Benjamin Richard Gardner
Examines different approaches to understanding the production and consumption of culture and cultural practices. Invites students to evaluate cultural research, to experience with different research methodologies, and to carry out research assignments. Explores ethnographic, textual, and arts-based methods.
What is the relation between what we do for a living and what we believe? How does what we drink affect our values? How does High School influence our aspirations? How does a candidates policies shape the music played at a presidential? What do memorials tell us about our identity as citizens? Why are some conflicts described as political and others as cultural?
These questions about identity, interests, and politics are also questions of culture. In this class we will explore how cultural questions like these help us understand the world, and how that understanding enables new practices. We will examine a number of different approaches to understanding the production of culture, as well as practice different methodologies of cultural research. Throughout the course we will move between critically evaluating cultural research and carrying out mini-research assignments. Ultimately, students should leave this course with a new awareness of the role that cultural forces play in shaping their own lives, in structuring existing relations, and in offering possibilities for social, political and economic transformation.
Student learning goals
Analyze how cultural, economic, and political interests are produced;
Critically evaluate different understandings of the production and consumption of culture;
Carry out cultural research and assess the strengths and weaknesses of different research theories, methods and forms of communication;
Evaluate the connections between cultural research and cultural-political activism;
Compare and assess diverse methods including text, performance, film, photography, and music as cultural and political representations and artifacts. And understand their influence on cultural practices and the production of difference;
Question our common sense understanding of the world and recognize how much of what we encounter in our daily lives is culturally shaped and constituted.
General method of instruction
The format of the class emphasizes collaboration between students and with the professor; therefore a relatively large portion of your final grade depends on your overall contribution to the course. On the most basic level of course contribution, you should come to class on time and stay for the duration, having read the assignment and having given it some thought in preparation for participating in discussion and group activities. In addition, you will have many structured opportunities to contribute to the course.
Prior coursework in social science or humanities courses will be helpful but are not required. Interdisciplinary Studies majors will benefit from taking BIS 300 before this course.
Class assignments and grading
Early in the course students move from topic or interest to a research question that has meaning and importance for them. Through group work and other activities, students draw connections with their own history and theoretical lenses. After proposing a research question and getting feedback, students employ two research methodologies explored in the course to help answer and refine their initial question. The final assignment is to develop a research proposal for the project detailing the methods to be used and the importance of the research. This proposal is modeled after the Mary Gates Research Scholarship for UW undergraduates. Students are prepared to apply for the fellowship if they are interested in pursuing their topic further as part of their studies.
course contribution (in-class activities): 25 % course contribution (informal written assignments): 25 % mini-research assignments and portfolio: 50 %