Communication and Culture | Communication and Social Conflict (Topic: Democratic Dissent and the War on Terrorism)
C304 | 14593 | Robert Ivie

MW, 2:30 PM-3:45 PM, TE F260

A portion of this course reserved for majors

Fulfills COAS A&H Requirement

Instructor: Robert Ivie
Office: Mottier Hall 203
Office Hours: MW, 4:00 PM-5:00 PM and by appointment
Phone: 855-5467
Instructor’s Website:

This course examines dissent—its cultural status, political role,
and rhetorical characteristics—as a democratic practice and peace-
building movement in the U.S. with specific reference to the ongoing
war on terrorism.

Dissent in a time of war is as critical to the nation's democratic
identity as it is alarming to empowered elites and purveyors of
prevailing political opinion.  Dissent typically is denigrated as
dangerous, disloyal, and unpatriotic during times of national crisis
and even stifled within official deliberative bodies such as the
U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as well as in the
mainstream news media and in the everyday transactions of ordinary
citizens.  Without open debate, governments tend to exaggerate the
danger to the nation, to target unpopular groups for vilification
and repression, to enact under the cover of national security
preexisting political agendas that are unrelated to the war, and to
generally spawn a culture of secrecy and suppression that fosters
poor decision making with regrettable consequences.  As Cass
Sunstein argues in Why Societies Need Dissent (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2003), freedom of speech is a safeguard against
senseless conformity.  Sunstein writes that a culture of free speech
is the foundation of democratic self-government and that dissent
within the polity is a protection against ideological extremism,
political polarization, and unchecked power.  Thus, “well-
functioning societies take steps to discourage conformity and to
promote dissent” (p. 213).

Yet, government and society at large are inclined to curtail freedom
of speech, and thus it is especially important for a democratic
people to understand what is at stake when dissent is curbed, to
recognize dissent as an everyday practice that is characteristic of
productive deliberation—not something to be marked as strange and
threatening—and to explore how dissent can help to address more
effectively the present crisis of terrorism under prevailing
conditions of division, diversity, and globalization.

Students will be assigned three books to read and evaluate
throughout the course of the semester, covering topics of democracy
and dissent, social movements, and peace-building in a context of
war and crisis.  Each student will also complete a term project
analyzing and assessing a peace-building movement.