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Culture wars: debates over the meaning of the nation

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Culture wars: debates over the meaning of the nation

Throughout the course we have emphasised the tensions over moral, religious and cultural issues. In the 1920s, prohibition and immigration were central to political debate. The 1960s saw the erosion not only of Jim Crow in the South, but, more broadly, of a post-war "victory culture" -- a vision of American identity that was rooted in the certainty of American power and a profound sense of cultural and social unity. Challenges to this complacent consensus can be described terms of the increasing inability of white Anglo-Saxon protestants to control the dominant culture (always remember that emancipation for one group is a challenge to the authority of another).

Why have cultural questions been so salient throghout the twentieth century and beyind and why have they been particularly divisive at certain moments?

How has the rise of multiculturalism and a "rights revolution" affected conceptions of American identity?

  1. Modernity and its discontents

What does modernity mean? In the 1920s and ever since many Americans celebrated the modernity of their technologically innovative society while others harboured profound reservations. How has economic development affected culture and self-awareness? What has been the impact of urbanisation and suburbanisation? Has a "culture of consumption" undermined "traditional values" and if so, how and why? Has economic growth and the expectation of rising standards of living transformed the meaning of the "pursuit of happiness"? How did the 1960s cultural revolution with its emphasis on self-realisation and "authenticity" affect the lines of division in American society? And why in the midst of a society often seen by itself and by outsiders as the epitome of modernity have fundamentalist religion and the idea of tradition remained such powerful forces?

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