Critical and Cultural Theory Electives

The following courses count towards the Critical and Cultural Theory specialization. For more information, refer to the Major Requirements.

AMST 113(F) SEM The Feminist Poetry Movement

Feminist poetry and feminist politics were so integrated in the 1960s and 1970s in America that critical essays on poets, such as Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, appeared in the same handbook that listed such resources for women as rape crisis centers and health clinics. This course will map the crucial alliance between feminist politics (and its major cultural and political gains) and the feminist poetry movement that became a major "tool" for building, organizing, and theorizing second-wave feminism. In order to track this political and poetic revolution, we will take an interdisciplinary approach that brings together historical, critical, and literary documents (including archival ones) and visual products (through the Object Lab of the Williams College Art Museum) that recreate the rich context of the period and help us consider the important social nature of aesthetic production. At the center of the course will be writings of major poets of the period, as well as anthologies and feminist periodicals that published their work and created a significant forum and shared space for women to articulate the politics and poetics of change. These periodicals and anthologies will also help us track the diversity of the feminist poetry movement and its intersection with issues of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. Ultimately, we will want to consider how poetry serves as an important tool for thinking through questions of power and injustice and what role it plays in creating necessary imaginative space in the world for expression, critique, and change. [ more ]

AMST 132 SEM Contemporary Africana Social and Political Philosophy

Last offered Spring 2022

This introductory seminar investigates the relationship between three major schools of thought in contemporary Africana social and political philosophy: the African, Afro-North American, and Afro-Caribbean intellectual traditions. We will discuss a range of thinkers including Dionne Brand, Aimé Césaire, Angela Davis, Édouard Glissant, Kwame Gyekye, Paget Henry, bell hooks, Katherine McKittrick, Charles Mills, Nkiru Nzegwu, Oyèrónke Oyewùmí, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Cornel West, and Sylvia Wynter. A primary goal of the course is to provide students with the intellectual resources to decipher problems central to philosophical discourse and to allow students an opportunity to apply what they learn to critical issues in current geopolitics. [ more ]

AMST 206(S) SEM Designer Genes

In this course, we explore cultural texts that attempt to come to terms with--or exploit--the revolution in contemporary genetics with a particular focus on gender, race, class, and sexuality. The mapping of the human genome in 2001 opened incredible opportunities for medicine, law, and society, but it also, as Alice Wexler has written, "opened a vast arena for contests of power over what it means to be human, who has the power to define what is normal, [and] who has access to what resources and when." Wexler was writing before the final sequencing of the human genome. Now we have CRISPR technology, ushering in a new, more pressing set of ethical concerns. We are currently in the midst of a "global race to genetically modify humans," as the anthropologist Eben Kirksey has documented in his new book The Mutant Project. How will we come to define the human? Who gets to decide? Our writers and filmmakers make clear that genetic medicine cannot be thought apart from a profit-driven American health care system or family and gender dynamics. Joanna Rudnick's documentary In the Family, for instance, explores the personal and political issues associated with hereditary breast cancer and the patenting of genes. Octavia Butler's Afro-futurist novel Dawn explores black female sexuality, reproduction, and the survival of the species in her character's encounter with a genetically enhanced alien species. The film Gattaca shows us a fully realized dystopian society where genetically modified humans are the norm--a society that now "has discrimination down to a science." The transgender artist Tamara Pertamina, on the other hand, "hopes to decolonize the science of genetic engineering," as Kirksey has written, with her performance artist projects. Our texts come from a number of different genres, including the memoir, science fiction, film, documentary, art, and non-fiction writing at the intersections of science, medicine, philosophy, anthropology, and law. [ more ]

AMST 218(S) SEM Black and Brown Jacobins

What does it take to be free in the free world? In this class we explore the dark side of democracy. The title is inspired by C.L.R. James' famous book, Black Jacobins, about the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). This revolution was the most successful revolt of the enslaved in recorded history. But the irony is that their oppressors were the leaders of the French Revolution across the Atlantic. Those who proclaimed "liberty, egality, fraternity" for themselves violently denied them to others. There is a similar dismal irony to the American Revolution, as captured by the title of Frederick Douglass' famous 1852 speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" Not even the Civil War could resolve this issue, as demonstrated by the failure of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. To revisit this history, we will read W.E.B. Du Bois' great book, Black Reconstruction in America. Alongside a selection of readings by canonical postcolonial writers and current political theorists, James and Du Bois provoke us to ask what it would take for the democratic world to be truly free. [ more ]

AMST 243 SEM Asian/American and Black Literary and Cultural Thought

Last offered Spring 2020

One durable legacy of white settler colonialism has been to its divide-and-conquer management of minority populations--an amazingly effective strategy still widely practiced in a variety of forms today. While Asian Americans have been deemed "model minorities" in contrast to "unmodel" minorities--namely, African Americans--and racial minorities have been pitted against one another in the oppression Olympics and on the issue of affirmative action, there has, in fact, been a long history of political, literary, and cultural thought that have joined blacks and Asian/Asian Americans, from W.E.B. Du Bois to current ideas about digital possibilities (and constraints). In this course we will examine the theory, political writings, art, music and literature that sprang from and attended the early Marxist-Communist fight for universal brotherhood; movements against colonialism, capitalism, and the Vietnam War; Yellow Power and Black Power; and topics such as black and Asian diasporas, Afro-futurism, multiculturalism, "Afro-pessimism", racial melancholia, and digital futurities. [ more ]

AMST 255(S) LEC Patterns of African Diasporas to the U.S.

Migration remains an integral aspect of Black experiences. This comprehensive course, formerly titled "Black Migrations: Histories of African Diaspora in the US," centers the histories of Black migration to and within the United States. Migration includes the involuntary, forceful movement of populations, but it also comprises voluntary movement of populations that seek new economic opportunities. Therefore, this course covers three historical periods of migration: 17th- 19th century (Transatlantic slave trade), early 20th century (Great Migration and the arrival of Caribbean migrants to major urban centers in the United States), and the late 20th and early 21st century (Migration continental Africans to the US). This course will ask the following questions as it relates to Black migration: What were the social, political, and economic factors that contributed to the migration of Black populations to and within the US especially in the 20th and 21st century? How do current-day Black migration patterns differ from earlier periods? In what ways can migration be utilized as a form of resistance to oppression both domestically and internationally? [ more ]

AMST 258(F) SEM Transatlantic Political Theory

Political theory tends to look towards Europe for inspiration. This course suggests an alternative. It traces how theory crisscrosses the Atlantic Ocean to and from Europe, Africa, and the Americas. We will begin with Alexis de Tocqueville's 1840 classic, Democracy in America, which is a snapshot of antebellum America from the perspective of a French aristocrat. Then we will flip things around and view Europe from America. During the Cold War, American political theorists, including European émigrés, were preoccupied by the threat of totalitarianism. We will read the definitive text on this subject, Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, paying special attention to the link she makes between totalitarianism and imperialism. In the final section of this course, we will read Richard Wright's reports on Europe and Africa during the decolonization era, and conclude with a reading of Cedric Robinson's classic, Black Marxism. Together, these texts emphasize the importance of an African perspective on modern politics. Assignments in this reading- and writing-intensive course consist of reading quizzes, term papers, and in-class debates. [ more ]

AMST 261(S) SEM America Inside Out

Why does the land of the free put so many people in prison? The United States of America has more prisoners than any other country in the world and one of the highest rates of incarceration. During the Cold War, prison writings such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago were held up as the truest literature to escape the USSR. But could the same be true of the USA? Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as a prophet and peacemaker who spoke to America's soul. But in his own lifetime, he was famous for being a political prisoner locked in a Birmingham jail. What does it say about America when advocates of freedom and democracy end up behind bars? To be sure, there are people in prison who have committed crimes we would all consider heinous. But the plurality are non-violent offenders serving time on drug-related charges. This crackdown has continued regardless of rates of drug use and disproportionately targets poor people of color. In this class, we will explore the origins of the carceral state, starting with Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. From there, we will read the writings of US prisoners, such as Angela Davis and George Jackson, in comparison with literature from that other vast prison empire, the USSR. We will conclude by confronting the War on Drugs with Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. [ more ]

AMST 262(F) SEM Race-Making and the Politics of Performance

What is the relationship between contemporary understandings of race, American national identity, and performance? From the Sons of Liberty "playing Indian" during the Boston Tea Party to spectacles of racialized violence into the freakshow exhibition of "primitive, exotic Others" and the emergence of modern theater and film in the 19th and 20th century, performance has played a central role in shaping and disseminating ideas of race and racism in the American popular imaginary. This course will examine how the overlapping histories of settler colonialism, slavery, immigrant exclusion, and imperialism have been variously framed, justified, and contested through performance (in both an artistic and everyday sense). A central contention of this class is that race is constantly "made" (and remade) through performance, which we will explore through a historical survey of theater, film, popular culture, anthropological documents, and law. We will take a comparative ethnic studies approach that tracks the interconnections between Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latina/o racial formations across public spectacle and theatrical/cinematic representation. We will also tend to the ways in which minoritized folks have used performance as a powerful tool to rethink identity, subjectivity, and community. [ more ]

AMST 304(F) SEM Queer in Asian America

Asian America has always been queer. This is both to say that, since the first waves of Asian immigrants to the Americas, there have always been queer individuals counted among them, and that the Asian American subject has historically figured as "queer" and "different" within the Western cultural, social, and economic landscape. How does queerness resonate, redound, or otherwise modulate the idea and experience of Asian Americanness? What are the textures and contours of this queerness? Does it have an aesthetic and literary dimension? This course surveys a range of scholarship and literature by queer and feminist Asian Americans that explore the interpenetrations of race, gender, and sexuality in the construction of Asian America and Asian American identity. Particular focus is paid to how Asian American artists and writers actualize queer subjectivity, relation, and intimacy across experiments in narrative, form, and media. The class will move between foundational scholarship at the intersections of Asian American studies, queer studies, and gender and sexuality studies alongside key works of art and literature. Potential artists and writers include Ocean Vuong, Justin Chin, Larissa Lai, Monique Truong, Alok Vaid-Menon, TT Takemoto, Jes Fan, and Leonard Suryajaya. Students will also have the opportunity to contribute their own selection of art and literature to the class conversation. [ more ]

AMST 308 SEM The Impact of Black Panther Party Intellectuals on Political Theory

Last offered Spring 2023

This seminar examines the historical and contemporary impact of the Black Panther Party--and key allies such as Angela Davis--on political theory. Texts include: narratives from 1966-2016; memoirs; political critiques; theoretical analyses; interviews; speeches; government documents. The seminar will examine: original source materials; academic/popular interpretations and representations of the BPP; hagiography; iconography; political rebellion, political theory. Readings: Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party; Soledad Brother: The Prison Writings of George Jackson; Mao's Little Red Book; The Communist Manifesto; Still Black, Still Strong; Imprisoned Intellectuals; Comrade Sisters: Women in the Black Panther Party. [ more ]

AMST 309 LEC Womanist/Black Feminist Thought

Last offered Fall 2018

This course explores the genealogy and development of black feminist and womanist thought. We will investigate the expansion of womanist thought from a theologically dominated discourse to a broader category of critical reflection associated more commonly with black feminism, analyze the relationship between womanism and black feminism, and review the historical interventions of black feminism. As critical reflections upon western norms of patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism, womanism and black feminism begin with the assumption that the experiences of women of color--particularly black women--are significant standpoints in modern western society. Through the examination of interdisciplinary and methodological diversity within these fields, students will be introduced to key figures including Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, and Katie Cannon, and will engage materials that draw from multiple fields, including, but not limited to, literature, history, anthropology, and religious studies. [ more ]

AMST 310 SEM "A language to hear myself": Advanced Studies in Feminist Poetry and Poetics

Last offered Spring 2023

The title of this course comes from Adrienne Rich's 1969 poem "Tear Gas," grounding our study in 1960s, 70s, and 80s feminist activist poetry but also in our current moment to answer a fundamental question: what can poetry do for us? In this period, feminist activist poets were at the center of a revolutionary social justice movement that changed the world. Feminist presses published much of the new poetry. This course focuses on the theory and practice of feminist poetry and print culture during this period, and how feminist experiments in language changed how we understand American poetry. We focus on the theoretical writings and poetry chapbooks of a diverse group of poets who powered the movement, including Audre Lorde, Mitsuye Yamada, Nelly Wong, Robin Morgan, June Jordan, Joy Harjo, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Rich, Judy Grahn, and Pat Parker. We also read the work of some later feminist theorists, such as Sara Ahmed. We spend time in the archives, analyzing documents from the period, including feminist magazines and original publications of poetry chapbooks often published by the period's many feminist presses and consider how such attention allows us to construct alternative narratives for feminism and American poetry. Writing at the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and of multiple social justice movements (Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, LGBTQ activism, and Black Power), these poets gave us a new language to "hear," not only ourselves, but the experience and pain of others, and, in so doing, they moved personal experience into public discourse around issues of inequality and human flourishing in a democratic society. [ more ]

AMST 312(S) SEM Contemporary Immigration Landscapes

What is the relationship between racial formations, transnational migrations, and power in the United States? How do geometries of power shape our relationship to place? How do people navigate and resist the exercise of unequal power relations? This course examines geographies of transnational migration, bringing together insights from critical race theory, queer theory, and postcolonial theories to enrich our understanding of human geography. Theories on belonging, identity, and power will serve as a bridge between the state's role in structuring the lives of transnational migrants and the politics of conceiving futures as alternatives to current political geographic imaginations in the U.S. immigration landscape. Through an interdisciplinary exploration of 'migration,' we will examine the depth and range of migrants' experiences (such as through Javier Zamora's Solito: A Memoir) and how these communities' lives are structured through various axes of difference, such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and documentation status. We will give attention to the variegated landscape of immigration enforcement and its relationship to issues of labor, political economy, and incarceration, among others. Through materials that embrace both social science and humanities approaches, this course will help students develop a critical understanding of how space matters when considering transnational processes of migration as well as migrant communities' political practices throughout the US. This course asks students to compare and contrast the intellectual genealogies covered and apply these theories of identity and power to case studies that focus on political interventions for social justice (such as UndocuQueers in the immigrant justice movement). [ more ]

AMST 325 SEM Asian/African American Cultural and Political Theory

Last offered Fall 2021

Contrasted as "model minorities" or "incorrigible minorities" Asian Americans and African Americans have been pitted against one another in social standing and political objectives. However, throughout the twentieth century, African/Asian solidarity and alliances existed in political movements and literary and cultural productions. From Ho Chi Minh's anti-lynching writing, the founding conference of the WIDF (Women's International Democratic Federation) in China in 1945, through the Bandung Conference, coalitions against U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and alignments with Chinese anti-imperialist endeavors, black and Asian peoples have joined in international political formations. Contributions to theory include the writings and activism of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Robert Williams, Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, Ishmael Reed, and Amiri Baraka; films of Bruce Lee; music of Fred Ho; revolutionary praxis of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book and his writings on art and society; the Marxism of the Black Panther Party; the Afro-futurism of Sun Ra and Samuel Delany; and contemporary "Afro-pessimism." Such cultural works depict futurities and possibilities for Black and Asian diasporas. This seminar examines theory, politics, literature, film, and music produced from and linked to twentieth-century movements against capitalism, racism, colonialism, and imperial wars to think through how Black and Yellow Power have shaped solidarity to challenge white supremacy and racial capitalism. Requirements: One midterm paper (5-6 pp.) = 30%; final paper/project (10-12 pp.) with a creative option = 50%; short response paper and GLOW posts = 10%; participation (attendance and class discussion) = 10% Course cap: 19 Priority given to AMST majors, Africana concentrators [ more ]

AMST 339 SEM Latina/o/x Musical Cultures: Sounding Out Gender, Race, and Sexuality

Last offered Spring 2019

In this class we will investigate a wide variety of Latina/o/x popular musical forms, with particular attention to issues of gender, sexuality, and ethno-racial identity. Employing interdisciplinary materials and approaches, this course focuses on the sonic and visual analysis of contemporary Latina/o/x popular music and the identities of its producers, performers, and audiences. We will focus on the following questions, among others: How are hybrid Latina/o/x identities expressed through popular music and dance? In what ways do gender, sexuality, and ethno-racial identity inform the performance and interpretation of particular Latina/o musical forms? What unique role does sound play in our understanding of popular music and identity? [ more ]

AMST 340 SEM Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas

Last offered Spring 2020

Elizabeth Bishop has emerged as one of the most important poets of the 20th century. She is admired not only for her dazzling mastery of the craft but also her adventurous life as a world traveler. Her more than two decades living in Brazil and translating the culture and literature of that country for a North American audience, for instance, make her life and work a rich focal point for cross-cultural study. At the center of the course will be Bishop's stunning meditations on childhood, memory, travel, lesbian sexuality, gender identity, ecology, and race and class in the U.S. and Brazil. We will look at how Bishop intertwines personal and global historical encounters in order to raise serious ethical questions about our shared history of conquest and sense of place in the Americas from the 16th century to the Cold War period of the twentieth. What is ultimately at stake in our claiming of a "home"? We also read a number of the writers in North and South America who were closely connected to Bishop, from Robert Lowell and Ernest Hemingway in North America, to Pablo Neruda and Clarice Lispector in South America. Ultimately, we study how craft, poetic process, and an ethical eye on the world can open up the study of poetry and poetics in the 21st century. [ more ]

AMST 343 TUT Representations of Racial-Sexual Violence from Enslavement to Emancipation

Last offered Spring 2023

This tutorial examines representations of and resistance to racial-sexual violence in American society, from colonial America to contemporary US culture. Interdisciplinary texts cover history, politics, literature, film, feminist studies, American studies, lgbtq and ethnic/black studies. Books include Southern Horrors; Intimate Matters; Scenes of Subjection; Trauma and Recovery; The Delectable Negro; At the Dark End of the Street; films include Birth of a Nation; Bush Mama; To Kill a Mockingbird. The primary focus is on racial and sexual vulnerability to violence and mobilization for freedom from the 18th-21st centuries. [ more ]

AMST 345 SEM Capitalism and Racism in the American Context and Beyond: A Global Approach

Last offered Fall 2023

American Studies emerged with the idea that transdisciplinarity is crucial for comprehending the concept of America. Building on this framework, this course foregrounds transepistemology as an equally important method for understanding the dynamics of America, both locally and globally, at the level of the world-system. In addition to tracing the consubstantial genealogy of racism and capitalism, we will examine their local manifestations, mainly in Asia, Europe, Africa and America, as well as their current geopolitical, social and economic outcomes, especially the reproduction of systemic inequalities and domination. Through an interdisciplinary approach and engagement with a variety of resources from economics, anthropology, sociology, critical race theory, comparative ethnic studies and decolonial thinking, this course will address the following: i) review the different forms of economic organization of human societies throughout history (with special focus on the work of Karl Polanyi); ii) trace the epistemological origins of capitalism and investigate what makes capitalism and its crises unique; iii) trace the genealogy of the concepts of race, racism and discrimination; iv) interrogate the intersection of racism and capitalism in different traditions of thought and epistemologies in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. For example, we will read key texts from "French theory", (Deleuze, Foucault, etc.), US Black tradition, (W. E. B. Du Bois and Cedric Robison, etc.), Chinese social sciences (Li Shenming, Cheng Enfu, etc.) and African economy and anthropology (Mahdi Elmandjra, Cheikh Anta Diop, etc.) and Latin American decolonial philosophy (Quijano, Dussel, Mignolo, etc.) By doing this, we will situate the rupture that capitalism and racism introduced at the level of global history, which is the first step to conceptualizing racism and capitalism. After showing that the development of capitalism and racism are historically linked, we will proceed to examine the manifestations of their interaction at local and global levels. Locally, we will focus on the effects of racism on the labor market: discrimination in hiring, wage discrimination, segregation, duality and stratification of the labor market, etc. We will also analyze how sexism and racism play out in the labor market in racialized communities. We will also reflect on the links between racism and politics and their effects on economic policies. From a more global perspective, we will analyze the roots of the global economic crisis and the resulting geopolitical issues at the international level and the racist dynamics they generate. Overall, as we will move through readings, we will situate the United States in a cross-regional perspective that would enable us to develop critical insights concerning links and convergences between capitalism and racism. [ more ]

AMST 347 SEM Beyond Cli-Fi: Climate Change Histories & the Arts of Resilience

Last offered Spring 2020

This interdisciplinary environmental humanities seminar begins with the premise that our present climate crisis is a political project of globalization propelled by capitalism and its cultural logic. Causes and consequences of climate change can only be understood by examining the historical trajectories of carbon-based economic, political, and cultural systems since the 19th century. We trace the intellectual genealogy of modern climate science, consider the politics of indigenous knowledge as related to extractivism, and examine literary and artistic engagements with the natural world. We pay particular attention to the narrative strategies that scientists and policymakers use to talk about climate, and we develop creative critiques of the dominant discourses. We use historical and cultural analysis to study social movement strategy and tactics among advocates for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. We begin and end with creative responses to climate crisis, always asking: How can we move beyond dystopia and defeatism? How might history inform social movements for climate resilience? How can the arts, theater, and literary production articulate a new politics of survival? What narrative forms enable and inspire climate action? [ more ]

AMST 349 SEM The Politics of Algorithms

Last offered Fall 2021

Every day, you interact with or through computer algorithms. In ways often obscure to users, they structure communication or conduct in social media, education, healthcare, shopping, entertainment, dating, urban planning, policing, criminal sentencing, political campaigns, government regulation, and war. Moving from the emergence of cybernetics during World War II through such contemporary examples as facial recognition software, this seminar approaches algorithms as complex technological artifacts that have social histories and political effects. Asking how algorithms are political and what that tells us about politics today (particularly in the U.S.), we will consider how their design expresses forms of power and their deployment shapes ways of living. What behaviors do different algorithms solicit, reward, discourage, or stigmatize? What kinds of selfhood and relationships do they promote or thwart? How do various algorithms influence political partisanship and beliefs and intersect with existing hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality? When inequities are built into a design, can that be addressed by rooting out "bias," or do such efforts miss something more inherent in the kinds of artifacts algorithms are or what they can be in a capitalist economy? Might developments in artificial intelligence transform our sense of the human or even threaten the species? Many of the seminar's themes, including democracy, power, inequality, judgment, deliberation, publicity, subjectivity, and agency, are central to political theory, but readings and course materials will also be drawn from such fields as media theory, surveillance studies, sociology, American studies, critical data science, film, and contemporary art. The course neither requires nor teaches any computer science skills. [ more ]

AMST 354(S) SEM Race/War: Critical Readings on Violence

We live in a moment where the media visibility of warfare is surging. On both mainstream media outlets and social media platforms often-pervasive depictions of violence challenge our ability to analyze, historicize, and empathize. This course will step back and explore a longer history of military violence and its connection to key American Studies concepts including race, empire, settler colonialism, and more. We will interrogate a mix of historical, literary, and theoretical texts that offer tools for analyzing the tangled intersections of race and violence, with an emphasis on the history of the United States and its militarized relationship to the rest of the world. Course texts will invite us to investigate how categories like "civilized" and "savage" have intersected with concepts like the "rules of war," international law, and forms of violence that draw the label "race war." Course topics will include Native resistance to US continental expansion, overseas US imperialism in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, indiscriminate violence during World War II, the relationship of Cold War foreign policy to the Global War on Terror, and more. Students can expect to engage a range of sources, including archival materials, legal texts, novels, films, video games, and much more. [ more ]

AMST 365 SEM Race and Psychoanalysis: Slavery and the Psyche

Last offered Fall 2022

This course explores slavery and the psyche through a constellation of Black diasporic literary, visual, and theoretical texts from the US, Caribbean, and Africa. Unwieldy and generative, the opacity of race within the field (and practice) of psychoanalysis shares a fraught intimacy with the co-constitutive terrains of violence and race that form the unconscious. Querying what escapes the hermeneutics of psychoanalysis and aesthetics in the fantasies race engenders, we will examine modernity's articulation of racialization through conceptualizations--both fantasmatic and real--of self, world, knowledge, and possibility. Course texts may include: Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones, Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro, Bessie Head's A Question of Power, Arthur Jafa's APEX and Love is the Message and the Message is Death, Conceição Evaristo's Ponciá Vicêncio, Lars von Trier's Manderlay, Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, Derek Walcott's "Laventille"; and, selections from Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, David Marriott, Kathleen Pogue White, Franz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Nathan Gorelick, Jaqueline Rose, Jared Sexton, Melanie Klein, Jacques-Alain Miller, Melanie Suchet, and Jean Laplanche. Note: This course will reflect the Continental tradition in philosophy. Student should be familiar with the basic interventions of psychoanalysis. [ more ]

AMST 372(S) SEM Technologies of Race

This course is an introduction to theories, methods, sources, and approaches for interdisciplinary research and creativity in and through the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. We will focus on the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and disability with modern media technologies, from early photography in the mid-19th century to contemporary trends in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Through a process of shared inquiry, course participants will investigate the ways that historical legacies of oppression and futuristic speculation combine to shape human lives in the present under racial capitalism. Whether analyses of the automation of militarized border control in Texas, or of the ways that obsolete, racist concepts are embedded in machine vision and surveillance systems, the readings in the course will chart out the key moments in the co-evolution of race and technology in the Americas. Students will gain a working competence in all four tracks of the American Studies major (Space and Place; Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora; Arts in Context; and Critical and Cultural Theory). Finally, we will also explore alternative paths toward a future where technology might help to effect the abolition of oppressive structures and systems, rather than continue to perpetuate them. [ more ]

AMST 373 SEM US Empire in the Philippines: Capitalism, Colonialism, and Revolution

Last offered Fall 2023

When the United States of America took official colonial control of the Philippines in 1898, Filipinos had already been fighting an anti-colonial struggle against Spain for several years. With the start of the Philippine-American War in 1899, that fight continued. Keeping the always-present possibilities of Filipino revolt in mind, this course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of U.S. empire-building in the Philippines from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. We will frame our understanding in terms of racial capitalism and the coloniality of power, with particular attention to the materiality of empire -- infrastructure, architecture, financing, markets, and population management -- and U.S. empire's production of racial, gender, indigenous, religious, and sexual categories and difference. Our readings may be drawn from critical ethnic studies, gender & sexuality studies, American studies, postcolonial theory, Black studies, disability studies, and more. Topics include the military "management" of Muslim, Christian, and animist groups, the Katipunan society, interracial intimacies, and early 20th century Filipino migration to the United States. Students are expected to take an active role in discussion, but no prior knowledge of the Philippines is expected. [ more ]

AMST 374 SEM Black Critical Theory, Black Avant-Garde

Last offered Spring 2024

What is the relationship between violence and what constitutes the Black avant-garde and Black critical theory? Is it possible to conceptualize the latter two without an investigation of Black rebellion and its relationship between Black artistic and intellectual production? Can one argue that Black critique is none other than Black experimentation in form, or that Black abstraction is the requisite effector for all modes of Black praxis and thought? This course will explore these questions through a study of Black continental and diasporic avant-garde texts in multiple mediums. Alongside, we will also consider the emergence of contemporary Black critical theory, chronicling its development as both experimental and critical. Through the works of historical subjects of experimentation also considered to be objects critiquing in experimental form, the course will approach Black avant-gardism and Black critical theory as a productive opportunity to think about Blackness as critique, as experimentation, and as theoria. This pairing of Black avant-gardes and Black critical theory takes "avant" at its root--indicating what precedes or takes precedent--and "garde" as what is preeminent, or what protects. As such, we will start with the question of whether blackness, as an ideological fiction produced through violent historical ideologies and practices, could ever, or ever not, be anything but avant-garde? [ more ]

AMST 375(S) SEM Asian American Sexualities

Perceived as objects of sexual use and perversity, how might Asian/Asian American subjects contend with these projections and enact their own genders and sexualities? Anchored in this question, this theory-intensive seminar will provide a study of seminal and recent scholarship at the intersections of Asian American Studies, feminist criticism, and queer theory that focus on or are read in tandem with a collection of cultural expressions, including film, sculpture, poetry, drag performance, music, manifestos, and visual and performance art. To first root us, the seminar will introduce key uses and theorizations of sex/gender, sexuality, and queerness. Then, across the semester, we will focus on deployments of them through a range of topics, including sexual subjugation and activism of "comfort women," orientalism/ornamentalism, the queering of Sikh, South Asian, and Muslim Americans post-9/11, western demands to "come out," representations in pornography, lesbian invisibility, devaluation of trans* lives, etc., exploring questions of racialized, gendered, and sexual subordination alongside power, pleasure, play, and critique. To this end, we will approach gender and sexuality not as identity categories that one is or has but socially and biologically construed categories, loci for intervention and play, anti-normative positions, lived experiences, and ever-evolving processes of doing, becoming, and unbecoming. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 379(S) SEM American Pragmatism

Along with jazz, pragmatism stands as the greatest uniquely American contribution to world culture. As the music wails in the background, we will study the classic pragmatists: William James, C. S. Peirce, and John Dewey. We will continue with the contemporary inheritors of the tradition: Cornel West, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam. Although it has influenced both analytic and continental philosophy, pragmatism is a powerful third philosophical movement. Always asking what practical difference would it make, our authors investigate the central questions and disputes of philosophy, from epistemology and metaphysics to ethics and religion. Rather than seeing philosophy as an esoteric discipline, the pragmatic philosophers (with the possible exception of Peirce) see philosophy as integral to our culture and see themselves as public intellectuals. [ more ]

AMST 402(F) SEM Marxist Feminisms: Race, Performance, Labor

This seminar provides an overview of queer, black and women of color feminist, decolonial, and critical ethnic studies critiques of orthodox Marxism. Beginning with core texts from the tradition, including Capital Volume I, we will examine a range of social positions and modes of extraction that complicate Marx's emphasis on the white male industrial factory worker. Every week, we will focus on texts that foreground conditions of reproduction, racial slavery, care and domestic work, indentured servitude, immigrant labor, land expropriation, and sex work among others. Throughout the seminar and specifically at the close of it, we will turn to critical perspectives and aesthetic practices that not only respond to these conditions but also incite new social relations and ways of being in the world. As such, this seminar will equip students with critical understandings of how racial capitalism has fundamentally relied on the mass elimination, capture, recruitment, and displacement of different racialized, gendered, and abled bodies in and beyond the U.S. as well as how the capitalist system of value and life under these conditions can and must be undone and reimagined. [ more ]

AMST 405 SEM Critical Indigenous Theory

Last offered Fall 2020

Intellectual decolonization is not a bounded project. On one hand, it demands a vocabulary of difference and refusal that rejects colonial theories and epistemologies. On the other, it demands that we interrogate our own intellectual and cultural traditions and trauma. Critical Indigenous theory is a tool in those projects, as it offers a corrective and an opening up of both dominant critical theory traditions that violently erase Indigenous bodies and political realities and of Indigenous theory that can essentialize difference and replicate oppressive dynamics in our communities. Critical Indigenous theory seeks to understand the structures and relations of power in settler colonialism, nested sovereignty, and culturally specific Indigenous philosophical traditions, like Indigenous studies more broadly, but also questions the key concepts that define Indigenous studies: tradition, sovereignty, authenticity, identity, race, gender, and sexuality. In this course, we will read major works in critical Indigenous theory that address indigeneity as it relates to race, postcolonial theory, feminist and two-spirit critique, alternative political engagement with the settler colonial state, and questions of "colonial unknowing." We will work on cultivating the reading practices needed to parse dense theoretical texts, and over the course of the semester you will develop a research project on a topic of your choosing that will allow you to take critical Indigenous theories and employ them as analytic tools and lenses. [ more ]

AMST 407(F) SEM Colonialism and Critical Theory

French philosopher Michel Foucault argued that "racism first develops with colonization, or in other words, with colonizing genocide." Many prominent philosophers have developed intellectual tools that can help us better understand the ongoing colonialisms that impact our world. At the same time, many of these same theorists--Foucault included--are criticized for failing to pay adequate attention to the colonialism that shaped their historical moments. Taking this paradox as our jumping-off point, this course will examine prominent philosophical and theoretical texts and assess their utility for understanding processes of colonialism, imperialism, and militarism. We will also explore how the interventions of Postcolonial Theory and Critical Indigenous Theory highlight gaps in prominent theories of political-economy, ideology, biopower, race, gender, sexuality, and more. How do ideas like orientalism, settler-colonialism, sovereignty, or decolonization challenge the traditional "canon" of critical theory? How do intellectual ideas evolve over time, and how can we use these tools to make sense of a complex world too-often organized around fundamental inequalities? In our class meetings students will develop the reading and discussion practices necessary to parse dense theoretical texts, and practice deploying theoretical concepts to better understand complex philosophical, ethical, and political questions. Since this course counts as a Senior Seminar (core course), writing will be organized around a longer, more intense research project that follows from a student's particular interests. [ more ]

AMST 409 SEM Prehistories of the War on Terror

Last offered Fall 2023

On September 11th, 2001, members of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and rural Pennsylvania. For many Americans this tragedy seemed to come out of nowhere. In an attempt to historicize these shocking events, and the global wars that resulted from them, this course will examine the prehistories of the War on Terror. We will study the United States' emergence as a global power after World War II, US foreign policy and its relationship to the Middle East, and the political and cultural currents that informed American responses to the events of 9/11. We will also explore the history of the War on Terror itself. Topics will include the Cold War, the environmental history of oil, the history of terrorism, the relationship between race and war, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. [ more ]

AMST 410 SEM Black Literary and Cultural Theories

Last offered Fall 2016

This course will examine the writings of black twentieth- and twenty-first-century Anglophone and Francophone literary and cultural theorists in the African diaspora. We will begin with Sojourner Truth and W.E.B. Du Bois and end with current debates between the "Afro-Pessimists" and "Afro-Optimists." We will be reading writers from the United States, Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, moving through the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, the Black Arts movement and Black Panthers, the Black Atlantic, and black feminism and queer studies. We will come to see that there is no easy separation between questions of politics (e.g., anti-colonialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist) and those of aesthetics and poetics. [ more ]

AMST 412 SEM Cold War Archaeology

Last offered Spring 2024

In this advanced American Studies course, we will examine Cold War history and culture with attention to the intersection of racialization and nuclear paranoia. The concurrent unfolding of the struggle for Civil Rights and the national strategy of Civil Defense played out against the backdrop of a global ideological battle, as the United States and the Soviet Union fought each other for planetary domination. From the scientific fantasy of bombproofing and "safety in space," to the fears of both racial and radioactive contamination that drove the creation of the American suburbs, the affective and material dimensions of nuclear weaponry have, from the beginning, been entangled with race. Drawing on the critical and analytical toolkits of American Studies and media archaeology, students will dig beneath the surface of received narratives about the arms race, the space race, and race itself. Students will uncover generative connections between mineral extraction, the oppression of Indigenous populations, the destructive legacies of "urban renewal," and the figure of the "typical American family" huddled in their backyard bunker. Finally, this course will examine the ways in which the Cold War exceeds its historical boundaries, entangles with the ideology and military violence of the Global War on Terror, and persistently shapes the present through its architectural, affective, and cultural afterlives. [ more ]

AMST 415(S) SEM Racial Melancholia, Queer Melancholia

The psychoanalytic theory of melancholia--the ways in which one refuses to fully let go of that which one has lost--is a foundational concept to the fields of ethnic studies, queer theory, and cultural studies. In the wake of losses due variously to histories of forced migration and slavery, the AIDS epidemic, war, and social exclusion, various scholars and critics have posited melancholia as a structuring condition of contemporary life as subjects differently navigate loss, displacement, and exclusion. Theories of racial and queer melancholia have emerged as supple frameworks through which to consider how queer and racialized subjects hold onto non-normative ways of being, relation, and sociality against the normalizing tides of erasure. We will chart out a connection between how we relate to and apprehend the past as it then pertains to how we relate to and apprehend others. Beginning with a dive into Freudian psychoanalysis, this seminar will explore concepts of loss and melancholia and their uptake into critical theory, critical race theory, and queer theory/queer of color critique. Alongside our scholarly inquiries, we will engage with a range of art, literature, performance, and film that explore topics of memory, trauma, migration, the queer past and the queer future, subjectivity, relationality, and gender and sexuality. [ more ]

AMST 428(S) SEM Relationality and Its Antagonisms

Relationality has been the defining approach, feature, and framework of ethnic studies since its inception in the late 1960s. Since then, notable scholars have applied multiple keywords, including difference, comparison, entanglements, cacophonies, and intimacies, to emphasize how processes of racialization and racial formation are not isolated and separate but inextricably linked and shaped by one another. Only from these distinct, uneven, yet shared positions of oppression, as scholars argue, solidarity across race, gender, class, sexuality, and location may emerge. At its crux, this seminar will underscore major tensions and antagonisms against frameworks of relationality. Tracing primary sources, cultural expressions, and literature within the traditions of ethnic studies and transnational/women of color feminisms, it will trace the shifts in approaches to relationality, especially as it relates to practices of reciprocity and community-building across difference. At the same time, it will turn to works that name relationality as what Frank B. Wilderson calls a "ruse," or trick, that subsumes the specific, exceptional position of blackness. Our units will include discussions of Afro-Pessimism, indigeneity, racialized settler colonialism as well as queer theory debates on queer presentism (i.e., a queer "no future") versus queer futurity. Studying the tensions that emerge from multiple, distinct, and contradictory planes of power, oppression, and temporalities, how do we assess, work through, and reconcile, if at all, relations deemed as "irreconcilable" across vectors of difference? [ more ]