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Soc. 73917 Advanced Theory Seminar:

Autumn, 2006

of Notre Dame

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 WorldNew York: Vintage Books: 1996.
--Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short IntroductionOxford:OxfordUniversity Press, 2000.
--Eugene HaltonMeaning and Modernity.Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1986.

--plus course packet


l. 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           

BMax Horkheimer, AThe End of Reason,@ (71) from The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (26-48).


4. Sept. 12       Phenomenological Interpretation

B 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,?@ AWhat 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

BKenneth Burke, ADefinition of Man,@ (176), from Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press,1966.

BMilan Kundera, AThe Day Panurge No Longer Makes People Laugh,@ (188) from Testaments Betrayed

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

BJohn Berger, AWhy Look at Animals?@ (253) in About Looking. New York: Vintage, 1980.

BSusan Bordo, AHunger as Ideology,@ (268) in Eating Culture. Edited by Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz, Binghamton, NY: SUNY Press, 1998.

Halton,   AWhere is the Self?@ (M&M, 134-144)                    


<>15. 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.

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interpretation: Vincent van Gogh's ear?