Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spring course: Simplicity and Anti-consumption in American Life

It's only October and barely fall, but I am working on my new spring course on Simplicity and Anti-consumption in American Life. The Craft and Production course is going well, considering attendance has been cut by a third for the few weeks and yesterday was even worse (5 students out of 11 showed up!). The size of the class is a bit disappointing, but that's probably a function of the prerequisite and the craziness of all the AMST upper level being offered at the same time. Here's my pitch for the spring course:

AMST498C Consumer Culture: Simplicity and Anti-consumption in American Life (Spring 2010 W 4:00pm- 6:40pm)
Prerequisite: AMST201 AND either AMST203 or AMST205.

American Studies scholars have argued that consumer culture has eclipsed civic culture in its importance in American life.  This argument maintains that we define ourselves as Americans by what we consume; even the iconic American Dream is often expressed in terms of possessions. In AMST201 and AMS203 or AMST205 you have probably been exposed to texts or conducted research about advertising, marketing, consumer-identity, branding, and other aspects of consumption. In AMST 498C we will examine another strand in this narrative: the efforts, movements and trends that resist or oppose excessive consumption. Sometimes these impulses spring from necessity (the Great Depression, wartime) but often they are rooted in convictions about the moral peril of personal wealth or about environmental sustainability. We will consider historical evidence (Puritan sumptuary laws, Utopian communities, 60s communes) as well as recent trends such as frugality and Voluntary Simplicity.

I am considering offering it publicly via iTunesU, just in case the actual student count is anemic.

Update (response to a student query):

Working list of texts -
The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture (David Shi)
The Machine in the Garden (Leo Marx) (maybe... it's an American Studies classic)
The Good Life (Scott Nearing)
one of the many recent books on Voluntary Simplicity (or I may offer a choice on this one...)
selections from Theory of the Leisure Class (Thorstein Veblen) and Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
We'll also be viewing some excellent documentaries (such as Afluenza), blogs and websites (Center for the New American Dream, Adbusters)

As for format, with 2 hours and 40 minutes to fill, I am thinking about 1/3 lecture, 1/3 discussion, 1/3 other (viewing, student sharing).

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