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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Rachel L. Sanders
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

What does it mean to say that American political culture is dominated by several mutually constitutive "political rationalities"? How do fictional depictions of the future reflect present social and political conditions, problems, and desires? How does pop culture legitimate, reinforce, or speak against power inequalities pervading the contemporary United States? Have we moved beyond the need to talk about racial and gender inequality in America today? How are we conditioned to think about the meanings of liberty, opportunity and equality in America today? What do various notions of the "post-" suggest, and what do they have in common?

This course will focus on the ways in which contemporary fiction, film and television reflect, reinforce, and perhaps resist three dominant and interrelated political rationalities of the early 21st-century United States: the rationality of neoliberalism, the rationality of the post-racial state, and the rationality of post-feminism.

Course readings and concepts will be drawn from the fields of political theory, critical race theory, feminist theory, cultural studies, and contemporary American literature.

Students will be required to purchase a course packet containing reading materials (drawn from political theory, critical legal studies, cultural studies, feminist theory, and the social sciences) as well as three novels: Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story (2011) Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Nanny Diaries (2002) Zadie Smith, On Beauty (2005)

Student learning goals

Define "dominant political rationalities" and discuss how they frame public understandings of and political responses to economic, racial, and gender disparities

Critically analyze the relationship between the interests and structures of power and the media products of popular culture

Critically analyze the role of pop culture media products in reproducing, and sometimes challenging, post-racial, post-feminist, and neoliberal discourses

Develop and strengthen critical reading and analytical writing skills

General method of instruction

Lectures, film and television excerpts, large group discussion, small group discussion, short in-class writing prompts

Recommended preparation

Background knowledge of and interest in feminist theory, critical race theory and racial inequality, literature and composition, and contemporary pop culture are strongly recommended.

This course will be reading- and writing- intensive.

Warning: course content may include coarse language as well as graphic verbal and visual depictions of sex and violence.

Class assignments and grading

Student grades will be based on (1) short (4-5 page) literary analysis papers; (2) written quizzes and short in-class writing assignments on course concepts and issues; and (2) class participation.

Thoughtful, appropriate, and perceptive contributions to class discussion.

Attentive engagement with the material as well as with fellow classmates.

Sharp, cogent, and original written analyses and exposition.


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 Rachel L. Sanders
Date: 11/11/2012