Spring 2006
American Studies
University of Kansas, Lawrence
When: Mon, 7-9:30
Where: Conference Room, 213 Bailey
Sherrie Tucker, Asst. Prof.
Office hrs: Wed. 11:00-2:00 or by appt.
Office: Bailey Hall, Room 212
Phone: 864-2305

AMS 802:

Theorizing America


Course Description

Course Requirements


Required Texts


Course Outline

I) Theorizing American Cultures
II) Theorizing Americans: Identities, Communities, Belonging, Rights
III) Theorizing Nation and Nation(s) Within and Across U.S. Borders
IV) Theorizing Borderlands and "Nuestra America"
V) Theorizing the U.S. in a Global Context
VI) Wrap-up: Theory After 802



What is the "America" one studies in a postmodern age? Is it a discourse? An alibi for cultural studies set in the western hemisphere? A bounded collective identity? A set of multiple, shifting, and contingent identities? A fiction? An idea? A history? A place? If place has anything to do with it, are we talking about a nation, or a bunch of nations within a nation, or a bunch of nations on a couple of continents and some islands? And who are "Americans"? What do they have in common? What is their "American-ness"? To theorize America is to theorize identity, belonging, history, culture, and place; and the borderlands of identity, belonging, history, culture, and place, and the border crossings--both authorized and subversive,--of identity, belonging, history, culture, and place.

In this seminar, participants will delve into several current theoretical debates on "theorizing America," organized here as: theorizing Americans, theorizing American cultures, theorizing indigenous America, theorizing American borderlands, theorizing Americas, theorizing American histories, theorizing American identities, and theorizing America in a global perspective. We will take a very applied approach to studying several theoretical tools and moves as they are currently deployed in American Studies. For each unit, we will read some explicitly theoretical work, which will then be paired with a case study in which a scholar uses those theoretical assumptions to develop an analysis of a topic in relation to current questions and debates in American Studies.


1) Facilitate one class meeting. (15% of grade)

2) Short (one-page, typed, double-spaced) written assignment each week, consisting of two parts: a) a discussion question based on the reading for that week; b)
a paragraph speculating on a possible application of one of the theoretical moves in the reading. These will be collected in every week in class, but you may miss three without consequence to your grade. (20% of grade)

3) Short position paper (5 pages maximum) to be delivered on April 8, 15, 22, 29, and May 6, reflecting on the theoretical moves from readings and discussions so far that you expect to continue to engage. Reflecting on your graduate work so far, and on the particular texts and theories we have studied in this seminar, how do you imagine that you will "Theorize America" in your work at KU (of course this will probably change as you go along, but what is your position at the moment of your presentation)? What approaches are most compelling and why? How might you use these theoretical maneuvers in your graduate work? What questions remain unanswered? (20% of grade)

4) Long (15-20 page) paper in which you identify a field of your research (or possible area of research) that will benefit from theoretical approaches studied in our seminar. Paper must begin to unpack this field in relation to a topic or planned topic in your area of research and must include an annotated bibliography in which you identify sources–both those you have read and those you plan to read--for theorizing a topic in American Studies. At least one text from our syllabus must be rigorously engaged in your discussion of theory. Paper proposal due March 25, paper due May 13 (35% of grade).

Class participation will count for the remaining 10% of the grade.


(available on reserve in Anschutz Library)

Butler, Judith, Undoing Gender (Taylor and Francis, 2004) IBSN 0415969239

Gray, Herman, Cultural Moves (UC Press 2005) IBSN 0-520-24144-4

Grewal, Inderpal, Transnational America (Duke 2005) IBSN 0-8223-3544-1

McHoul, Alec, and Wendy Grace, A Foucault Primer (NYU Press, 1997) IBSN 0-8147-5480-5

Newman, Louise, White Women's Rights (Oxford, 1999), IBSN 0-19-512466-9

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the U.S. 2nd ed. (Routledge, 1994) IBSN 0-415-90864-7

O'Sullivan, Tim, Key Concepts in Communications and Cultural Studies (Routledge, 1994) IBSN 0-415-06173-3

Smith, Suzanne, Dancing in the Street (Harvard, 1999) IBSN 0-674-00546-5

Weigman, Robyn, American Anatomies, (Duke University Press, 1995) IBSN 0822315912

Optional Texts (You will read one or the other of these. Submit your preference early!)

Banet-Weiser, Sarah, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity (UC Press, 1999) IBSN 0520-21791-8


Perez, Emma, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Indiana, 1999) IBSN 0-253-21283-9

Additional articles and chapters will be assigned and made available on E-Reserve ("Secret" Password: AMS802) Watch the on-line Blackboard syllabus for up-to-date posting of readings, assignments, and facilitators.

Disability Statement

The staff of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), 135 Strong, 785-864-2620 (v/tty), coordinates accommodations and services for KU courses. If you have a disability for which you may request accommodation in KU classes and have not contacted them, please do as soon as possible. Please also see me privately in regard to this course.


Jan 23

Introduction to Seminar Goals and Participants
What is theory? What kinds of theory will be useful to the participants of this seminar? What kinds of theory will we study this semester? What is a "theoretical move"?

Sign-ups for discussion facilitators.

I) Theorizing American Cultures

Jan. 30 Sampling assumptions about culture

What is culture? What isn’t culture? How does culture work? Why is it important? Where is its locus of meaning? What are the assumptions about culture in each of the readings for this week? What are the implications for using one set of assumptions as opposed to another? Take notes on these assumptions in preparation for an in-class theoretical “lens-testing” exercise.

Readings (E-Reserve):

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” (1944), collected in Simon During, ed., The Cultural Studies Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 29-43;

Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism Without Guarantees,” from Betty Matthews, ed., Marx: A Hundred Years On (Lawrence and Wishart, 1983), 57-85;

Raymond Williams, “The Future of Cultural Studies,” and “The Uses of Cultural Theory,” from The Politics of Modernism (London and New York: Verso, 1989), 151-176;

Janice Radway, “Reading is not Eating: Mass-Produced Literature and the Theoretical, Methodological, and Political Consequences of a Metaphor,” from T. Lovell, ed., Feminist Cultural Studies (1995) vol. 1, 437-459, but first published in Book Research Quarterly, 1986 Fall; 2(3): 7-29;

Henry Giroux and Roger Simon, “Popular Culture as a Pedagogy of Pleasure and Meaning: Decolonizing the Body,” Henry Giroux, Border Crossings, Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education (New York: Routledge, 1992), 180-206.


Feb 6 How do scholars apply their assumptions about culture?
What are the strengths and limitations of various theories about culture? How do the theories/assumptions about culture affect the methodology?

Readings: Everybody reads:

Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Harvard, 1999).

Plus one of the following articles:


Susan Douglas, “Why the Shirelles Mattered,” Susan Douglas, Where the Girls Are (Random House, 1994), 83-98;

Gayle Wald, “Soul’s Revival: White Soul, Nostalgia, and the Culturally Constructed Past,” from Monique Guillory and Richard C. Green, ed. Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure (NY: NYU Press, 1998), 139-158.

Feb 13 Theorizing culture, continued.


Herman Gray, Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation (University of California Press, 2005)

II) Theorizing Americans: Identities, Communities, Belonging, Rights

Feb 20

Which theories are useful for understanding relationships between identity categories and multiple communities and American-ness? How do American Studies scholars approach such issues as allocations of rights based on social categories such as race, gender, class, etc.? What happens to needs in a paradigm of belonging based on rights? We will quickly move into theoretical approaches that analyze intersections of more than one kind of social category (race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.), but this week, we will concentrate on theories about race. What constitutes race, according to this week's authors, and what is the relationship between race, identity (individual and group), subjectivity, belonging, citizenship, and rights?


Everybody reads:

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (2nd edition, 1994).

Plus one article from the following: E-Reserve: Susan Koshy, "Morphing Race into Ethnicity: Asian Americans and Critical Transformations of Whiteness," Boundary 2 28:1, 2001, 183-194; Cheryl Harris, "Whiteness as Property," from Kimberle Crenshaw, et al, Critical Race Theory Reader (New Press, 1995); Brian Donovan, "The Sexual Basis of Racial Formation: Anti-vice activism and the creation of the twentieth-century 'color line'," Ethnic and Racial Studies vol. 26, no. 4, July 2003, 707-727; Naomi Pabst, "Blackness/Mixedness: Contestations over Crossing Signs," Cultural Critique 54 (2003), 178-212.

Feb. 27 Intersectional Analysis


Everybody reads:

Robyn Weigman, American Anatomies, (Duke University Press, 1995)

Plus one article from the following (E-Reserve):

Gary Okihiro "Recentering Women," from Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture;

Ingrid Monson, "The Problem with White Hipness: Race, Gender, and Cultural Conce
ptions in Jazz Historical Discourse," Journal of the American Musicological Society XLVIII, Fall 1995, no. 3, 396-422;

Christopher Newfield and Avery Gordon, "Multiculturalism's Unfinished Business," Mapping Multiculturalism (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 76-115; 178-212;

Chela Sandoval, "U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World," Genders 10, Spring 1991, 1-24;

Shirley Thompson, "Ah Toucoutou, ye conin vous": History and Memory in Creole New Orleans," American Quarterly June 2001, vol. 53, no. 2, 232-266.

Mar. 6 Application of intersectional analysis

On what assumptions does Newman's work rely? How does she theorize race? Gender? What other key concepts does she theorize and how does she see them as co-constructed and intersecting? How does she organize her theoretical moves in relation to her historical evidence?


Louise Newman, White Women's Rights (Oxford, 1999).

Mar. 13

Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (Taylor and Francis, 2004).


- but there is an assignment due!
Read a KU American Studies MA thesis or Ph.D. dissertation that has a theoretical framework that is interesting to you. Identify and make a Xerox of the "theoretical statement" and place it in my mailbox by March 30th, 5 pm. Be prepared to discuss it in class on April 3rd.

III Theorizing Nation and Nation(s) within and across U.S. Borders

Apr. 3

Reading: (E-Reserve):

Benedict Anderson, "Patriotism and Racism," and "Memory and Forgetting," from Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism revised edition, (London and New York: Verso, 1991; first published 1983), 141-154, 187-206;

Timothy Brennan, "The National Longing for Form," from Homi Bhabha, Nation and Narration (New York: Routledge, 1990), 44-70;

Donald A. Grinde, Jr., "Iroquois Border Crossings: Place, Politics, and the Jay Treaty, from Claudia Sadowski-Smith, Globalization on the Line: Culture, Capital, and Citizenship at U.S. Borders (Palgrave, 2002), 167-180;

M. Annette Jaimes Guerrero, "Academic Apartheid: American Indian Studies and 'Multiculturalism'," from Gordon and Newfield, Mapping Multiculturalism (University of Minnesota Press, 49-63);

Philip J. Deloria, "American Indians, American Studies, and the ASA," American Quarterly December 2003, vol. 55, no. 4, 669-680;

Robert Warrior, "A Room of One's Own at the ASA: An Indigenous Provocation," American Quarterly December 2003, vol. 55, no. 4, 681-687;

Jean M. O'Brien, "Why Here? Scholarly Locations for American Indian Studies," American Quarterly December 2003, vol. 55, no. 4, 689-696;

Mary Helen Washington, "Commentary," American Quarterly December 2003, vol. 55, no. 4, 697-702.

Assignment due: Everyone presents theoretical statements from KU AMS theses/dissertations.

IV Theorizing Borderlands and “Nuestra America”

Apr. 10

Readings: (E-Reserve):

Sonia Saldivar-Hull, "Introduction to Second Edition," Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999), 1-15;

Gloria Anzaldua, "Preface to the First Edition," Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999), 19-20;

Gloria Anzaldua, "La conciencia de la mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness," Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999), 99-113;

Sadowski-Smith, Claudia, "Reading Across Diaspora: Chinese and Mexican Undocumented Immigration across U.S. Land Borders," from Sadowski-Smith, Globalization on the Line: Culture, Capital, and Citizenship at U.S. Borders (Palgrave, 2002), 69-97;

Jeffrey Belnap and Raul Fernandez, "Introduction: The Architectonics of Jose Marti's "Our Americanism," from Jose Marti's "Our America" From National to Hemispheric Cultural Studies, ed. Jeffrey Belnap and Raul Fernandez, eds. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998),1-23;

Jose David Saldivar, "Nuestra America's Borders: Remapping American Cultural Studies," from Belnap and Fernandez, 145-175;


Brook Thomas, "Frederick Jackson Turner, Jose Marti, and Finding a Home on the Range," from Belnap and Fernandez, 275-292

George Lipsitz, "Their America and Ours: Intercultural Communication in the Context of 'Our America'," from Belnap and Fernandez, 293-316.



V) Theorizing the U.S. in a Global Context

Apr 17

Reading (Electronic Reserve):

Amy Kaplan, "'Left Alone with America': The Absence of Empire in the Study of American Culture," from Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease, ed., Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham, 1993), 3-21;

Chandra Mohanty, "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses," Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1991), 51-80;

Amritjit Singh and Peter Schmidt, "On the Borders Between U.S. Studies and Postcolonial Theory," from Singh and Schmidt, ed., Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000), 3-69;

Donald Pease, "New Perspectives on US Culture and Imperialism," from Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease, ed., Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham, 1993), 22-40


Apr 24


Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America (Duke 2005)


VI) Wrap-up: Theory After 802

May 1 Focus on a theorist: Michel Foucault.

This is not to say that Foucault is the only theorist I could select for this week's seminar, nor that all AMS graduate students must be Foucauldians. We will use this week's focus on Foucault as an example of how to move on from this survey of theories to a deeper engagement with the theorists you wish to engage in your graduate work.


Alec McHoul and Wendy Grace, A Foucault Primer (all)


Michel Foucault, "Contradictions," "The Comparative Facts," and "Change and Transformation," from Archeology of Knowledge (Random House, 1972), 149-177;

Michel Foucault, "Two Lectures," from Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 ed. Colin Gordon (NY: Pantheon, 1980) 78-108

May 8 Wrap-up.

Everybody teaches the class.


Half the class will read

Sarah Banet-Weiser The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

and the other half will read

Emma Perez, Decolonial Imaginary.

Be prepared to explain what theoretical moves from Foucault the authors borrow and how they use them.



Please report broken links to S. Tucker
Created on December 27, 2002. Modified on November 21, 2009