Mapping Intellectual Trust

Mapping Intellectual Trust

Overview of the activity: This exercise provides students an opportunity to think about how, as researchers, they evaluate the relative credibility of different academic as well as non-academic genres and media. Students complete this as a homework (“asynchronous”) assignment individually at the beginning of the TiC unit.

Activity title: Mapping Intellectual Trust

Author(s): Kevin Moore

Course: PWR 1

Activity length and schedule: This activity is assigned  at the start of the TiC, on or after the class library visit. It takes 30 minutes. Students share the diagrams in class at the next meeting.

Activity goals: Students learn to think about different factors and frameworks for conceptualizing research credibility and intellectual trust. They get to see that how we trust and for that matter understand a given source, even rigorous academic sources, is always historically and culturally determined.  

Activity details: In class, the instructor provides large sheets of paper and pens to facilitate this exercise. At home, students draw on paper and upload a photo, unless they are comfortable creating a digital image.  For a fully digital course, students would provide their own supplies from home.

The assignment is the second in a sequence. It builds on a large-group exercise conducted early in the quarter (in Week Two). In the earlier exercise, students are asked to read a few pages from Catherine Gallagher’s classic essay “The Rise of Fictionality,” where the author makes the counterintuitive argument that fiction is a historical category, and that the opposite of “fact” is not “fiction,” but “deception.” Fiction, in Gallagher’s perspective, is a sweeping category that includes all kinds of cultural narratives (i.e., journalism, history, etc). Using these three poles—fact, fiction, deception—as a framework, we map out the relative position of specific genres and media, which students encounter as they pursue their research; for instance, we compare on that spectrum the credibility of a local print newspaper, vs. a local tv website, vs. a local digital newspaper website, vs. a 24-hour cable news network. How does the genre and/or medium shape its credibility? What genres/media are the most “deceptive”? What genres/media most facilitate the transmission of “fact”? Students discover that all discourse, even science, is shaped by assumptions and conventions.

The instructor revisits the exercise later in the quarter in this group or individual activity, just as students are breaking ground on TiC projects and learning to evaluate the credibility of specific sources relevant to their projects. Here, the instructor asks students to reconceptualize the gesture on their own. What other “poles” could they use beyond “fact,” “fiction,” and “deception”? For instance, one powerful representation mapped “reality” against “reliability.” In the Week Two large-group exercise, the instructor presents a fairly linear spectrum with three clearly delineated poles, but here the instructor encourages students to consider further dimensions and axes. They are invited to continue to think about general genres and media, such as those on the list I circulate with the assignment, or specific texts they are working with in their projects.

For more details about this activity and related handouts, please see: