The Making of Crucial Differences
Full course description
The Making of Crucial Differences offers a historical inquiry into the development of important social differences marked through categories like gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, and social class from the Enlightenment until the mid-twentieth century. The course introduces students to seminal approaches within gender studies, postcolonial studies, and queer theory as critical lenses for analysing different historical case studies, philosophical texts, and literary works. Specifically, the course looks into the ways in which dominant Western discourses of identity have formed divisions between self and other; black and white; the Orient and the West; male and female; hetero- and homosexual; upper, middle, and lower classes; and how these differences were used to maintain cultural hierarchies and social inequalities. Special attention is directed to the co-construction of gender, sexuality, race, and class as categories that shaped—and were shaped by—the entangled histories of colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and modern science.
The course combines an intersectional theoretical perspective with a historical and discursive approach to the analysis of power and knowledge, and asks how gender, sexuality, race, class, and other crucial differences were conceptualized and “invented” both within and against the dominant discourses of Western modernity. The purported aim of the modern age was to achieve progress through rational, critical thinking and to liberate human beings from dogma, myth, and superstition. But while the Enlightenment promised liberty, democracy, and equality, at the same time it also has created dynamic patterns of inclusion and exclusion that continue to structure and divide society today. This ambivalent legacy of the Enlightenment is at the centre of this course. We will highlight the paradoxes of major modern progress narratives, and their entanglement with structures of power and inequality, while at the same time we will affirm the capacity of minoritarian knowledge production to negotiate, resist, and survive the violent realities of systemic racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and other intersecting forms of oppression.
Upon completion of this course students are able:
to demonstrate an understanding of seminal approaches within historical gender studies, postcolonial studies, and queer theory;
to examine how historical configurations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social class, and other categories of difference have operated as systems of power and inequality in a variety of contexts from the Enlightenment to the mid-twentieth century;
to reflect on the ambivalent legacy of the Enlightenment and illustrate this with concrete examples;
to evaluate current discursive figures, narratives, tropes, and practices in light of their longue durée and genealogy in history;
to take part in seminal academic and societal debates within historical gender and diversity studies through oral and written modes of communication.
- 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