Framing Claims

courtesy of flickr.com

courtesy of flickr.com

As I have mentioned previously, we are concerned with generating conceptual, interpretive questions and claims in this class, all of which go beyond binary pro/con, yes/no, good/bad thought.  In getting there, we need to ensure that our main claims–our theses–are doing meaningful, interpretive work. Such theses should be new contributions to how we understand the world and that provoke audience interests and questions.  (At the very least, your main claim needs to be debatable, supportable, and significant to your audience.  See Dr. Coats’s post on descriptions for the claim criteria we have discussed in class.)  If you succeed in making a strong thesis with equally strong support, people will still disagree with you.  Though, disagreement, rather than mere dismissal, is a mark of success.  It means that you are contributing to the world and making it a better place through discussing new interpretations of data.  You’re so good!

The best way to set up your argument and demonstrate why your thesis is compelling—and that it’s worth it for the reader to continue reading to find out why he/she should believe it—is to first establish a framework in the introduction of your project for the problem you wish to explore and that your argument will give response.  Thus, it’s prudent to establish these three components up front:

  1. A statement regarding what is typically understood about your topic, including necessary background and context (the status quo).
  2. A statement regarding what you have come to believe is problematic with this. typical understanding (the problem), including why this problem is significant to the reader.
  3. Your thesis, encapsulating what you think people should embrace instead of the status quo.

Consider this paragraph (Note: I made most of this stuff up):

Most scholars have agreed that, prior to the late 19th century, throwing playing cards (often referred to as “scaling”) was a low-form spectacle: generally limited to tricks used by amateur magicians and intoxicated gamblers.  It was only until French magician Alexander Herrmman’s “flying card” act in 1890 that card throwing was accepted as a veritable skill. [1]  However, this reading of history undermines the significance of the work of conjurer Holtz Bellini to the art of card throwing. [2]  Though not well known in popular circles of performers, his card routines incorporated insurmountable speed and accuracy.   Further journal evidence was found in an 1846 issue of The Monthly Ruse which revealed a promotion of Bellini’s work, indicating that he would be “the first conjurer ever to successfully saw a woman in half with playing cards alone” (33).  Moreover, in “52 Reasons to Reconsider Messing with a Magician,”Calvin Tinks and Laverne Copp report that Bellini’s throwing abilities were reminiscent of 17th century martial arts, with particular similarities to the Dragon Scale Dance technique of instrument manipulation (803). [3]  If we overlook Bellini’s career, particularly his work touring in antebellum America, we jeopardize our understanding of the lineage of card throwing and how this history has influenced contemporary performers. [4]   By looking deeper into his methods and acts during the mid-ninetieth century, we can see that Bellini’s work serves an as integral link between old forms of object manipulation and new forms of scaling. [5]

1. Here is the status quo, establishing the general context of the issue and typical understanding of the history.
2. This begins the turn with the problem, where the common understanding of the the history is destabilized by pointing to what is missing given the common conception leaving out the importance of Bellini.
3. This serves as further evidence to bolster support for the problem actually existing.
4. Here is the significance of the problem, urging what is at stake for the reader by accepting the common conception of the issue.
5. The thesis.  This is what the rest of the paper goes on to show is true to replace the current status quo.  Notice that this is not a claim picking a side of an issue, but one that calls for a different and better understanding of it.

For longer projects,  it takes longer to establish these major parts of the introduction.  But no matter what, by the end of your introduction, your audience should have a clear understanding of the problem at hand, why it’s necessary to care about this problem, and the precise and significant thesis you will support and that responds to the problem at hand.

When looking to the thesis itself, understand that you should concern yourself with something that will change the way people think about the particular problem you establish rather than something like a call to action or a policy change.  There is an important distinction between practical (i.e. tangible) problems and conceptual (i.e. interpretive) ones.  Practical problems deal with applying understandings we already have.  However, before we can do anything in the world in terms of action, we need to have grounded and sophisticated understandings of the issue.  (Otherwise we would just be running around the world like jerks asserting stuff with no tenable grasp as to why action should happen.) Providing these sophisticated understandings–supporting conceptual claims–is what we concern ourselves with when addressing our particular audiences.

Consider the differences between these two claims:

Claim 1: We need to elect more Green Party candidates into office.
Claim 2: Grassroots democracy initiatives are significantly overlooked and undervalued given their potential for community-building and prosperity.

The first is a practical claim telling us what should happen in the world; it necessarily calls for an action with voters, otherwise it won’t work.  The second is a interpretive claim telling us how we should understand a particular concept (grassroots democracy) and why it’s so significant to our lives. Although it may seems like the first claim is more desirable, it’s not nearly as sophisticated or precise as the second.  Moreover, it doesn’t really get to the significance of the issue at hand.  Of course, a paper written to support such a claim could include such justification, but it would take a great deal of work and would still run the risk of being broad and nebulous.  The second claim is specific and has the significance built in for us.  Also, it’s important to note that, in order to buy claim 1, you need to have an understanding of something like claim 2, which most people clearly don’t have.  This is not to say that the answer to your conceptual problem shouldn’t ever yield potential for practical significance—doing things in the world to better it is great!  Though, asserting and supporting conceptual claims is where our work here lies: trying to get our audiences to think of specific phenomena in the world in a different, better way.  If you suspect that your thesis is too practical, try to find a way to take the action you want to promote and move it into the background so that it becomes personal justification for your interpretation of your primary text.

Here are some other practical claims.  How can we make them conceptual ones?

1.Parents should have the right to choose whether their children get vaccinations.
2. Emojis should be used as evidence in court cases dealing with communication via texts.
3. Social matchmaking apps such as Tinder should enforce background checks for their users.

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One thought on “Framing Claims

  1. Is that the Dip he’s suspended over? Christopher Lloyd’s character from that movie still freaks me out a lot more than I care to admit — except of course here, publicly, on the open web.

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