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Theories of Culture

University of Groningen

Department of American Studies                    

The Idea of American Culture (Or, What's in a Hamburger?)

Spring term 2004

LAE [...]

Prof. Wil Verhoeven

1          MODULE RATIONALE

·        This cross-disciplinary module examines the idea of “culture,” and what is often perceived to be its opposite, “nature” (“Nature produces culture which changes nature”). The module will first explore diverse and contested meanings of “culture” in recent theoretical contexts and analyze a number of contemporary issues in the study of culture, including Culture Wars, popular culture, and the globalization of culture. The module will then shift focus to contemporary American culture, exploring in particular the mediated nature of it (“In America, life is cinema”), and the ins and outs of America’s fast food culture, in many ways the essence of American culture and society.

2          MODULE SUMMARY OF AIMS

·        To foster a basic understanding of the different meanings of culture.

·        To introduce the student to contemporary debates around the concept of culture.

·        To examine the reasons why culture became “a vital preoccupation of the modern age,” and why this privileged status of culture might be coming to an end.

·        To establish an understanding of American culture as a “mediated” culture, “popular” culture, “mass” culture, “low” culture, and to do so in a comparative setting with European (notions of) culture.

·        To apply the insights thus gained to the fast food culture, in order to analyze such issues as consumerism, individualism, modernity, egalitarianism, free-market capitalism, American cultural imperialism.

·        To establish a further understanding of the basic tools, methods and approaches of cultural studies.

3          MODULE ANTICIPATED LEARNING OUTCOMES

            Students will be able to:

·        Show a familiarity with and refer critically to the different meanings of culture and contemporary debates around the idea of culture.

·        Account for the central position of the idea of culture in contemporary debates about society.

·        Demonstrate an understanding of key aspects of culture specific to America.

·        Demonstrate an understanding of the phenomenon of fast food as a quintessential aspect of American culture.

4          MODULE LEARNING AND TEACHING STRATEGY AND METHODS

Teaching will consist of 14 two-hour seminars. Some seminars will take the form of an interactive lecture followed by group discussion, others will begin with brief student presentations which will establish the focus for seminar debate. Students will be assigned prepatory reading for each week and will each be asked to prepare and deliver at least one seminar presentation during the course of the semester.

5          MODULE ASSESSMENT

            This module is assessed by:

·        Written exam (40%)

·        One 1500-word essay (50%)

·        Class participation (10%)

6          MODULE SPECIFIC ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

In addition to the normal assessment criteria for literary-historical essays, students’ work will be assessed in terms of its ability to:

·        Demonstrate an understanding of the different meanings of culture and contemporary debates around the idea of culture.

·        Display an understanding of key aspects of culture specific to America.

·        Relate relevant aspects of the idea of culture to the specific case of America’s fast food culture.

7          INDICATIVE CONTENTS, READING LIST AND RESOURCES

Topics to be covered by the module include:

Culture; history of culture; culture versus nature; high culture/low culture; cultural theories; cultural studies; cultural production; modernity; culture and society; culture industry; consumerism; capitalism; culture and mass media; popular culture; culture and the body; culture, self, and Other; common culture; globalization; ideology; culture and politics; culture wars; identity; culture and power; democracy; postmodernism; postmodern culture; subjectivity; cultural values.

            Primary texts

Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture.

Jean Baudrillard, America .

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal .

            Dominic Strinati, An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (selection).

            Reader.

8          ESTIMATE OF STUDENT WORKLOAD

Classes:                                    14 * 2                          = 28 hours        = 1 ECTS

Preparation + presentation:       840pp at 5pp/hour        = 168 hours      = 6 ECTS      

Paper:                                      672pp at 8pp/hour        = 84 hours        = 3 ECTS

Laatst gewijzigd:24 juni 2016 11:22