected politicians. Which I am sure some would disagree with....)

Mike said...

Eric & Nick,

I'm going to have to throw additional support behind your comments -- particularly the one about the vocab section of the GRE exam! I remember battling my way through that; but if their test writers need ideas on how to make it harder, they need to consider hiring Bickford. This article definitely challenges a mind that is struggling to come out of the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's blur.

By the way, for anyone that doesn't want to print out all 22 pages, you can open the file with Acrobat and have it convert each page from scanned images to recognizable text. In this way, you can use the built-in Acrobat tools for highlighting, commenting, etc., on individual pages and paragraphs.

Tim said...

Interesting article although I am not sure her solution in section IV is as understandable and clear as her previous arguments. Perhaps this section does require another read.
I must admit after being away from school for a couple of years it is nice to be able to engage in these discussions in a learning environment.

Ken Ballard said...

Looks like you have a full class of independent thinkers. Hope the semester goes well. I like the running blog... I wonder if you are using us for a study of some sort... humm
In any case, I think it would be a worth while exercise to go back and look at the comments from all of your students... I am sure there has to be some kind of information that could be useful or stand out.

Ken Ballard Class of ‘09