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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Jonathan E Murr
ENGL 207
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Cultural Studies

Introduces cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field and practice. Explores multiple histories of the field with an emphasis on current issues and developments. Focuses on culture as a site of political and social debate and struggle. Offered: AWSp.

Class description

Introduction to Cultural Studies: Race and Violence in US Modernity

This course is intended to introduce students to some of the ways cultural studies is practiced (and contested) as an interdisciplinary form of knowledge production. Rather than attempting to nail down a fixed definition of this notoriously complex field, we will familiarize ourselves with some key theories, methods and practices that emerge from thinkers associated with the Birmingham School (such as Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams) and from some anti-racist, marxist and feminist practitioners working in the US. These thinkers will give us a working set of terms for talking about culture, race and racism, and a framework for engaging with our course theme, Race and Violence in US Modernity. Instead of just focusing on the violence we encounter every day in popular culture (in films, music, TV, video games, etc.), we will try to think critically about forms of systemic violence. Specifically, we will focus on ongoing histories of racialized and gendered violence in the US, and we will ask what it means in our allegedly post-racial or colorblind moment that peoples' basic life chances continue to be produced along the lines of race (and gender, sexuality and class). We will understand culture as the site in which violences are lived (or experienced), represented and always struggled over, so our primary task will be to explore the work of cultural texts and cultural politics in helping to create and contest the violences of our present.

In addition to the critical and theoretical works listed above, we will look at a *small* number of cultural texts drawn from among the following: the novels White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty, Kindred or Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and/or Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy; the films Life and Debt, Children of Men, When the Levees Broke, and/or Sin Nombre; poems by Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amber Flame and Suheir Hammad; visual art by Kara Walker, Ashley Hunt, and/or Trevor Paglen; music by Mos Def, Aceyalone, Blue Scholars, and/or M.I.A. We may also sample a few short critical/theoretical works by scholars such as Avery Gordon, Lisa Lowe, Robin Kelley, Jacqueline Goldsby, Michael Taussig, Cornell West, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Assessment will be based on thoughtful, active participation in class and online discussions, four short response papers, a group presentation or performance, and either a project proposal for a cultural studies project or a take-home final exam. (Any of the works listed above that are not assigned for the course may be used as material for the group presentations and/or project proposals.) Required books will be available through the University Bookstore. A small course reader will be available at the Ave Copy Center.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

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.
Additional Information
Last Update by Jonathan E Murr
Date: 06/15/2010