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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Christian G Ravela
ENGL 251
Seattle Campus

Literature and American Political Culture

Introduction to the methods and theories used in the analysis of American culture. Emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to American literature, including history, politics, anthropology, and mass media. Offered: jointly with POL S 281.

Class description

In the final chapter of C.B. MacPherson's seminal book, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, he identifies seven assumptions that undergird the theory of a liberal democratic society. Most notable, he identifies how "freedom from the will of others" is the defining feature of humanity and that this freedom is understood to be the capacity to own oneself. As he aptly states, in proposition three, "The individual is essentially the proprietor of his own person and capacities, for which he owes nothing to society." Yet, with this proprietary form of freedom as the definition of the human, it begs the question of who can access this freedom. In short, who can count as human? Rather than taking this idea of freedom to be an ideological ruse, we explore what it historically produces. Thus, one asks: where are the places where a possessive individual can be free from (an)Other? What are the historical and social conditions that maintain this freedom of the possessive individual? And the obverse, how does this freedom maintain those socio-political conditions? And finally, in what ways have these socio-political conditions persisted and altered historically and what are their affects on possessive individualism?

In this course, then, we will inquire on the possessive individual and its freedom(s), tracing it through the organization of a liberal democratic society and its necessary entanglements in the regulation of subjects. We will take C.B. MacPherson's account as our starting point and move out to its wider imbrication in the organization of the state, civil society, the family, and Capital. Concomitantly, we will see how each of these domains are predicated upon and reproduces forms of subjection in and through race, class, gender, and sexuality. Geographically, this inquiry will be situated in a U.S. context and historically begins in Reconstruction and moves onward. Ultimately, what compels this inquiry is two questions: 1) what is the historical and theoretical legacy of possessive individualism in the U.S.? 2) And what is its status in the contemporary neoliberal moment?

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General method of instruction

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Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Christian G Ravela
Date: 12/26/2008