Rhetoric of Social Theory
172 | CCN: 30809
Instructor: IK Udekwu
T/TH 9:30 – 11:00 AM, Dwinelle 223 ///
We take for granted the self-evidence and coherence of something called “society” as related to, but distinct from, “economy” or “politics.” However, the elaboration of this domain of activity (where do you see the “socialness” of any given event?) is a relatively recent achievement in the history of ideas. Though naturalized in contemporary discourse, when pressed we realize that what makes phenomena “social” are not readily visible aspects or characteristics. Instead, we appeal to abstractions that encompass things like rituals, interactions, meanings, and other “social facts” in order to describe certain dynamics of human community. But which phenomena should we pay attention to, and how?
This class traces some prominent attempts to establish “the social” as a grid of intelligibility for collective life, beginning with classical work in sociology and social theory (Comte, Durkheim, Marx) through to contemporary interventions in postcolonial thought (Mbembe, Mignolo), science and technology studies (Haraway, Suchman), and feminist theory (Butler, Ahmed), to name only a few. Such theories may outline criteria for the description and evaluation of collective life, positing principles of delimitation and change, trajectories and development, and comparison of different societies. What is it that these texts claim we can know or understand when we speak of “society”? What are the tropes, assumptions, and provocations for their theories? What role can theory and critique play within society? Where do agency and freedom figure within these various understandings of social constraint?
Students should expect to write weekly informal discussion posts, approximately three more informal memos, a final paper proposal, and a final paper. In addition, groups of students will be asked to facilitate classroom discussion at least once during the semester.
A course booklet will be made available that will include the required readings.
*** This course may count for the History and Theory or Public Discourse Concentration