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English 486: Critical Approaches To Race, Class, and Gender

This team-taught course, supported by a grant from the ICE (Intellectual and Cultural Expression) initiative at UT, brings together ideas from critical theory, cultural studies, film, and literature to analyze the development and strategic use of discourses of race, class, and gender in contemporary society.  The course offers students the tools with which to read contemporary culture in its literary, cinematic, and other popular forms.  It makes use of different disciplinary strategies through team teaching and guest lectures from faculty in film studies, anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, and geography to model the process of interdisciplinary intellectual work.

The course will be divided into five units.  The first unit, the “tool kit,” outlines the central theoretical concepts from post-structuralist, materialist, and gender criticism that we will use throughout the semester.  The work of both Frankfurt and Birmingham School theorists provides the opening grounds for conversation. Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and others associated with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham raised the call for academic study to bridge the gulf between high culture and lived experience, between an historical past and a contemporary world, and between theory and practice.  The interdisciplinary thrust of cultural studies foregrounds the need to think through the social, political, aesthetic, and national contexts of cultural expression.  Stuart Hall asserts that the difficulty of defining cultural studies is deliberate; it has no “house approved” methodology, though an interest in class stratification and power arrangements within cultures are unifying themes.  The remaining four units, War and Masculinity;  Production, Consumption, and Late Capitalism; Sexuality in the Heartland; and Race, Rights, and Liberalism are more specific explorations of interdisciplinary arguments about contemporary culture.

Students who register under the University Studies number can still receive English credit for the course by petition.

Course Texts

  • Simon During, ed, The Cultural Studies Reader, second edition, London: Routledge, 1993; 1999.
  • Susan Faludi, Stiffed:The Betrayal of the American Man, New York: Morrow, 1999.
  • Douglas Kellner, Media Culture:  Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern, London: Routledge, 1995.
  • Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991.
  • Course packet of reserve readings, Hodges Library Reserves.

Good Online Links

  • Pop Cultures:  A searchable database of cultural studies and pop culture resources on the web.
  • Bad Subjects:  An on-line politico-theory journal from Berkeley.
  • Cultstud-L:  Gil Rodman’s cultural studies links and access to the listserve.


The major expectations are a careful reading of the assignments, thoughtful participation in class discussions, and analytical papers which synthesize and integrate material from readings.  Lectures will presuppose a reading of the texts, not substitute for it.  After three unexcused absences, each additional absence will reduce your grade by 2%.  Late papers are lowered one letter grade per class meeting unless you make other arrangements in advance.  Assignments are weighted as follows:

  • Weekly participation in an on-line writing forum – 25%
  • In-class presentation (10%) and general participation (%10) – 20%
  • Toolkit quiz – 10%
  • Two take-home tests – 10% each
  • A final written research project, 7-10 pages – 25%

In-Class Presentation

On a day of your choosing, you will help open discussion on one of the dayís readings by providing an illustration of a key point in the reading.  Look to your own experience of popular culture to guide you.  Draw your examples from music, TV, the web, movies, or any other place you might see them.  Your mission is to help your colleagues find ways to read their own culture through the theoretical and critical ideas in this class.  You will need to sign up for a presentation in class.

The Netforum

This class includes a net forum ( where students can discuss issues from the class.  As part of the class participation grade, everyone is expected to post to the forum regularly in an open-ended format.  You can use it to make comments, raise questions, and solicit advice.  We will give the forum structure in two ways.  First, everyone will post a introductory message that includes a thought about your experience of media culture.  Second, we will institute a rotation of follow-up responses to class discussions.  Each week, two people will be assigned to post a note before the end of the day on Tuesday and Thursday, making a comment on the previous dayís class.  Underline something you found especially helpful, make a suggestion for improvement, or offer a question for further consideration.  The point of these assigned responses is to spark a larger discussion; please aim to participate in the discussion at least once every three weeks, in order to pull your weight and make the process work for everyone. This is your forum to shape as you choose, and the content of what you post will not be evaluated, except in the general sense that thoughtfulness counts.  Your grade for this part of the course is based primarily on how much you participate compared to others in the class.

The Tests and the Final Project

We will offer more specific prompts as the date for these assignments approaches.  In general, the two take-home tests will ask you to apply the ideas we have been discussion by completing specific exercises.  The final project will be an opportunity for you to synthesize ideas from different moments in the course and to focus on issues that are important to you.  You will need to present a prospectus near the end of the semester.

The Readings Packet (CP)

Readings included in the class packet are designated on the syllabus as (CP) readings.  This packet will be available online from the library search screen.  Scroll down to the Hodges Reserve button and follow the instructions to find the class (English 486 or University Studies 420 are both in Arts and Sciences).  You will need your username and password to access the files on-line.  Below is a list of citations for the class packet materials.

  • Reserve Room Class Packet, Hodges Library
  • Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, A Propaganda Model,” from  Manufacturing Consent, excerpted in Sources:  Notable Selections in Mass Media ed. Jarice Hanson and David Maxcy, (Guilford: Dushkin Publishing Group, 1996), 180-192.
  • Charles Lemert, “Postmodernism is Not What You Think” and “Impossible Glossary of Social Reality” from Postmodernism is Not What You Think (New York: Blackwell, 1997), 19-49, 64-68.
  • Tony Bennett, “Popular Culture and the ëTurn to Gramscií” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: a Reader ed. John Storey (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 217-224.
  • Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: a Reader ed. John Storey (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 350-358.
  • Frederic Jameson, from Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke UP, 1991; 1997, pp 16-25.
    Michael Rogin,  “íRonald Reaganí–the Movie,” Radical History Review 38, 88-113.
  • Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture : Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation  (New York: Basic Books, 1995)
  • Michael Moore, “Is the Left Nuts, Or Is It Just Me?,”  Nation (11/17/97), 16-18.
  • Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare, New York: Vintage, 1993, second updated edition, pp 407–466.
  • Robert Walser, from Running With the Devil : Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music, University Press of New England, 1993.
  • Lillian S. Robinson, “Touring Thailandís Sex Industry,” in Materialist Feminism, ed. Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham, New York: Routledge, 1997, pp 253-258.
  • Donna Minkowitz, “Love and Hate in Laramie,”   The Nation  (7/12/99) 25-30.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Liberalism Individuality, and Identity,” Critical Inquiry, Winter 2001, Volume 27, No. 2, pp. 305-332.
  • Peter Wade, TBA