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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Anoop Mirpuri
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

"The Politics of Representing 'The City' in 20th Century America" This course will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to American culture and literature, derived from literary and cultural studies, history, sociology, and political theory. Taking up these different disciplinary perspectives, we will ask what “American culture” has to do with politics and policy making. Our task in this quarter will be to investigate this presumed relation between “culture” and “politics” by examining a specific concern of both American culture and political regulation in the 20th century: the American city. In other words, we will start with three specific questions: how has “the city” been represented in literary and scholarly work? What role have these different representations played in the formation of American politics? Finally, what theoretical and methodological perspectives provide us with useful ways of responding to these questions?

In the process, we will investigate a canonical selection of literary and theoretical representations of the city which have been central to conceptualizing the experience of urban life in America. More specific questions will drive our approach to these texts: How do these representations respond to and envision the city as a space of freedom, constraint, subjection, and possibility? How have they represented urban space as constituted by a variety of borders, orderings, and segregations. How has the city come to be understood as a site of inclusion or exclusion? How have intellectuals and politicians conceptualized the role of surveillance and discipline in the city, and how does the policing of urban space translate to specific understandings of crime, safety, and security? The course will start with a historical look at the anxieties and promises of new urban life in the early 20th century and its relation to political struggles and arguments over immigration restriction and racial segregation. Towards the latter part of the quarter, we will take up some of the methods and historical perspectives we’ve studied in order to examine how new “neoliberal” models of urban governance have attained policy-making legitimacy by relying on a variety of narratives prominent today in American culture, and how these narratives have been contested by alternative representations of the city. Our goal will be to engage in critical debates about how key policy “issues” affecting us today, such as crime, welfare, globalization, gentrification, prisons, and residential segregation, are related to, struggled over, and made sense of within what we have come to call “American culture.”

Books for the course: F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Great Gatsby"; Nella Larsen, "Passing"; Chester Himes, "If He Hollers Let Him Go"; Paul Auster, "City of Glass"; Samuel Delaney, "Times Square Red Times Square Blue"; Jason Hackworth, "The Neoliberal City"

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Class periods will consist primarily of discussions in large and small groups, as well as periodic lectures about the texts we read and the critical and interpretive questions they raise. The key concept for the course will be to understand "representation" as an analytical concept and as a critical practice, in order to think about the relation between politics and culture. We will devote the first couple of weeks to engaging methodologies that will help us do this.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

There will be a 3-5 page mid-term paper, a 6-8 page final paper, plus weekly quizes and writing assignments. There will also be in-class group presentations. The required reading for the course will consist of 100-200 pages per week, depending on the difficulty of the texts assigned.

The grading breakdown will be as follows:

30% final paper 20% mid-term paper 20% participation & short assignments 20% weekly quizzes 10% group presentation


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 Anoop Mirpuri
Date: 11/28/2007