American Social Institutions (Fall 2021)

Karen Miller (History, LaGuardia Community College | M.A. Program in Liberal Studies, The Graduate Center)
Saadia Toor (Sociology and Anthropology, The College of Staten Island | Women’s Studies, The Graduate Center)

Fall 2021, Wednesdays, 6:30pm
Course Number: MALS 73200 / IDS 81670

This class will examine American Studies through the lens of social, cultural, political and other kinds of institutions. We will begin by exploring what we mean when we say “institution.” We will think together about why this may be a productive lens for assessing and interrogating the world around us. What does it offer? And what might it elide? How do studies of institutions help expose the myriad ways that power functions in culture, society, and politics? How do institutions, themselves, shape these power relations? And how do different approaches to understanding institutions give us different sorts of answers? American Studies scholars have been asking these questions for decades. We will turn to their texts as sites for exploration.

The texts that we will explore together will put questions about inequality and how it operates at their core. Thus, we will ask how institutions can help amplify or mitigate the often-crushing hierarchies that have been (and continue to be) based on racial, gender, sexual, national, and other forms of difference.

The class will be organized thematically, arranged around a series of inquiries drawn from recent scholarship. Each week, we will take a specific institution as our starting point. These institutions may include (but will not be limited to) the family, the state, courts, race, colonialism, hospitals, prisons, schools, the military, libraries, social networks, media, the corporation, capitalism, etc. We will examine how scholars within a range of American Studies subfields have developed different approaches for exploring institutions. They have used both creative and conventional scholarly tools to explore questions about life, infrastructure, health, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, gender, sexuality, transnationality, borders, architecture, foreign relations, language, politics, economics, literature, art, music, work, social movements, and more. Finally, we will discuss how these institutions may help offer us strategies for imagining new, and possibly better futures.

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