Social theory, until recently more the province of sociologists, has come to the forefront of contemporary intellectual life for philosophers, literary critics, and others in the humanities. This seminar will be geared toward coming to terms with some of the principal issues and controversies animating contemporary theory, particularly the nature of signification and interpretation, and will also reveal ways the sociological tradition figures into these contemporary debates. We will explore the traditions of interpretation that form the basis for much contemporary social theory, including semiotics and semiology, phenomenology, pragmatism and interpretive sociology, as well as other outlooks.
Topics will include: What is an interpretation? What is a sign? Is objective interpretation possible? Is relativism necessary? What is the place of the act and of action/practice as a basis for interpretation? Are there natural bases for signification and social construction? What are the varieties of ways in which the self can be interpreted as a complex of signs?
--David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World.
--Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction.
--Eugene Halton. Meaning and Modernity.
--plus course packet
Aug. 22 Introduction
2. Aug. 29 What is Interpretation? (Page in course packet)
BLewis Mumford, AOrientation to Life,@ (5) from The Conduct of Life.
BHans-Georg Gadamer, AIntroduction @ and AThe Transcendence of the Aesthetic Dimension: The Significance of the Humanist Tradition for the Human Sciences,@ (23) from Truth and Method.
3. Sept. 5 Methodological Issues of Interpretation
BMax Weber, AValue-judgments in Social Science,@ (43) Weber: Selections in Translation.
BJohn Dewey, AThe Pattern of Inquiry,@ (61) in Logic: the Theory of Inquiry.
BHalton, Ch.1, AInquiry and the Pragmatic Attitude@ from Meaning and Modernity
Horkheimer, AThe End
of Reason,@ (71)
4. Sept. 12 Phenomenological Interpretation
Selection from Merleau-Ponty
BDavid Abram, Chs. 1 & 2: AThe Ecology of Magic,@ APhilosophy on the Way to Ecology@ from The Spell of the Sensuous
BTom Brown Jr. ACommunication with Nature,@(83) from Tom Brown=s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (1985); AThe Science and Art of Tracking,@ (278-282)
BHalton, Ch. 2, AQualitative Immediacy and the Communicative Act,@ from M&M
5. Sept. 19 What is a Sign?
BFerdinand de Saussure, "Arbitrary Social Values and the Linguistic Sign;"(92)
BRoland Barthes, AIntroduction@ and Chapter 1: ALanguage (langue) and Speech,@ 97) in Elements of Semiology.
BCharles Peirce, AWhat is a sign?@ (111) from The Essential Peirce, Vol. 2 (1893-1913).
BEugene Halton, M&M ch. 3:"Situation, Structure, and the Context of Meaning"
6. Sept. 26 BCharles Peirce, letters to Lady Welby, (115) from Semiotic and Significs: The Correspondence between Charles S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby
Halton, chs.4 & 5: AThe Foundations of Modern Semiotic: Charles Peirce and Charles Morris,@ "The Fetishism of Signs"
7. Oct. 3 Identity and Interpretation
BKennethGergen, AReckoning and Relativity@(127)
BDonna Haraway, AThe Cyborg Manifesto and Fractured Identities,@ (145) from Social Theory:
7. Oct. 10 (continued) The Multicultural and Classic Readings.
BOliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Introduction and chapter 1 (152)
BCuller, Ch. 8: AIdentity, Identification, and the Subject@ (104-115)
8. Oct. 17 MIDSEMESTER BREAK
9. Oct 24 Literary Interpretation: New School
Jonathan Culler, chs. 1,
2, 3: AWhat is Theory,?@
is Literature and Does It Matter?@
ALiterature and Cultural Studies,@ from Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction.
10. Oct. 31 Literary Interpretation: New School (continued)
BGlenn Ward, ATaking Meaning Apart,@ from Teach Yourself Postmodernism, (163).
BCuller, Chs 4-7 (pp. 52-103)
11. Nov. 7 Literary Interpretation: Old School
of Man,@ (176),
from Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and
BD.H. Lawrence on the novel, democracy, and self (203-206)
12. Nov. 14 Ethnographic Interpretation
BVictor Turner, AThe Ritual Symbol,@ (207) from Social Theory and Philosophical Analysis.
ALiminality and Communitas,@ (223) from The Ritual Process. Aldine: Hawthornes, NY, 1969.
BEdith Turner, Preface, Introduction, (242) from Experiencing Ritual (xi-xiii, 1-17) (with William Blodgett, Singleton Kahona, and Fideli Benwa).
13. Nov. 21 Abram, Chs. 3-5 (pp. 73-179); Optional: Chs. 6 thru Coda (pp.181-274)
14. Nov 28 Ways of Seeing, Ways of Being
Berger, AWhy Look
at Animals?@ (253)
in About Looking.
Bordo, AHunger as
in Eating Culture. Edited by Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz,
Halton, AWhere is the Self?@ (M&M, 134-144)
Dec. 5 AThe
Living Gesture and the Signifying Moment@
(handout); Halton, Ch 11: AReality,
Community, and the Critique of Modernism,@
and Epilogue (pp 230-277)
Dec 6 last class day
This is a “workshop” seminar, being launched for the second time, with an aim of exploring themes of interpretation in new ways. Students will be expected to read the assignment before class, actively take part in discussions, and will take turns as discussion leaders preparing outlines or key ideas in the texts to be used for discussion.
There will be a midterm exam or paper and a final paper of 15-20 pages. All work must be original to this course. There will also likely be some short pass-fail (easy) assignments.