Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

MALS Program Introductory Seminar, January 12-17, 2014:

Class Matters: Probing the American Dream

Janet Casey, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Director, First-Year Experience
Skidmore College

Steve Lambert, Capitalism Works For Me! True/False, 2011, 9 x 20 x 7 feet, aluminum and electrical, courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los AngelesThe American Dream of upward mobility for everyone has long enabled the perception that classes do not exist in our nation—or that, if they do exist, they are relatively fluid.  Yet this popular narrative, and the larger-than-life examples that have long supported it (think Abraham Lincoln), is frequently at odds with the socioeconomic realities of life in the U.S.  This seminar will consider the various ways that class is signaled and understood, and will ask such questions as the following:  What does it mean to be underprivileged in our country, and who gets to speak for and represent the largely unheard underclass?  Alternatively, what do we mean when we claim a middle-class identity?  How are we shaped, subtly and unsubtly, by class aspirations and class-oriented fears?  

We will look at class dynamics in the U.S. from a variety of perspectives, aiming to dislodge easy assumptions and open up possibilities for multidisciplinary analysis.  We will rely heavily on the exhibition entitled Classless Society, now showing in the Tang Museum, which will help us explore two important avenues of class studies: the lived class experiences of individuals, and the various means and effects of class-inflected representation.  Seeking not to define class in absolute terms but to investigate its complex dimensions and manifestations, we will discuss a variety of class markers, including income and wealth inequalities, power distribution, class-based discrimination, consumption, and taste.  The notion of the American Dream—that special class mythology peculiar to the U.S.—will remain a touchstone.

Potential Interdisciplinary connections to the seminar topic include (but are not limited to):

Class and Advertising
Class and Child Development 
Class and Consumption
Class and Crime
Class and Education
Class and Ethnicity
Class and Film
Class and Food
Class and Gender
Class and Health
Class and Language
Class and Leisure
Class and Literature

Class and Marriage
Class and Music
Class and Parenting
Class and Public Policy
Class and Race
Class and Sports
Class and Stereotypes
Class and Taste
Class and the Media
Class and the Military
Class and Visual Art
Class and Work