Readings in Literature and Critical Theory (Post-1800)

L657 — Fall 2021

Ranu Samantrai
Days and Times
5:30p - 8:30p W (4 CR)
Course Description

*This course is cross-listed between English and Cultural Studies and meets the core requirement for the Ph.D. minor in Cultural Studies. It is open to all interested graduate students. 

*Meets with CULS C601*

This course is cross-listed between English and Cultural Studies and meets the core requirement for the Ph.D. minor in Cultural Studies.  It is open to all interested graduate students.

In this introduction to cultural theory we'll focus on the foundational texts and intellectual history of cultural studies.  Beginning with the Frankfurt School’s turn toward the problem of culture and methods derived from psychoanalysis, we'll proceed to the Birmingham Center for Cultural Studies’ incorporation of structuralism, and thence to the challenge of poststructuralism.  These origins will lead to the debate between post-Marxism and various theories of the public sphere that has characterized much of the scholarship in cultural studies.  We'll glance, again through foundational figures, at the ways in which cultural studies borrows from and influences adjacent inquiries in anthropology and literary studies, media and performance studies.  And finally we'll close the semester by focusing how feminist theory has taken up the question of agency in the wake of cultural studies and furthered the long story of the dialectic of culture and consciousness. 

At each step we'll ask how culture is defined in relation to economic and political structures.  How are cultural meanings produced, circulated and consumed?  What is the relationship between high, mass and popular cultural productions?  How do cultural formations produce patterns of individuated subjectivity and social relationships, and how do we think about agency?  And what should we make of the recent theoretical turn away from the long quarrel with the Enlightenment subject?  With such questions to guide us, we will examine both the methods and the objects of cultural studies scholarship.

Assignments likely will include two short essays and a class presentation. Primary readings will be drawn from the following list:

  • Theodore Adorno, The Stars Down to Earth
  • Louis Althusser, essays from For Marx
  • Walter Benjamin, essays from Illuminations
  • Antonio Gramsci, selections from The Prison Notebooks
  • Raymond Williams, Culture and Society and related essays
  • Stuart Hall, et al., Policing the Crisis
  • Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, v.1
  • Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
  • Jürgen Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
  • Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy
  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
  • Veena Das, Life and Words

Further essays by Marx and Engels, Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Stuart Hall, Clifford Geertz, Matthew Arnold, Frederic Jameson, Henry Jenkins, Janice Radway, Nancy Fraser, Angela McRobbie, and many others.


Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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