Fear Itself: Policy, Paranoia and American Culture
T-F 1:30 - 3:20 (D38)
Consider a strange discrepancy. Between 1989 and 2005, nearly every statistical measure suggested that life for the average American was unprecedentedly safe from physical threat, and getting safer: violent crime rates in almost every category declined steadily throughout the nineties and into the new millennium. Yet during the same period, polls measuring the perceived crime rate consistently showed the same thing: a persistent fear, in almost every segment of the population, that crime was on the rise.
Perhaps in response to this fear and others like it, communities across the U.S. participated in the construction of the largest prison system the world has ever seen. At the same time, in response to other perceived threats - those posed by, for example, global terrorism, drugs, and illegal immigrants - American lawmakers have challenged long-held notions of civil liberty as they, and we, have restructured the physical and conceptual architecture of American life.
Americans have never been more closely watched nor more thoroughly protected: and yet year after year we report feeling less safe. In this course we will examine some of the more pervasive fears in American culture and the policies and social architectures those fears have helped shape. Along the way, we will consider the war on terror and the war on drugs; we will think about the ways immigrants may have come to embody our fear of the outsider, the young our fear of the insider. We will operate largely by considering, and conceptualizing, case studies: but throughout we will ask, again and again, the same questions. What are we afraid of? Why are we afraid? And what, if anything, should we do about it?
As in any writing seminar, we will write about all of it: expect at least three major papers, culminating in a research paper of your own design, and weekly shorter writing assignments. Expect to read a lot and to write more. Discussions of the text will alternate with work on writing: conferences, writing workshops and discussions of style and structure.