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ENGL 117
Introduction to Cultural Theory Spring 2021
Division I Writing Skills
Cross-listed ENGL 117 / COMP 117

Class Details

This course has a clear purpose. If you had signed up for a course in biology, you would know that you were about to embark on the systematic study of living organisms. If you were registered for a course on the American Civil War, you would know that there had been an armed conflict between the northern and southern states in the 1860s. But if you decide you want to study “culture,” what exactly is it that you are studying? The aim of this course is not to come up with handy and reassuring definitions for this word, but to show you why it is so hard to come up with such definitions. People fight about what the word “culture” means, and our main business will be to get an overview of that conceptual brawl. We will pay special attention to the conflict between those thinkers who see culture as a realm of freedom or equality or independence or critical thought and those thinkers who see culture as a special form of bondage, a prison without walls. The course will be organized around short theoretical readings by authors ranging from Matthew Arnold to Laura Mulvey, but we will also, in order to put our new ideas to the test, watch several films (mostly of the class’s choosing) and listen to a lot of rock and roll. Why do you think culture matters? Once you stop to pose that question, there’s no turning back.
The Class: Format: seminar; discussion
Limit: 14
Expected: 14
Class#: 5181
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: four formal writing assignments totaling 20 pages (three full essays + one lead-in assignment), informal writing twice weekly, class attendance and participation
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: first-year students who have not taken or placed out of a 100-level ENGL course
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ENGL 117 Division I COMP 117 Division I
WS Notes: Students will write three five- to seven-page papers, on which I will provide extensive feedback. Before writing their first papers, students will submit theses and introductions, which I will help them refine. We will hold three extra writing sessions, to discuss how best to organize arguments. Students will write informally before every class.
Attributes: AMST Critical and Cultural Theory Electives

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