Advice on completing the assignment Gibson’s rhetorical analysis of Milgram’s classic experiments on obedience

Advice on completing the assignment Gibson’s rhetorical analysis of Milgram’s classic experiments on obedience is discussed in Reading 7.2 of Chapter 7 of Book 2, and also discussed by Dixon in the commentary and the conclusion to this chapter. The essay asks you to consider not only how Gibson’s rhetorical analysis challenges the validity of Milgram’s research on obedience, but what this means for our understanding of psychological methods in social psychology more widely. Therefore, not only will you need to clearly explain the key points of Gibson’s rhetorical analysis of the experiments, but also develop a critical discussion of experimental methodology in terms of the criticisms a rhetorical analysis can offer. Gibson’s rhetorical analysis is drawn from a discursive psychological approach. Therefore, the understanding you have of the differences between discursive psychology and cognitive social psychology can inform the development of this wider discussion. Gibson’s rhetorical analysis comments on selected papers in which Milgram presented transcribed extracts from recordings of the interaction between experimenters and the ‘teaching‘ participants in his experiments. Gibson studied the transcripts of the conversations systematically, concentrating on the rhetorical strategies the participants used to negotiate with the experimenter. From this study Gibson argues that the experimenter’s role in the running of the experiments was not as standardised or straightforward as the instructions to the experimenters would indicate. Gibson argues (p. 175) that the real-time context of the experiments reveals that a rhetorical element of negotiation played an important role in the outcome of the experiment insofar as obedience was seen to have taken place. You should consider how the context of an experiment such as this can play a role which often gets overlooked in both the design and the interpretation of experimental research and which can be investigated with rhetorical analysis. Drawing from Reading 7.2, the commentary and conclusion of the chapter, you should develop an account of how Gibson challenges the validity of Milgram’s research. If you discuss Gibson’s argument for a re-examination of the limitations of the method for a complete understanding of obedience in the experimental context, you will be in a position to consider the second part of the question. In considering the implications of Gibson’s analysis for social psychology methods, you could draw on the wider theoretical positions of the two perspectives which underpin Gibson’s and Milgram’s approach. In doing this you are encouraged to consult Book 1, Chapters 2 and 3 (Hollway) for background on both the discursive and the cognitive social perspectives. You may find Book 2, Chapter 4 (Taylor) useful too, as Taylor discusses how Potter and Wetherell’s (1987) discursive approach to attitudes builds on a criticism of key assumptions and methods of the cognitive social approach. Therefore, you are encouraged to consider the implications for social psychology methods in terms of the limitations of the experimental method for developing a comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon such as obedience, but you can also consider how Gibson’s analysis may point to issues of power relations and of agency-structure dualism as they become evident in applying a rhetorical analysis. For example, positions of power between the participant and the experimenter are assumed to be fixed in the experiment and the focus is on the actions of the participant when confronted with such a dilemma as obedience. If Gibson illustrates that power relations in these experiments were often uncertain and negotiated, what implications might this have for how experimental research should be applied and interpreted? Sections 4.1 of Book 1, Chapter 2 and 4.1 of Book 1, Chapter 3 (Hollway) might be a useful resource to develop a critical discussion on power relations in this essay. Therefore, you are encouraged to apply at least one of the interrogative themes in your answer, though this is not a requirement for a pass mark. You may also like to consider the role of methods in the understandings of social psychology. Hollway makes the point that: “…methods are highly influential in the knowledges that are produced.” (Book 1, p. 49), and this could help develop the discussion of how Gibson’s rhetorical analysis highlights the assumptions on which research is grounded. Given that this essay asks you both to explain and to critically discuss, you should bear in mind the balance of your essay between these two tasks, and how you will keep it within the word count. The essay could be written in two parts, but you could integrate the two parts of the question into one answer if it suits you to do so.

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