The Making of Crucial Differences
Full course description
The Making of Crucial Differences offers a historical inquiry into the development of cultural ‘differences’ marked through categories like gender, race, class, religion, and sexuality from early Enlightenment until the beginning 20ths century. The course builds on different historical case studies and introduces "gender" as useful category of historical analysis. These case studies are combined with philosophical texts and literature to look at the way in which Western identity discourses and its colonial sub code have formed dichotomies like self and other, black and white, the Orient and the West, male and female, hetero- and homosexual, upper, middle and lower class and how these ‘differences’ became social inequalities. The course follows Foucault’s discourse theoretical approach and asks how these ‘differences’ were conceptualized and sometimes newly invented in (medical) science, philosophy and Orientalist-colonial discourse. Adorno- Horkheimer’s dictum of a Dialectic of Enlightenment is taken as a meaningful starting point: The aim of modern age was to “liberate human beings from fear and install them as masters of nature”. Enlightenment promised liberty, democracy and equality yet at the same time it has built the crucial forms of in- and exclusion which structure society and individual identities until the present day. The failure and paradoxes of the promises of modern “progress” are questioned in the course. Students will get a first introduction into classical theories of gender, Orientalist- and post-colonial studies and critical (discourse-) theory.
- To acquaint students with cultural constructions and historical configurations and of ‘race’, class, gender and sexuality starting with the Enlightenment and ending with the catastrophe of the Holocaust; including colonialism and slavery, war and identity narratives, discourses of exclusion.
- To introduce students to critical theories, like discourse analysis and the history of knowledge (Foucault), postcolonial and gender/sexuality studies and studies of Orientalism.
- To acquaint students with the way these categories of difference were conceptualized and intersect, and how they have structured cultural scripts and practices, stereotypes, individual identities, and European history in the long 19ths century.
- To acquaint students with the way in which such intersecting categories of difference have constituted (and still constitute) inequalities and differences of power, resulting in invisibility, restricted access to sources etc.
After completion of this course students are able too:
- define the historical configurations of differences from early Enlightenment until the beginning 20ths century and the Shoa;
- reconstruct the way in which Western identity discourses (including racism and homophobia) and their colonial and anti-Semitic subcode have constructed differences that run parallel to politics of inclusion and exclusion and legitimize inequality and (even) extermination;
- reflect on the “dialectic of Enlightenment” (Adorno/Horkheimer);
- define and work with gender as category of historical analysis;
- explain how current discursive figures, narratives and tropes have a longue durée and a genealogy in history (for example in nationalism and orientalism);
- define the role of literature, images, and philosophy as a means of reproduction and (critical) reflection of hegemonic discourses;
- be aware of and analyze the role of the (heroic, male) body as central cultural signifier in modern nationalism/colonialism;
- demonstrate understanding of the main theories and concepts in historical gender studies, postcolonial studies, (orientalism/antisemitism), and critical theory.
- Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness (1899, 1995) Penguin Classics
- Ann Mc Clintock: Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Colonial Contest, Routledge 1995
- Thomas Laqueur: Making Sex: Body and Gender from Antiquity to Freud, Harvard University Press 1990
- Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality Vol 1, London 1978