Instructor: Ali Aslam
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumWhat does capitalism promise us? Can it make good on those promises or might they be undermined by contradictions internal to capitalism itself? This seminar will pursue these two questions by focusing on the forms of freedom available within and secured by capitalism. We will pay special attention to the role that the idea of free markets has played in the American imagination. We begin with the theories of John Locke, Karl Marx, and Milton Friedman to explore the connections and tensions between private property and personal freedom. Next, we move forward in time to consider the anxieties of workers by examining Jason Reitman’s 2009 film Up In the Air through the lens of cultural theorist Lauren Berlant’s argument about the cruel optimism of the American Dream. For the research unit, students may either examine efforts to alter capitalism such as financial reform legislation, the passage of living wage laws in Seattle, the creation of Consumer Financial Protection Board, fair trade products, or consider the representations of contemporary capitalism in works such The Wire, Silicon Valley, or the Pixar animated films. The course concludes by having students write opinion pieces for publication in The Economist. While this is a class about political economy and affect, it is also a course about writing itself. You will learn to develop ideas through reflection upon many different kinds of evidence, expand and complicate your thinking through revision and peer collaboration, and become familiar with academic citation styles and other conventions. So while this class centers around particular subject matter, it is meant to serve primarily as a course in academic argument, writing, and thinking. For that reason, we will be reflecting about the process of writing as much as the subject matter itself. You might say that the “real” subject matter of this course is writing. Finally, this course is built on the premise that deliberate attention to writing itself is crucially important to your work within the university, as well as fundamental to developing your capacity for living a reflective life. This task will feel difficult at times. College writing instruction has a tendency to take away your confidence in old strategies before it replaces them with new abilities. Fortunately, we will also be learning habits of work and mind that will support you in times of difficulty, and which will sustain a community that also provides such support.
Learning From Classroom InstructionThis class involves biweekly discussions about readings and critiques of other's papers.
Learning For and From AssignmentsYou write 4 papers throughout the course, and one of your papers will be critiqued in class. Each week, you will critique other student's papers and complete readings.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionIt can be tough, especially with Aslam as a teacher. It also helps to have prior knowledge about economics, specifically with capitalism prior to the course.
Contradictions of Freedom in American Capitalism