Section 003: T, 7 to 9:45 p.m., HHH 230

    Fall 2007, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


    Office: HHH 425, (715) 836-4369

    Office Hours:  T 2:40-4:30 pm, T 9:50-10:30 pm,
    W 2:40-3:30 pm, F 3:40-4:30 pm, and By Appointment



    Let us begin with provisional working definitions of three key terms.

    Theory aims to provide a conceptual explanation of what forms and constitutes an object (and I mean “object” in a broad sense here: “objects” of theoretical interest and concern include, for example, “questions,” “issues,” “problems,” “processes,” and “relations”).  This means that a theory of an object seeks to explain what, in essence, distinguishes this object, how and for what this object functions, and what gives rise to and follows from the object’s interdeterminate interconnections with other objects.  

    Criticism applies theory to support and sustain an evaluation of an object.  In other words, criticism judges an object, assessing its significance, value, usefulness, and/or effectivity while simultaneously justifying its judgement by drawing upon the support of theory to do so.  

    Critique is a particular mode of criticism.  Critique refers to the mobilization of theory to support an effort at intervention in relation to an object.  In other words, critique deploys theory to affect either 1.) a change in an object or 2.) a change in the ways people find it conceivable, desirable, and possible to value and use this object.  Theory always develops through critique of preexisting theory as well as by means of intellectual processes that include analysis and synthesis, deduction and induction, abstraction and concretization, and testing and modeling.


    Let’s turn next to some basic questions: 1.) Why study theory and criticism?  2.) What does it mean to do so at an “introductory” level?  3.) And what does this study have to do with English?

    I will address the first two of these questions together, in this section (2.) and then turn, subsequently, to address the third in the next two sections (3.) and (4.).

    Here goes.

    Throughout the everyday lives of each and every one of us, our ability to make sense of the world around us–and to orient ourselves to engage in relation to it on the basis of how we make sense–means that we are continually working with "theories" of one kind or another.  At the same time, because our everyday lives also demand that we make numerous judgements according to various standards and criteria and that we then proceed according to the judgements we have made, we are also continually thinking and acting in ways which are at least rudimentarily "critical" as well.  Nevertheless, in our everyday lives most of us do not all that often reflect upon precisely what theories are guiding and sustaining us, how so, and why so, nor do we frequently examine how and why we think and act critically in the ways that we do.  Moreover, if asked to produce a rigorous intellectual explanation, precisely accounting for and meticulously justifying the theoretical and critical influences upon and determinants of our everyday ways of thinking, understanding, feeling, believing, interacting, communicating, acting, and behaving, most of us would have a very difficult time.
    Because the theories that guide and sustain us and the ways in which we think and act critically in our everyday lives are rarely simply the result of our own uniquely individual creation and rarely a matter simply of our own autonomously free choice–especially when we either are not conscious of their effects upon us or are unable to explain, account for, and justify these in a sustained and rigorous fashion–we are always working according to the influence and the determination of theoretical and critical approaches which are much larger than the space "inside" of our own "heads" or "minds": we are always working according to theoretical and critical approaches which occupy particular places within particular societies and cultures and which are formed as particular products of particular histories and politics.

    A course of "introduction to theory and criticism” presents an opportunity not only, therefore, to learn about the theoretical and critical approaches of what might often at least initially seem like an elite caste of distant and specialized others–specific, and frequently famous, named "theorists" and "critics"–but also, and more importantly, to reflect upon how and why all of us work with the kinds of theoretical and critical approaches we do; where these come from and what gives rise to them; where they lead and what follows from them; which such approaches predominate in what areas of everyday life today, in what places within what societies and cultures, with what uses and effects, toward the advancement of what ends and toward the service of what interests; and what alternative approaches are possible, what alternatives are desirable, what alternatives are necessary, and how do we get from here to there.      

    In fact, as I see it, the foremost aim of beginning to learn, to think, read, write, and act theoretically must be to develop and refine the ability to recognize, understand, explain, account for, and justify the theories that guide and sustain us throughout our everyday lives.  Likewise, the foremost aim of beginning to learn to think, read, write, and act critically must be to develop and refine the ability to recognize, understand, explain, account for, and justify the kinds of judgements, the ways in which we make judgements, and the standards and criteria we use in making judgements throughout everyday life.  

    In short, in this course, my ultimate aim is to teach you to theorize, and to critique, not simply to know something about–to be able merely to identify and describe–the theories and critiques that others produce.    


    English 284: Introduction to Theory and Criticism is not a literature course, a linguistics course, a creative writing course, an English education course, or a scientific and technical communication course.  (And I should know as I myself designed and proposed it, and as I was the first person ever hired to work in this department with primary expertise in, and primary responsibility, for theory and criticism.)   This is, instead, a meta-textual course: the principal objects of our collective inquiry are cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and especially trans-disciplinary theories and modes of critical practice.  

    In short, this is a course in critical theory.  What, precisely, does this mean?   Again, ready?  Here goes.

    "Critical theory" refers to a series of pathways for intellectual inquiry that first emerged with the end of the 18th century European Enlightenment and in particular with the initial widespread waning of intellectual confidence that the newly hegemonic bourgeois society would succeed in realizing Enlightenment ideals.  In short, critical theory represents the intellectual articulation of the conviction that modern capitalist society cannot–at least not without significant reformation or substantial transformation–realize the Enlightenment ideal of an enlightened–that is, a rational, just, and humane–society.  According to Enlightenment consensus, this (ideal) society is to be one which will genuinely embody the highest values of  human civilization, and which will thereby insure steady progress in the attainment of liberty, justice, prosperity, and contentment for all of its citizens.

    Critical theory begins by inquiring into what prevents the realization of this Enlightenment ideal.  In doing so, critical theory questions and challenges the seeming obviousness, naturalness, immediacy, and simplicity of the world around us, and, in particular, of what we are able to perceive through our senses and understand through the application of our powers of reason.  

    Critical theory is therefore concerned with discovering and uncovering, and with describing and explaining "mediations"–environmental, ecological, physical, physiological, psychological, intellectual, emotional, historical, social, cultural, economic, political, ideological, linguistic, semiotic, aesthetic, religious, ethical, etc.– between "object" and "subject," "event" and "impression," "impression" and "perception," "perception" and "cognition," "cognition" and "reflection," "reflection" and "response," "response" and "reaction," "reaction" and "action," and "action" and "practice."  

    At the same time, "critical theory" also always involves questioning and challenging the passive acceptance that "the way things are"–or "the way things seem"–simply "is" the "natural" way they necessarily "should" or "must" be.   In other words,  critical theory questions and challenges the conviction that what is, or what is in the process of becoming, or what appears to be, or what is most commonly understood to be, or what is dominantly conveyed to be, is also at the same time right and true, good and just, and necessary and inevitable: critical theory does not, at least not automatically, accept any of this.

    Critical theory is always particularly concerned with inquiring into the problems and limitations, the blindnesses and mistakes, the contradictions and incoherences, and the injustices and inequities in how we as human beings, operating within particular kinds of structures and hierarchies of relations with each other, facilitated and regulated by particular kinds of institutions, engaged in particular kinds of processes and practices, have formed, reformed, and transformed ourselves, each other, and the communities, cultures, societies, and worlds in which we live.

    Critical theory has always occupied tenuous positions within traditional (academic) disciplines, and has always moved restlessly across disciplinary borders; after all, when we think of what critical theory has influenced, we must include such diverse disciplines as sociology, political science, philosophy, economics, history, anthropology, psychology, and even biology and physics, as well as studies in English and other national, regional, and ethnic languages and literatures.  Critical theory, in sum, is by no means merely a province of English Studies, and neither need it be, should it be, nor can it be confined to English Studies alone, or to language and literature studies more generally.  

    Yet the questions that we ask of the texts we read and write and of the discourses we produce and disseminate, in English Studies, are always already sedimented with the weight of extensive historical exchange–and interchange–with critical theory, and the answers we seek to these questions eventually require us to engage with and draw upon critical theories far more directly than simply to acknowledge this sedimentation.  These questions include, at their most fundamental, why should we, or anyone for that matter, read and write these texts, the texts we privilege, and why should we, or anyone else, be interested in producing and disseminating these discourses, the discourses that are of the greatest importance to us, and why so here and now?  What is the value of these texts and discourses?  What is their relevance?  What is their usefulness?  How and why are they different, including different in their kind or degree of value and use, from other kinds of texts and discourses in circulation within contemporary society and culture at large?  It is for this reason that this department includes this course, a quintessential liberal arts course, as a required component of its undergraduate core curriculum.  In situating this course within this location our aim is to cultivate rigorous self-reflexivity in your own intellectual work and practice, as well as to offer you stimulus and provocation that can effectively assist you in producing both more compelling and sophisticated articulations in your engagement with the intellectual work and practice of others.



    Explicit concern with the study of critical theory in relation to English Studies reflects and responds to how much the disciplines of English and their constituent fields of intellectual inquiry have changed over the past approximately forty years.  Even as many English Departments continue to prioritize courses in what at first glance might seem like fairly traditional areas–e.g., literature, rhetoric and composition, linguistics, creative writing, and English education–much has nevertheless changed both in the ways that many of these courses are taught and the aims that are often pursued in teaching these courses.  Even more important than these changes, however, is the fact that English has been at the cutting edge of the transformation of the humanities into the principal broad arena of intellectual concern with relations between texts and cultures such that even those departments and programs that do not explicitly declare themselves as doing “cultural studies” often in fact are extensively engaged in doing so.

    Cultural studies has challenged the predominance of the governing categories of traditional literary studies (the virtually exclusive central focus of early to mid 20th century work in English) such as the "canon," the discrete and homogenous "period," the formal properties of "genre," the literary object as autonomous and self-contained, the "author" of the "work" as a figure of transcendent "genius," the act of reading as a private mode of reverential contemplation and ecstatic escape from the mundane pressures of the everyday, and the "greatness" of literature as measurable in terms of universal standards of aesthetic beauty and eternal principles of ethical right and good.  In these challenges, cultural studies is continuous with developments over the last forty years of work in literary studies from structuralism through postmodernism and beyond.  

    Ultimately more important, however, in distinguishing cultural studies from (traditional) literary studies, therefore, is the fact that cultural studies is directly concerned with the "writing" and "reading" of all "texts" of culture, and not just conventional "literary" texts.  According to cultural studies, we "read" whenever we interpret what something "means," and we "write" whenever we create something which others must interpret so as to determine what it means.  This leads us to approach all products of culture as "texts" insofar as they are written and read, insofar as they are understood as possessing or bearing meaning.  "Texts" include everything from the seemingly most "profoundly meaningful" to the seemingly most "mundanely meaningless" (as, after all, to be considered insignificant, or of little or no meaning, is to be judged to mean in a particular way as well).  Cultural studies thus focuses on making sense of "texts" such as films, television shows, music and video productions and performances, paintings and drawings, sculpture and architecture, sports teams and games, trends in clothing and fashion, commercial advertisements, individual dreams and plans, shopping lists and checkout receipts, buildings and rooms, kinds of food and drink, roads and vehicles, manners and gestures, ceremonies and rituals, personalities and personal relationships, and individual actions and specific incidents.  

    Cultural studies may very well, according to this conception, include literary studies as a constituent component.  It has by now been over twenty-five years since Terry Eagleton proposed, in the first edition of his Literary Theory: an Introduction, that because "literature" is so difficult precisely to define, and, as such, is an extremely incoherent and unstable category, the field of "literary studies" should be replaced by a field of "cultural studies" that focused on making sense of the rhetoric and politics of texts and discourses of all different kinds.  However, it really should be no surprise that we have not witnessed the "death of literature" implicit in this and many similar kinds of recommendation made around the same time.  After all, Eagleton does admit that literature can be defined as whatever a particular culture (or subculture) happens to regard as especially "highly valued writing."  Whereas Eagleton suggests that this means "literature" may no longer serve as a particularly useful category, I suggest that this reconception of what “literature” entails in fact opens up many new possibilities for work in literary studies conducted as part of work within a larger field of cultural studies: i.e., inquiring into what makes for different conceptions of highly valued writing within and across different historical cultures–and subcultures.                                    

    What is most important, as I see it, is how, and for what, is work to be conducted within contemporary English studies, the field of text and cultural studies encompassing yet extending beyond the traditional combination of literary studies plus rhetoric and composition studies plus linguistic studies plus studies in creative writing plus English educational studies.  How are the diverse kinds of texts and discourses studied within “English” today approached, made sense of, interpreted, evaluated, and, yes, put to use–and why so?  If English Studies is to concern itself with understanding the rhetorical, aesthetic, political, and ideological constituents of relations among texts and discourses of diverse kinds throughout culture and across cultures, without translating this understanding into a reductive homogeneity or a constrictive orthodoxy, it needs to bring to bear the insights of an inter- and indeed a trans- disciplinary constellation of cooperating and contesting modes of understanding that has the power to address the breadth of these concerns, and to do so with philosophical rigor–and that constellation is critical theory.      

    We will begin this course, after an initial week of introduction and orientation, by spending three weeks working with Jeffrey Nealon’s and Susan Searls Giroux’s The Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.  This books provides a highly accessible, lively, stimulating introduction to and overview of a consensus within contemporary post-structuralist and post-modernist critical theory on how to make sense and use of the following fundamental concepts in theory and criticism: theory, author/ity, reading, subjectivity, culture, multiculturalism, popular culture, media culture, ideology, history, space/time, postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, difference, gender, sexuality/queerity, race/ethnicity/nationality, class, and agency.  The book succeeds in helping introductory students in theory and criticism begin successfully to grasp the actual power, pervasiveness, concreteness, and extraordinarily wide relevance of work in and with ‘theory’ and ‘criticism’.  It serves as a far more useful introduction to the heart and soul of what theory and criticism are truly all about than more traditional, yet now long outdated books which purport to give basic summary introductions to supposedly discrete ‘schools’, ‘or ‘movements’, or ‘approaches’.  Those latter books inevitably do more harm than good in reductively misrepresenting not only what they ostensibly focus on but also the much larger province of theory and criticism itself.

    After working with The Theory Toolbox we turn next to explore and engage with cutting-edge theoretical and critical work in relation to two of the most pressing, and vitally important issues affecting the future of humanity and of life on this planet: first, Violence in War and Peace: an Anthology, edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois, and, second, Ecology (Key Concepts in Critical Theory), edited by Carolyn Merchant.  We will read selections from both anthologies.   First, we will spend four weeks working with Violence in War and Peace, exploring topics including making sense of the nature of human violence, continuities and discontinuities connecting instances and exercises of violence across times of war and times of peace, conquest and (neo-/post-)colonialism, the Holocaust and other historical genocides, the politics of communal violence, why do people kill?, the state amok: state violence and dirty wars, violence and political resistance, peacetime crimes: everyday violence, gendered violence, violence and race, violence and class, torture, witnessing and reporting on/writing about violence, placing violence in transformative contexts and perspectives, and reducing and ending violence.   Second we will spend three weeks working with Ecology, exploring topics including what is ecology and how/why this is of important/urgent concern, critical theory and the domination of nature, environmental economics and politics, deep ecology, social ecology, socialist ecology, ecofeminism, environmental justice, violence and race, violence and class, spiritual ecology, postmodern science, and programs of action for environmental justice and ecological transformation.  

    After that, we will spend four weeks working with a fantastically complex, challenging, riveting, and inspiring work of philosophical and political fiction: Starhawk’s utopian/dystopian novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, which is concerned with making incisive theoretical and critical interventions concerning issues of violence in war and peace, ecology, organization of human community and society, interrelations between culture and nature, interrelations between folk and scientific wisdoms, gender and sexuality, race and class, spirituality and religion–and much more as well.  We will be able to explore all of these vital issues through our engagement with Starhawk’s novel.

    Finally, for our final examination in class, I will ask students to prepare short presentations to make to and discuss with your classmates in relation to a discrete series of questions embedded in a challengingly imaginative scenario.  The last time I taught this course we concluded our work together that way, and my students overwhelmingly declared that they found it one of the most usefully challenging, provocative, stimulating, and meaningful activities they had ever pursued in school, in any class, and on any level.  And I believe it was an excellent way to bring home what the most important continuing legacy of our work together in this class over the course of one semester needs–must–be.  


    In order to gain the most you can from this course you will need to keep several points in mind as we proceed:  

    First, we can only engage with a small number of significant contributions to the immense critical theoretical discussion engaging the issues we will take up, and we can only begin to explore what makes these contributions significant.  This is an introductory course, the opening to a potential lifetime’s pursuit; don’t expect that what we read and study this semester represents the ‘ultimate truth’ or the final answer to what constitutes the most important work in ‘theory and criticism’.   Feel free to explore writers and writings we do engage further than our assigned textbooks allow and feel free as well to bring other theories and modes of critical practice, represented by other figures and groups, to bear as we proceed in discussion.

    Second, the reading you will do for this course should challenge you; you should find it often difficult, at least initially so; and you should not expect that what you read will make intuitive sense or provide immediate satisfaction.  Of course, I hope that eventually you will experience the excitement, even the joy, of working with these levels and kinds of knowledge-practices, but I do not want you to imagine you necessarily should be able to do this right away, with ease.  For most of you, this is your first course in critical theory, whereas, in most cases, you had already taken many courses, and read many texts, in the area of “literature” well before you began your university studies.  Imagine what it might be like to take a course of introduction to literature having never previously taken such a course, studied or read any of the material, or maintaining even much, if any, familiarity with what literature involves and what it might mean to make sense and respond to it.  Expect, therefore, in this class, that you will grow in understanding, facility, and confidence; don’t be needlessly hard on yourself–accept that you will learn through trial and error, through taking risks and trying out ideas, and by making mistakes.  You don’t need “the right answer” or “the right way to say it” to talk; by no means–learn through talking, and through becoming highly comfortable recognizing and accepting what you don’t already clearly understand and what you can’t already clearly articulate.

    Third, you will need, consistently and conscientiously, not only to work hard to remain patient, and to keep an open mind, but also to trust in the potential value of conceptual thinking–and the corollary power of mental abstraction.  Do not rest content with the superficially apparent, the merely commonsensical, the seemingly self-evident, the already familiar; critical theory deliberately challenges all of this, and in order to appreciate what it means to think, speak, listen, read, write, act, and interact in a seriously critical and theoretical manner, you will need to follow this path as well.

    Fourth, even as I will provide a few specific sites for testing and applying what we can extract from readings in theory and criticism, I will count on you to take the initiative to do this yourself as well.  You have to be an active participant in this course; you will gain relatively little if you don’t bring extensively, and intensively, to bear your own knowledge, experience, interests, and concerns in direct relation to the concepts and practices we study.  You have to find ways to make what we read and study relevant to and for you; you need to extrapolate; you need to start engaging as someone who seeks to theorize and critique, not just learn something about theories and modes of criticism.  A cynical approach toward the material here which regards it as simply what you are ‘required’ to study in one course for one semester in order to fulfill the requirements of a major or minor on the way to a degree will leave you confused, frustrated, unfulfilled, and actually disabled from taking advantage of the contribution this course is designed to make toward your success in that very same major or minor field of study.

    Fifth, I know people enrolled in 284 have in many cases taken many English as well as other courses for a considerable number of years now; all of this, including the meaning, value, significance, relevance, and effectiveness of what you have studied and learned, as well as have not, should become ‘grist for the mill’ in our discussions together this semester.  We will frequently reflect on the following questions: a.) Why are we doing what we are doing as women and men working in English studies today, and why not something else, perhaps more meaningful, valuable, significant, effective, relevant, and urgent?  b.) What difference does it make (for whom and for what) that we read, write, teach, study, talk about, and otherwise engage with the kinds of texts we do in the forms and setting that we do, working within this field in this department at this university at this place and time?

    Sixth, and again as a consequence of what I have just elaborated, you will need to participate actively–to ask questions, to offer comments, to not be afraid to speak, and to write what you think, no matter how tentative, uncertain, or confused you might find yourself (i.e., you must be prepared to take the risk that what you say, or write, might turn out to be ‘wrong’).  In fact, don’t look for hard and fast, simple right and wrong answers; the study of theory is as much, if not much more, about asking questions as it is about securing answers, and the process of critique is continuously ongoing.  All positions are limited, in one way or another, and those seriously engaged in theoretical and critical practice quite readily recognize and accept this fact.  We are constantly striving to extend, develop, refine, enrich, renew, open up, pass beyond, approach again, take in a new and different direction–and all the while continuously updating because the objects of our theoretical and critical work do not remain static.  They change, often dramatically, with time and over space, plus the work of theorizing and critiquing these objects changes them, in turn requiring new theorizations and new critiques.

    Seventh, and finally, while I welcome you always to disagree with anything we read whenever you find yourself so inclined, and even strongly encourage you to do so, I expect, at the same time, that you will always first strive to understand what you read ‘on its own terms’, especially when you find yourself troubled or disturbed by it, so that you will not simply dismiss or reject what you oppose but instead carefully argue against and precisely critique it.  I expect you to work hard first to do justice to the positions you engage, and to be able to re-present them as their adherents would recognize them, even when (perhaps especially when) you aim to move from this first stage to a second stage in which you argue strongly to the contrary.  I expect you will do the same with positions I as your teacher advance as well as those your classmates advance.  And I encourage you eventually to work to find theoretical and critical positions that you can stake out as your own, and use your sincere commitment to these as the basis for your engagement with others; to do so means you have to listen, read, and try very hard to understand where others might be coming from, how so, and why so (including when they seem to be coming from very different places than you).


    Required (and all available for purchase at the UWEC Bookstore in Davies Center): 
1.    Nealon, Jeffrey and Susan Searls Giroux.  The Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.   Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2003.  ISBN#: 0-7425-1993-7.

2.    Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois, eds.  Violence in War and Peace: an Anthology.  Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.  ISBN#: 0-631-22349-5.

3.    Merchant, Carolyn, ed.  Ecology.  Key Concepts in Critical Theory.  Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1994, 1999.  ISBN#: 1-57392-600-0.

4.    Starhawk.  The Fifth Sacred Thing.  New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

    Optional (and all available for purchase as well ast the UWEC Bookstore in Davies Center):

1.    Sim, Stuart and Borin Van Loon.  Introducing Critical Theory.  Royston, England: Icon Books, 2004.  ISBN#: 1-84046-588-3.   An unusually perceptive, insightful, and accurate, as well as easy, and fun, comic book introduction to critical theory, from Marx and Marxism up to the present.  A potentially quite helpful reference resource for you.

2.    Eliade, Mircea.  The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion.  Orlando: Harcourt, 1957, 1959, 1987.  ISBN#: 0-15-679201-X.   A short classic text that explores the essence of the nature of religion and spirituality across time and space in highly lucid, readily accessible terms.  Eliade is highly respectful of the attraction to and compulsion for religious/spiritual belief and practice, while finding ways to draw stimulating connections across a host of often seemingly highly disparate and even sharply opposing organizational forms.  Religion and spirituality–in its impact upon us all, believers and non-believers, is again one of the most potent forces in the world today, one that my students in Introduction to Theory and Criticism always enjoy grappling with, and which I wish we had additional time to focus on in detail.  But this is a great book to be familiar with, and it can prove helpful to you as we engage with Starhawk’s The Fifth SacredThing–as well as considerably beyond that four-week period.

3.    Weeks, Jeffrey.  Sexuality.  1986.  Second Edition.  Key Ideas.  London: Routledge, 2003.  ISBN#: 0-415-28286-1.  Again this has become a classic text, and its represents a marvelous introduction to and overview of consensual thinking within critical theory and cultural studies today concerning the social construction of sexuality.  It is a relatively brief, yet thorough, and highly stimulating as well as quite accessible.  Again, few topics energize students in critical theory and cultural studies courses more than issues of sexuality, and among some of the most dramatic developments in critical theory that sharply challenge commonsense have taken place in the field of sexuality studies over the course of the past thirty, to forty, to even fifty years.  Students generally find it highly exciting to become familiar with and engage these developments; it often dramatically reshapes how they think about (and act in relation to) a host of vital issues.  Again, I wish we had more time to focus in depth on sexuality in detail in this course.  But this is another great book, that I highly recommend to you, and which will serve you well as we engage with Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing, as well as considerably beyond that period of time, including in higher-level English classes.

    You may feel free to purchase any of these texts, required or optional, from any other bookstore or book outlet, including by means of on-line ordering outlets (such as http://www.amazon.com or http://www.barnesandnoble.com), as you wish, as long as you acquire them in time to use in and for class.


9/4: Introduction and Orientation.

9/11: Why Theory?, Author/ity, Reading, and Subjectivity.

    Read for Class: The Theory Toolbox, chapters 1-4, 1-50.

9/18: Culture (Multiculturalism, Popular Culture, Media Culture), Ideology, History, and Space/Time.

    Read for Class: The Theory Toolbox, chapters 5-8, 51-124.

9/25: Posts (Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, Postcolonialism), Differences (Gender, Queer, Race, Class, and Concluding Differences), and Agency.

    Read for Class: The Theory Toolbox, chapters 9-11, 125-206.    

10/2: Introduction: Making Sense of Violence, Conquest and Colonialism, and the Holocaust.

    Read for Class: Violence in War and Peace: Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois, “Introduction: Making Sense of Violence,” 1-31; Conrad, “From Heart of Darkness,” 35-38; Taussig, “Culture of Terror–Space of Death: Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the Explanation of Torture,” 39-53; Foucault, “Right of Death and Power Over Life,” 79-82; Levi, “The Gray Zone,” 83-90; Borowski, “From This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman,” 109-117; and Spiegelman, “From Maus: a Survivor’s Tale, II: And Here My Troubles Began,” 118-120.

10/9: The Politics of Communal Violence, Why Do People Kill?, and The State Amok: State Violence and Dirty Wars.                                

    Read for Class: Violence in War and Peace: Litwack, “From ‘Hellhounds’,” 123-128; Milgram, “Behavioral Study of Violence,” 145-149; Rosaldo, “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage,” 150-156; Taussig, “Talking Terror,” 171-174; Scheper-Hughes, “Bodies, Death, and Silence,” 175-185; Green, “Living in a State of Fear,” 186-195; Chomsky, “The New War Against Terror: Responding to 9/11"; and Scheper-Hughes, “Violence Foretold: Reflections on 9/11,” 224-226.
    * Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Assigned. *

10/16: Violence and Political Resistance, and  Peacetime Crimes: Everyday Violence.

    Read for Class: Violence in War and Peace: Sartre, “Preface to Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth,” 229-235; Arendt, “From On Violence,” 246-263; Aretxaga,“Dirty Protest: Symbolic Overdetermination and Gender in Northern Ireland Ethnic Violence,” 244-252; Taussig, “Terror as Usual: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of History as State of Siege,” 269-271; Bourdieu and Wacquant, “Symbolic Violence,” 272-274; Farmer, “On Suffering and Structural Violence,” 281-289; Bourgois, “US Inner-City Apartheid: The Contours of Survival and Interpersonal Violence,”  301-307; and Wacquant, “The New ‘Peculiar Institution’: On the Prison as Surrogate Ghetto,” 318-324.

10/23: Gendered Violence, Torture, Witnessing/Writing Violence, and Aftermaths.

    Read for Class:  Violence in War and Peace:  Bourdieu, “Gender and Symbolic Violence,” 339-342; Bourgois, “The Everyday Violence of Gang Rape,” 343-347; Donaldson, “Hooking Up: Protective Pairing for Punks,” 348-353. Herman, “From Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Terror,” 368-371; Spiegelman, “From Maus: a Survivor’s Tale, II: And Here My Troubles Began,” 391-394; Pedelty, “From War Stories: the Culture of Foreign Correspondents,” 402-409; Zulaika, “The Anthropologist as Terrorist,” 416-419; Fanon, “Colonial War and Mental Disorders,” 443-452; and Sachs, “From The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter,” 453-458.

10/30: Introduction to Ecology, Critical Theory and the Domination of Nature, and Environmental Economics and Politics.

    Read for Class: Ecology: Merchant, “Introduction,” 1-25; Horkheimer and Adorno, “The Concept of Enlightenment,” 44-50; Marcuse, “Ecology and Revolution,” 51-54; Leiss, ‘The Domination of Nature,” 55-64; Commoner, “Poverty and Population,” 88-95; Daly, “Steady-State Economics,” 96-106; and Tokar, “Creating a Green Future,” 112-118.

* Learning and Contribution Paper #1 Due.  *

11/6: Deep. Social, and Socialist Ecology; Ecofeminism.

    Read for Class: Ecology: Devall, “The Deep Ecology Movement,” 125-139; Sessions, “Ecocentrism and the Anthropocentric Detour,” 140-151; Bookchin, ‘The Concept of Social Ecology,” 152-162; King, “Feminism and the Revolt of Nature,” 198-206; and Mathews, “Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology,” 235-245.

11/13: Environmental Justice, Spiritual Ecology, and Postmodern Science.  

    Read for Class: Ecology: Bullard, “Environmental Racism and the Environmental Movement,” 248-253; Shiva, “Development, Ecology, and Women,” 272-280; Spretnak, “The Spiritual Dimensions of Green Politics,” 299-308; Christ, “Why Women Need the Goddess,” 309-321; Capra, “Systems Theory and the New Paradigm,” 334-341; Bohm, “Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World,” 342-350; and “Conclusion: Principles of Environmental Justice [from] the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit,” 371-372.

11/20: The Fifth Sacred Thing, Part One.

    Read for Class: “The Declaration of The Four Sacred Things” (Preface) and Chapters 1-8, 1-126.

    * Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Assigned *

11/27: The Fifth Sacred Thing, Part Two.

    Read for Class: Chapters 9-17, 127-246.

12/4: The Fifth Sacred Thing, Part Three.

    Read for Class: Chapters 18-26, 246-366.

12/11: The Fifth Sacred Thing, Part Four.

    Read for Class: Chapters 27-37, 367-484.

    * Final Examination Brief Individual Writing/Presentation Preparation Assignment Distributed *

12/18:  Final Examination: Brief Individual Student Presentations and Collective Class Discussion.

12/20:  Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Due, By midnight (Either in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405, or by E-Mail to Me [check with me what formats I can and cannot open as attachments] at ranowlan@uwec.edu




    I expect students in this course to strive to become sincerely interested in learning about the subject matter of this course, and to be consistently intellectually serious as well as academically diligent in their pursuit of this learning.  I expect students to strive to bring actively and extensively to bear-in their essays and contributions to class discussion-insights they gain through their engagement with the texts and topics addressed as part of this course, and I expect students to strive at the same time to relate these texts and topics as closely and as fully as possible to subjects of genuine interest and concern in their own lives.  Finally, I expect students to let me know right away when and if they have any questions or problems about any aspect of how they are doing in and with the course, so that I can do whatever I possibly can to help answer these questions and solve these problems.


    The English Department aims to provide you with an intellectually challenging education. This means we will often include texts and introduce topics in our courses that candidly explore adult issues, including ones offering representations that may, on occasion, prove unsettling, disturbing, and even offensive to some of you.

    The higher educational academy is not a "safe space" separate from the rest of the "real world" where you can expect to be sheltered from encountering anything you might find disagreeable or objectionable.  On the contrary, we expect you to take up the challenge to confront these kinds of texts and topics in a mature, responsible way, and that means bringing directly to bear your negative reactions-including your reactions of shock, dismay, and discontent-in class discussions and in your writings and presentations for class.  If you find a position or practice represented in a text or topic included in the assigned readings for class to be objectionable, it is therefore of crucial importance that you raise your objections openly and honestly, not simply claim personal exemption from having to see, hear, or talk, read, and write about these kinds of matters.  After all, disturbing positions and practices exist extensively outside of the classroom as well as in what we read, see, hear, and otherwise confront in and for class; what we confront in class exists in this institutional space as symptomatic of positions and practices that operate beyond the confines of the classroom, the course, and the university.  If and when you find any text or topic genuinely appalling, you maintain the ethical responsibility, as a mature adult and as a responsible citizen, not simply to try to hide from these positions and practices but rather to work to critique and change them.

    Students should expect therefore that you may well on occasion encounter representations that you will find troubling, in this UWEC course and in many others as well; within this Department you will receive no right of exemption from engaging with these and absolutely no welcome for simply complaining (especially to a higher administrative authority) about their inclusion.  Instead you should bring your objections forthrightly to bear in your contributions to class discussion.  

    Finally, to conclude this particular point of discussion, a professor differs from a high school teacher in many respects, but one key difference is that we maintain a principal professional, ethical responsibility forthrightly to represent the most advanced knowledges in our fields of expertise and to proceed from there to work toward their further development and dissemination.  In short, we must create, advocate for, and profess these knowledges; you should expect that your professors may from time to time take strong and indeed controversial positions on difficult and challenging issues, eschewing the pretense of disinterested neutrality.  To do anything less than assume this responsibility, and to do so with alacrity, would be to shirk our professorial responsibility and to render ourselves unworthy of maintaining our professorial position.


    This university is, as most of you well know, a liberal arts institution; education in the liberal arts (and sciences) represents the historic and central commitment of what we do together on this UW campus-not vocational training and pre-professional development.  The university administration and faculty support this commitment so strongly that they have asked that all syllabi elaborate the official goals of the baccalaureate, as well as identify which ones the course in question will help you achieve.  According to the UWEC administration, the baccalaureate degree shall work to develop the following for UWEC students:

1.) an understanding of a liberal education.

2.) an appreciation of the University as a learning community.

3.) an ability to inquire, think, analyze.

4.) an ability to write, read, speak, listen.

5.) an understanding of numerical data.

6.) a historical consciousness.

7.) international and intercultural experience.

8.) an understanding of science and scientific methods.

9.) an appreciation of the arts.

10.) an understanding of values.

11.) an understanding of human behavior and human institutions.

    UWEC strives to help you meet these objectives in the course of the higher education you pursue here.  English 284, Introduction to Theory and Criticism aims to help contribute to you meeting goals 1-4 and 10-11.   

    These goals cannot be met passively by the student: each requires your striving toward it to be met.  Striving means learning actively, completing assignments in a thorough and timely fashion, participating in class discussion, and making connections (above and beyond those emphasized by us in the classroom) between what we do while meeting in class and what you do when engaged outside of the classroom.


    General Criteria: Evaluation of Student Performance

     In evaluating all work done for this course, I will take account of how carefully, seriously, intelligently, enthusiastically, and imaginatively students engage with the concepts, issues, positions, and arguments addressed in the course and represented by the texts we read, by me, and by each other.

    Students should note well that, because we will be engaging in complex thinking and with challenging reading, I have reduced the nature and amount of required writing to compensate.  I will also certainly grade you as students taking an introductory course in a new and difficult area, as well as versus each other (not some ‘higher group’ or abstract standard).  I also want, right at the beginning of our work together, to reassure students that I strongly believe you all maintain the capability to excel in this course.  Many, many undergraduate UWEC students in my theory and criticism courses over the past ten+ years now have produced and contributed absolutely outstanding work, demonstrating truly amazing insight, commitment, and accomplishment; you can too. 


    Attendance is required.  Students are allowed one unexcused absence, maximum.  Other than that, except for an emergency or similar serious problem or difficulty (which you should talk with me about as soon as possible), your grade will likely suffer if you miss class.  We only meet sixteen times over the course of the semester, and this class emphasizes discussion; thus, it is imperative that students (prepare for and) attend classes.  Your presence is also necessary for the large amount of group work we will do.  For every unexcused absence after the first, I reserve the right to lower your overall course grade by a third of a letter.  If you experience troubles of one kind or another that mean you will have to miss a large number of classes, you should withdraw and re-take the course another semester where you will be in a better position to do so.

    Learning and Contribution/Learning and Contribution Reflection Papers

What This is and Why it is Important

    My foremost aim in teaching this course is to help you learn something of significance and value.  I will judge you to a significant degree on what you learn, how-and how hard-you strive to learn, and on how-as well as how well-you contribute to learning for the rest of the class.

    You cannot learn or help others learn if you do not contribute.  If you don't contribute to the work of this class not only will you fail to derive as much gain from it as would be the case if you did contribute, but also you will deprive everyone else of the benefit of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, knowledge, and experience.  In fact, to remain passively silent in class exploits the work of others who actively engage.

Class Participation

    Class participation represents an important opportunity to learn, not just a place in which to demonstrate what you have learned.  By raising questions, testing and trying out ideas, taking risks and making mistakes, you learn a great deal-and help others learn a great deal as well.  You learn through talking, not just talk to show what you have learned.   Don't hesitate to speak forth in class if you have anything at all to throw into the mix.

    At the same time, just talking a great deal does not necessarily mean that you are making a quality contribution to the class by aiding the learning that we aim to accomplish.  Quality of participation is much more important than quantity, although a sufficient quantity is indispensable to insure quality.  Still, I want to emphasize here that I perceive talking for talking’s sake, especially talking which pulls us off on far-fetched tangents, which remains disconnected from and disengaged with the reading and the rest of the class, or which effectively silences others, to be negative participation.

    Quality class participation does not, moreover, involve merely asking questions of me and responding to my questions; quality class participation requires you to work as assiduously as you can to advance a serious and substantial discussion with your peers as well as with me about the texts and topics subject to discussion.  Students should, therefore, be prepared to engage with and respond to each other in class discussion, and I will take particular note of how well you do so.

    I would like you to come to class with strong opinions on the topic of discussion, to be ready to share your opinions with the class, and to be open-minded enough to debate your thoughts and to push them as far as they will go.  This last aspect will involve what some may think is overanalyzing things, or pushing the envelope to the point where meaning may break down, but this process is absolutely necessary to understanding a topic fully.

    As for evaluating class participation, I find the following grade scale useful as a rough guide:  A = Nearly daily response, but always with consistently useful, insightful comments and questions; B= Daily response, with regular comments and questions; C = Less frequent, occasional questions and comments; D = Virtually entirely quiet; and F = Engaging in behavior that disrupts the learning processes of you and your fellow students, such as talking while others are speaking.

Alternative Forms of Contribution

    Contribution to the class certainly can extend far beyond mere speaking in class: it may include a variety of ways in which you can bring to bear your insights to help yourself as well as the rest of us gain from the experience of this course.  Excellent  writings for and in response to class (on Desire2Learn) and as part of your learning and contribution reflection papers as well as in group project critique papers can help make up for limitations as far as participation in class goes.  At the same time, listening carefully, respectfully, and thoughtfully in class discussions is an important contribution to class as well.  

Learning and Contribution Reflection Papers/Learning and Contribution Reflection Grades

    Learning and contribution will constitute a substantial proportion of your overall course grade.  A significant component of this will involve you writing two learning and contribution reflection papers.  These papers will ask you questions that will require you to assess what you have been learning as well as how, and how well, you have been contributing to your own learning, and that of others in the class.

    As I see it, these papers provide you a useful opportunity to communicate with me how you believe you are doing with the course, as well as why so, and to demonstrate your critical self-reflexivity, the hallmark of a liberal arts education.  As you are assessing your own learning and contribution, you may include thoughts in reaction to issues raised in class discussion that you did not have the opportunity or did not feel comfortable enough to share in class; these additional reflections will help me get a better sense of what you have been thinking about and how you have been responding to class discussions, as well as to the readings.  I will take into account what you write in determining your learning and contribution grade for the preceding semester period; performance on these papers represents a vital component of your learning and contribution grade.

    I will provide you specific directions in the assignments I give you for each of these papers; please note well that the questions I ask you to address will change from reflection paper to reflection paper.

    The first learning and contribution grade (including the first learning and contribution reflection paper) will be worth 20% of the overall course grade, and the second learning and contribution grade (including the second learning and contribution reflection paper) will be worth 20% of the overall course grade.   

    Group Project and Group Project Assessment Papers

    Each student will participate in one group project.  Group project presentations will run one per week during weeks 5-6, 9, and 13-14 of the semester.  Your group will be responsible for leading discussion and directing our education in making sense and use of the writings in theory and criticism assigned for that week.  You will also be responsible for selecting any supplemental texts to use in helping illustrate concepts and demonstrate their implications and consequences.  Your group should attempt, as far as possible, to argue for a clear, strong position in relation to the particular texts and topics you are responsible for leading us on, although you may certainly also argue, within your group for differing and especially opposing positions.  Staking out such an argumentative position gives the rest of the class much more to work with and respond to, and proves of considerably greater interest than not doing so.

    Each project group will meet with me in a extended conference at least one week ahead of your presentation in class so that we can plan and prepare together.  I will help you as far as I possibly can.   I want this to be a productive presentation and discussion for all of us, for you and the rest of the class–an experience of genuine educational value.   We will leave time in each of these five class meetings for me also to lead discussion on additional points of importance, interest, and concern.

    After your class presentation and discussion facilitation, you will write a very short paper briefly reflecting on, analyzing, and evaluating–i.e., critiquing–your preparation and performance, as well as that of your groupmates, along with assessing how and what (along with how well) you contributed to your fellow students’ learning.  Specific instructions for this paper will be explained with the assignment for it to be distributed in class.  This paper will be due one week after the class in which you do present and lead discussion.

    In preparing for your group presentation, and in preparing to lead the class in discussion, you must work together–this will be crucial and I will pay close attention to how well you do so–yet you should most definitely feel free to disagree with, even to argue strongly with and to sharply critique, your groupmates as often and as far as you find yourself so inclined; doing so often in fact makes your contribution to our collective learning all-the-more provocative, stimulating, incisive, and compelling.   Don’t hesitate to do this–and don’t hesitate to meet with me more than once, individually as well as collectively, in working on this project.  Finally, argue for positions that you sincerely find compelling, convincing, and persuasive–that truly matter to you–and not just to ‘play the devil’s advocate’.  The latter tends not to prove very effective in these kinds of presentations and discussions, a lot less so in fact than some students imagine ahead of time will turn out to be the case.

    Your grade for what you do in and with class on this project will be worth 15% of the overall course grade; your grade for what you do in and with your subsequent paper will be worth 5% of the overall course grade.  You will receive individual grades for both.

    In addition to what I’ve written above, each student in class will also write a very short paper (even shorter than the one I mentioned directly above this) in response to every other group’s presentation and direction of discussion, as part of its group project, besides that of the student’s own group.  This paper will reflect on, analyze, and evaluate–i.e., critique–the other group’s preparation, presentation, and performance in leading and directing discussion, as well as assess the group’s contribution to our collective learning.  Specific details of these papers will be explained with the assignment when this is given out in class.   Each of these response papers will be worth 2.5% of the overall course grade for a total of 10% of the overall course grade.

    The Final Exam Presentations and Collective Class Discussion

    As indicated previously, this specific assignment will be distributed and explained on the last day of class.  It will function therefore as a ‘take-home’ exam, but, at the same time, it will take a form which likely you will never have encountered before with a final, and, I suspect, one that is considerably  more interesting and valuable than usual.   You will receive a grade worth 10% of the overall course grade for your performance on this examination.  

     Desire2Learn Postings (Reflections, Comments, Critiques)

    Students will prepare and submit two kinds of postings to our Desire2Learn electronic classroom on regular intervals throughout the course of the semester.  This will be a space where you can engage in discussion primarily with your peers, largely free from having to worry about directly addressing me with anything that you here write.


    Each one to two weeks I will post a short writing assignment for you to address on our Desire2Learn electronic classroom.  Students should post their papers in response to this assignment by the deadline specified.   Late postings will inconvenience the rest of us, and, as a result, will lose some credit.  

    These writing assignments will ask you briefly to address questions related to the readings and ideas for and from class.  

    In writing these reflections, comments, and/or critiques you should aim for an approximate target average of 500 to 750 words.  These are “semi-formal,” which means that you should try to write as clearly and cogently as possible, but that I will not be a stickler for minute kinds of fine points of style in evaluating what you write.  

    You should address a minimum of three of these assignments through spring the first half of the semester and a minimum of three more after that in the second half of the semester.


     After students have posted their initial responses to D2L assignment questions, you should then respond to those from at least several posted by your fellow classmates.  These responses can argue with or against what these other students’ have posted, as well as offer constructive questions and critiques, aiming to stimulate dialogue and further reflection on the issues focused on in their posts.  

    You should aim, in these responses, to cover approximately the same length as with your initial postings.

    You should offer a minimum of six responses in the first half of the semester and a minimum of six more responses in the second half of the semester.  

    I will let you know on D2L how long you will have to engage in dialogue for credit with each D2L posts assignment.  Aim to keep up with this task on a regular basis so that you are not cramming responses in at the last moment, and so that what you post does contribute to (your own and fellow students’) significant learning, reflection, discussion, and debate–the more your posts do so, the better your grade will turn out to be.   And please do feel free to argue with and critique each other (focusing, of course, on positions represented and practices supported by your peers, not on denigrating persons).


    If you make quality posts more often than minimally required, either in response to initial post assignments or to each other (or both) this can certainly help your grade, even considerably so.


    I expect the opportunity to engage in this kind of supplementary, informal dialogue will help you in your learning and contribution, as well as make the course more interesting and meaningful for you.  It will also give you the chance to test out and receive potentially helpful feedback on ideas you might want later to pursue in class discussions, and in papers.  In addition, this will give you a chance to share ideas that you thought of after class discussion, or that you needed more time to think out and formulate effectively in your own mind before sharing these, and Desire2Learn postings should help students who are shy about speaking forth extensively in class discussion.  I know everyone in class has much of value to offer, including those who do not feel as readily inclined or as comfortable to voice this in class discussion as some others.

    The Desire2Learn postings will be graded twice, once half-way through the semester and once at the end of the semester.  Here, my evaluation will be quite succinct, focused, and holistic.  The grade for your Desire2Learn postings will contribute the following percentages of the overall course grade: 10% for the first half of the semester, and 10% for the second half of the semester.


    Late papers will receive a reduction of 1/3 of a letter grade per day late unless you have made previous arrangements to turn your paper in to me late due to a serious problem or emergency.  


    Do not use anyone else's words without giving the author credit.  If I find out that you've plagiarized even part of a paper, you will have to re-write it, and you may even be dismissed from UWEC.  If you echo any thoughts mentioned in class discussion add the letters CD in parenthetical citation after the sentence, viz: (Nowlan CD 9/25//07).


    I encourage you to meet with me in conference during office hours or at another mutually convenient time to discuss any issue of interest or concern that you develop as a student in this course and as a member of this class.  I recognize the value of learning that takes place in conferences; I know this can at times be equally as important, and in fact occasionally even more important, than what takes place in class.  It also provides you an opportunity to contribute beyond what you say in class and write for class.  So please do not hesitate to meet with me at any time you think this might be helpful to you–or whenever you’d just like to talk further with me.  I want to help you in your understanding of issues addressed in texts and discussions, as well as in your writing and participation.  And you may certainly also feel free to contact me by e-mail or by (my campus office) phone as well.  

    I really do like to get to know my students; students at this university continually demonstrate impressive ability, talent, knowledge, experience, insight, vitality, and good character.  I am lucky to get to know you; it enriches me.
    * Any student who has a disability and is in need of classroom accommodations, please contact the instructor and the Services for Students with Disabilities Office. *


    In the interest of accountability–me to you–I am here providing you links: 1.) to my statement of philosophy as a college teacher: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/philosophy.htm; 2.) to my autobiographical profile: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/PROFILE_.htm and http://www.myspace.com/insurgentseanmurphy (if you too are on myspace feel free to contact me to become myspace friends); and 3.) to my professional vita (the academic equivalent of a resume): http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/VITA.htm.  I encourage you to check these sites out; it is useful for you to know who your teacher is, what he’s about, and where he’s coming from–and I like to be very open, honest, and forthright with you about all of that.  I look forward to a great semester working together with you!