American Studies A202 – Fall 2002 At Risk: Anxiety and Insecurity in America



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Part of the Sept 11 resources at http://stopviolence.com

American Studies A202 – Fall 2002

At Risk: Anxiety and Insecurity in America


Instructor: Michelle Brown


Course Introduction:

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Americans have increasingly perceived themselves and their ways of life as transformed. In public discourse, politicians, media agents, and concerned citizens struggle to articulate the nature of this transformation, searching for new vocabularies to describe the contemporary conditions of existence in the United States. Frequently, that naming centers upon a new sense of insecurity and anxiety, a re-definition of the terms of public safety and civil liberties, and a heightened state of “normalcy” that is now mapped and measured through assessments of risk.

This course seeks to explore the discourse of risk and its companion terms: anxiety, insecurity, panic, fear, crisis, and even terror as they appear not simply in contemporary American culture, but as experiences and understandings deeply rooted in the conditions of democracy, modernity, and an increasingly global society. We will begin with the assumption that although the dimensions of risk and insecurity in contemporary life may have changed, their presence is nothing new. From natural disasters to industrial accidents, chemical warfare to terminal disease, high crime to expanding social surveillance, Americans have always existed in personal and cultural contexts that demand they make sense of impending crisis. Using a variety of materials (film, best-sellers, art, advertising, and other cultural artifacts) and theoretical perspectives (psychology, sociology, criminology, history, religious studies, cultural studies, literary theory, etc.), following an interdisciplinary program unique to American Studies, we will explore how Americans have attempted to render comprehensible a world of risk and how these perceptions and experiences have in turn transformed personal, cultural, and national identity.

The design of this course represents a merging of my training in justice, cultural, and media studies. I have attempted to make the class deeply interdisciplinary in order to make the course and our discussions of risk, terror, and September 11, 2001 as meaningful as possible. We will draw from thinkers across many disciplines, including literature, history, religious studies, sociology, psychology, political science, criminology, and other areas of expertise. At times, this strategy will lead to conflict, confusion, and the absence of any single or clear answer to the problems and issues we tackle. Should we leave the course with more questions than when we started, I believe we will have approached the beginning of knowledge and fulfilled the primary course objective.


Course Requirements:

The course requirements are designed to create a rigorous analytical engagement of course texts and materials, all in an effort to create an energetic forum for discussion. The grading distribution will include two exams: 1) The midterm exam will be taken in class, closed book; 2) The final exam will be a take-home assignment. Please note that over 1/3 of your grade depends upon participation. This will be measured through essays (written in and out of class), quizzes, periodic experimental assignments, classroom discussion, and attendance.


Midterm Exam 30%

Final Exam 35%

Participation/Attendance 10%

Weekly Written Engagements (of various sorts…) 25%


Required Texts:

  1. Mark Juergensmeyer. 2001 (updated). Terror In the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  2. Toni Morrison. 1998 (reprint). Beloved. NY: Plume.

  3. A Course Reader (available at Collegiate Copies, E. 3rd St. next to the Bloomington Bagel Co.)

Syllabus

Part I: USA Post 9-11: Risk Society

This section of the course will include a series of lectures and discussions which seek to 1) outline a rudimentary vocabulary for a discussion of risk based upon some of the literature’s key concepts and terminology; 2) identify and explore key theoretical perspectives that will prompt us and guide us throughout the course: trauma theory, post-structuralism, the sociology of risk, etc.; 3) begin an ongoing elaboration of the specific contours of risk in a highly individualistic democracy like the United States. Preliminary questions will include: How are perceptions and experiences of risk shaped by notions of national identity, democracy, pluralism, and individualism? How are risk and its companion concepts mediated through cultural and social forces? How do perceptions of risk transform the lives of Americans? How do we know? We will begin the course by asking all of these questions in the context of reactions to September 11, 2001. At the conclusion of this section, we will engage in a case study application: understanding 9/11 and terrorism through the interdisciplinary lenses of religion and globalization via Mark Juergensmeyer's bestseller Terror in the Mind of God.


Tuesday, 9/03:

    • Course Introduction: Content and Philosophy

Thursday, 9/05:



  • Benjamin Barber: “2001 Introduction: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy” from Jihad vs McWorld

  • Frank Furedi: “The Explosion of Risks” from Culture of Fear

Tuesday, September 10:



  • Frank Furedi: “Why Do We Panic?” from Culture of Fear

  • Ulrich Beck: "On the Logic of Wealth Distribution and Risk Distribution" from Risk Society

Thursday, September 12:



Tuesday, September 17:

  • Mark Juergensmeyer: “Islam’s Neglected Duty” and “Theater of Terror” from Terror in the Mind of God

Thursday, September 19:



  • Mark Juergensmeyer: “Cosmic War” and “Martyrs and Demons” from Terror in the Mind of God

Tuesday, October 01:



  • Mark Juergensmeyer: “Warriors’ Power” and “The Mind of God” from Terror in the Mind of God

Part II: The Trauma of Origin – Birth of a Nation

Here we will work through notions of risk in American history via what we might assume are potential prototypes - largely un-named terms. We will explore the gaps and silences in explanations and articulations of the origin of the United States – particularly the missing term in westward expansion (the violence of the erasure of Native American culture and original inhabitancy in the settlement and closing of the frontier) and how the violence underlying identity formation, particularly gender (patriarchal structures) and racial identity (e.g., the practice of slavery), come to be central, though often unstated, terms in the contests and debates over national security. We will also explore how images of national origin in retrospections (D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation; John Ford’s The Searchers; Ridley Scott’s Gladiator) are often used to work through these same anxieties in more contemporary settings. Our case study in this section of the course will be Toni Morrison's Beloved where we will attempt to map risk in relation to the trauma of slavery and its impact upon social formation - including notions of family, motherhood, masculinity, self, and the supernatural.

Thursday, October 03:


  • Alexis de Tocqueville: "The Unlimited Power of the Majority"; "Why Democratic Nations Show a More Ardent and Enduring Love of Equality Than Liberty"; "Of Individualism in Democratic Countries"; "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear"…selections from Democracy in America

  • Robert Bellah et al.: "Individualism" from Habits of the Heart

Tuesday, October 08:



  • Richard Slotkin: "The Significance of the Frontier Myth in American History" from Gunfighter Nation

Thursday, October 10:



  • Toni Morrison: Beloved

Tuesday, October 15:



  • Toni Morrison: Beloved

Thursday, October 17:



  • Toni Morrison: Beloved

Tuesday, October 22:



  • Toni Morrison: Beloved

  • Exam Review

Thursday, October 24:



  • Midterm Examination


Part III: The Axes of Anxiety

Ecological/Technological/Biological Anxieties


Perhaps the oldest and most original categories for the exploration of risk and anxiety are natural disaster and natural illness, followed quickly by man-made catastrophic engagements of both. This section explores 1) the double-edged nature of technology as leading both to disaster/illness – and its prevention and 2) cultural responses to these possibilities. Usable Films: Outbreak, Philadelphia, Fearless, The Stand, Dante's Peak, Deep Impact, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Titanic, Random Hearts, Erin Brockovitch, The Perfect Storm
Tuesday, October 29:

  • Susan Sontag: Illness as Metaphor

Thursday, October 31:



  • Mike Davis: "The Dialectic of Ordinary Disaster" from Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster



Culture of Terror – Redefining Crime and Punishment


One of the historically primary sites for the state’s elaboration of risk and response has been the criminal justice system. This section of the course addresses the way in which criminology has envisioned risk through notions of crime and punishment and how those conceptions have changed dramatically as “high crime” has become an increasingly normal condition of modern life. Also, we will explore how in fact the rarest instances of crime become the most culturally productive – subject to widespread fascination, easy touchstones for a host of insecurities and concerns in modern life. Usable films: M, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer
Tuesday, November 05:

  • Philip Simpson: "The Serial Killer in Fiction" from Psycho Paths

  • Mark Seltzer: "Serial Killing for Beginners" from Serial Killers: Death and Life in America’s Wound Culture

Thursday, November 07:



  • Judith Walkowitz: "Jack the Ripper" from City of Dreadful Delight



Part IV: Cultural Reaction



Risk for Profit: Fear and International Economies


One of the primary forces in the development of “risk” as a key sociological term hinges upon its economic utility. This section of the course looks at how risk “assessment” and the production of security are highly commodified terms, central to post-industrial capitalism, now deeply embedded in global politics and economies with the U.S. playing a major world role as a “security” distributor. Usable films: The End of Violence, X-Files: Fight the Future, Traffic, The Panic Room
Tuesday, November 12:

  • David Garland: "Crime Complex: The Culture of High Crime Societies" from The Culture of Control

  • Vivien Stern: "Prison Expansion and the Private Sector" from A Sin Against the World

Thursday, November 14:



  • David Held and Anthony McGrew: “The Great Globalization Debate” from The Global Transformations Reader

  • Mike Davis: "Fortress L.A." from City of Quartz



Apocalyptic Visions


As we near the conclusion of the course, we now explore the tendency toward dystopia that accompanies risk society in its imagining of the future. We will pursue this through an investigation of the way in which the cultural imagination maps its history as concealed and its future as an “ending.” We will also examine how the notion of risk as culturally constructed provides a window into alternatives to this trajectory. Usable films: Terminator, Independence Day, The Rapture, The Matrix
Tuesday, November 19:

  • Paul Boyer: “Apocalyptic Portents in a Post-Cold War World” from When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in American Culture

Thursday, November 21:



  • Eugen Weber: “Conclusion” from Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs Through The Ages



Patterns of Coping: Self-Help Society in the “New Age”


Given the ubiquitous and massively divergent conceptions of risk in contemporary American life, a number of technologies, industries, and schools of thought directed toward “coping” with the modern condition have developed. These approaches range from therapy to drug use, denial to memorial, apathy to empowerment. We conclude the course with a section on the ways in which Americans as individuals and citizens have “spoken back” to crisis, mapping emergent social reactions, cultural obsessions, and new vocabularies. Usable films: Shoah, Magnolia, Girl Interrupted, Requiem for a Dream, Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision
Tuesday, November 26:

    • Elayne Rapping: "Oprah, Geraldo, and the Movie of the Week: Recovery-Talk Takes Over" from The Culture of Recovery: Making Sense of the Self-Help Movement in Women’s Lives

    • bell hooks: "Healing Darkness" and "Walking in the Spirit" from Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self Recovery

Thursday, November 28: Thanksgiving break


Tuesday, December 03:

    • Elizabeth Wurtzel: Think of Pretty Things" and "Epilogue" from Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America

    • Peter Kramer: "Introduction" from Listening to Prozac

Thursday, December 05:



  • Stanley Cohen: "Images of Suffering" from States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering

Tuesday, December 10:



  • Edward Linenthal: “ ‘We Come Here to Remember’: Creating the Memorial in Oklahoma City” from The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory

Thursday, December 12:



  • Conclusion: What now?

  • Anthony Giddens: "Riding the Juggernaut" from The Consequences of Modernity


Final Exam: Due Thursday, December 19


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