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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

John M Webster
ENGL 302
Seattle Campus

Critical Practice

Intensive study of, and exercise in, applying important or influential interpretive practices for studying language, literature, and culture, along with consideration of their powers/limits. Focuses on developing critical writing abilities. Topics vary and may include critical and interpretive practice from scripture and myth to more contemporary approaches, including newer interdisciplinary practices. Prerequisite: minimum grade of 2.0 in ENGL 197 or ENGL 297; a minimum grade of 2.0 in ENGL 202 or ENGL 301; may not be repeated if received a grade of 2.0 or higher.

Class description

Critical Practice, or, What Do We Do When We Do English?

To the world outside, English Studies are about reading and writing, and that's just about that. But over the past few decades the field itself has become intensely self-conscious of what those two activities actually are. "Reading" and "writing," we've decided, are complex processes, and depending on how you understand them, you will be doing very different things. One kind of reading, for example, has for some critics come to look like a kind of cultural cheerleading; another takes an angle that makes it deeply distrustful of anything--including successful authorship--that looks like the promotion of power or privilege.

In that context, this course will ask you to think carefully about what English Studies people actually do when they do English, particularly as readers. We'll begin with half a dozen essays that make claims about what work in English actually is or should be, and we'll go on to read the whole of a short book that seems to argue that you needn't actually read much at all (but doesn't actually). Finally, we'll also read/watch some of the texts that that book looks at as part of its argument--some short, like Montaigne's essay "On Reading." I'll also be asking you to "read" a couple films.

Throughout I will be asking you to think carefully about the reading and writing you do, and how and why you might choose to do either of them differently. You'll write, too, about your own habits, and in the end I hope we have gotten to the place where I can ask you to formulate for the future your own reading/writing plan. What are you doing when you do English, and how and why might that require that you change what you have done before now?

Student learning goals

Active Reading

critical writing

self-reflective and metacognitive awareness

intellectually respectable fun

General method of instruction

Workshop, discussion, some lecture

Recommended preparation

One or more college level English classes either at the UW or elsewhere

Class assignments and grading

Students will write short response papers for most classes; there will also be three formal paper/mid-term assignments and a group project. There will also be a course portfolio assignment.

Students will be graded on the formal writing assignments and on the group presentation, and on successful completion of all assigned work.


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.
Additional Information
Last Update by John M Webster
Date: 11/12/2009