P O L 2 6 6

[ last updated January 18, 2020 ]

For obvious reasons, this course changed significantly in early March. This is the syllabus as it was originally written, i.e., for an ordinary, face-to-face semester.

Politics and Culture (Spring 2020)

Tues./Thurs., 11:00am–12:15pm & 12:30–1:45pm • Carman Hall 327
Instructor: Asher Wycoff • awycoff (at) gc (dot) cuny (dot) edu
Office Hours: Tues./Thurs., 2:00–3:00pm • Carman Hall 357

Course Overview and Objectives: How do mass media shape our perceptions of reality? How can we express our opinions and values to one another without being misunderstood? What does it mean to live in a democracy, or to belong to a nation? Across three units, this course will approach these questions by considering three conceptions of culture common in social science: culture as resources, culture as practices, and culture as identity. The first concerns media institutions and the means of communication, the second the negotiation of shared values, and third the formation of collective identities. In addition to examining different conceptions of culture and its political significance, this course aims to build familiarity with a range of core concepts in Political Science, and with the conventions of academic writing more generally.

Texts: I am asking you to purchase two books for the course — one for the first unit, and one for the third. They will be available in the campus bookstore:

All other readings will be provided in PDF on Blackboard. A central objective in this course is to get you comfortable with reading academic social science literature, so readings will often be written in dense or difficult language. Over the course of the semester, we will explore various methods of identifying and breaking down arguments in this kind of literature. This means we will spend a significant amount of class time looking at the assigned texts. Make sure to complete readings ahead of time and always bring the assigned texts to class with you.

Requirements: Class sessions will include a mix of lecture and discussion. The point of lecture is to contextualize the readings and provide background on key concepts, while the point of discussion is to foster critical inquiry. Active engagement is necessary to make course activities worthwhile. As such, I expect you to take notes on both lectures and readings. Formal (i.e., graded) requirements are listed as follows:

Here's a breakdown of how the course is graded overall:

Course Requirement Points Possible
Participation10 points
Response Papers (two)30 points (15 points each)
Reading Quizzes (five)10 points (2 points each)
Midterm Exam20 points
Final Exam30 points
Total    100 points possible

Since the course as a whole is graded out of 100 points, your raw score is also your percentage grade for the semester. I award letter grades according to the usual scale, so 93-100 points earn you an A; 90-92 points earn you an A-minus; 87-89 points earn you a B-plus; 83-86 points earn you a B; 80-82 points earn you a B-minus; etc.

Conduct Guidelines: Although I do not grade on attendance directly, students are still expected to attend class regularly having completed and prepared to discuss the required reading. As not just quantity but also quality of participation is important, I strongly recommend that you stay on topic during class discussions.

I do not permit cellphone use during class, and I also encourage you to avoid using other electronics whenever possible. While I conditionally permit laptops and tablets, I reserve the right to change my mind if they become too distracting. If you use a laptop or tablet in class, please only use it for purposes directly related to the course (consulting readings, note-taking, e.g.). You are encouraged to print out Blackboard readings for in-class use.

Academic Integrity: In written assignments (and this includes short answer questions on tests), it would be really great if you didn't plagiarize. Plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's ideas or language as your own. The faculty and administration of Lehman College strive to foster an environment free of cheating and plagiarism. Each student is individually responsible for knowing what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and avoiding both. For the full text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy (a real page turner), click here. If a faculty member confirms a violation of academic integrity, and/or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member is contractually obligated to report the violation to administration. That's a headache for all involved, so please familiarize yourself with CUNY's policy on academic integrity and avoid violating it.

Accessibility: In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations, students should register with the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS). For instructions on how to register with SDS, please click here. If you have already registered with the Office of Student Disability Services, please provide me with the appropriate documentation and discuss your specific accommodations with me, and I will do everything I can to provide them.


Course Schedule

Unit 1: Culture as Resources

Topic: Fact vs. Opinion

Topic: Frames and discourses

Topic: Mass media and power

Book Club: Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Unit 2: Culture as Practices

Topic: The public sphere

Topic: Pluralism and its requirements

Topic: Democracy as performance

Unit 3: National Identity

Book Club: Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities

return to top