Chapter 10: Joining the Conversation: Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, and You
Now that we have looked at the mistakes made most often when trying to create this sort of conversation, let’s use the same information and develop a more useful, more purposeful conversation. Remember to let these sources speak, but also remember that the purpose of this conversation is all yours. Secondary sources allow you to gain a richer, more informed, and complex vantage point on your primary material. However, you must avoid relying on secondary sources to act as your “answers.” You are using secondary sources to elevate and complicate your reading of your primary material, not replace it. Use secondary sources to support your claim. Your interpretive claim is always driving your analysis. Your interpretive claim determines how secondary sources are applied to your representative example and what inferences you derive from that application. Here’s an example of how we elevate our analysis of our primary evidence so that it becomes part of a larger scholarly discourse:
While it is discouraging to read the comments section of the Occupy Wall Street Facebook page and see commenters calling each other “idiots,” “losers,” and even “Zionist Pigs,” it may be beneficial to regard these debates and dialogues in the same light as McCosker and Johns regard similar online discourse in “Productive Provocations: Vitriolic Media, Spaces of Protest and Agonistic Outrage in the 2011 England Riots.” McCosker and Johns claim “[t]he kinds of provocative, often vitriolic and antagonistic but massively multiple expression acts throughout the comment fields… enact agonistic forms of contest as an alternative model of citizenship, acts that incorporate forms of passion and conflict but are no less productive for it.” While there are several instances on the Occupy Wall Street Page of people responding to posts with less-than-civil comments like “Grow up” or “lol dumb post”—as McCosker and Johns say of similarly vitriolic online discussions of the 2011 England Riots—these “modes of civic participation can be initiated in ways that might become part of legitimate public discourse, before the eruption of violent destruction in the form of riot and looting.” Such debates may be the first step in the Internet functioning as a tool for individuals to confront their own insularity and deal with difference peacefully before moving toward unification through a common goal.
In this example, there is a fine balance between this author’s intent and the sources used. Neither overwhelms the other. The author keeps an eye to both purpose and context here, using but never altering the meaning of the primary and secondary sources, to support and complicate a deeper reading of the Occupy Wall Street Facebook page.