AMST 219
Understanding Social Class Fall 2018
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
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Class Details

Politicians and pundits often bill the United States as a classless society, owing to its lack of a feudal past. Since the 1950s, most Americans–including many whom sociologists would deem wealthy or poor–have come to describe themselves as “middle class.” But this may be changing. Bernie Sanders’ strident calls to reign in Wall Street greed remain enormously popular. And since the election of President Trump, journalists have rediscovered a group they call “the white working-class” while books such as Hillbilly Elegy and White Trash have moved to the top of the best seller lists. So, what is class and how does it shape our lives today? This course is designed to introduce students to the study of social class in an interdisciplinary fashion. We will use memoir and works of fiction to better grasp the life experiences and worldviews of people on different rungs of the economic ladder. Then we will delve into the ways that major theorists, such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Pierre Bourdieu have defined social class in terms of work life, social standing in a community, and bundles of “tastes” or consumption preferences. We will turn to historians to make sense of the patterns by which class inequality developed in tandem with racial oppression in the United States, and to the competing arguments of sociologists attempting to explain the growing wealth gap. Finally, we will look to activists and social workers to see how individuals and groups work to bridge the class divide in attempts to mitigate poverty and challenge inequalities. Throughout, participants will be encouraged to use assigned materials as prompts to think critically about how class shapes their own lives.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 1220
Grading: yes pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: attendance, participation, three papers 5-10 pages each
Extra Info: Not available for the fifth course option
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: first- and second-year students, American Studies majors
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: DPE: The course focuses on the ways access to material wealth, and perceived class position shape life experiences. We will analyze different aspects of class power, from employment relations, to political influence, to self-confidence. The last weeks of the course will address ways movements seek to bridge class divides to challenge economic and other forms of inequality. The course will be intersectional throughout--discussing how class, race, and gender inequalities reinforce one another.
Attributes: AMST Critical and Cultural Theory Electives

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