American Violence: Empire, Capital, and Culture
4017 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
American life is saturated with violence: from mass shootings to police killings to imperial violence abroad. Writing in 1970, the historian Richard Hofstadter described Americans as “legendary for their refusal to accept the reality of death, but violence they endure as part of the nature of things.” Today, our consciousness of violence is regularly tested and expanded by mass killings, police abuses, and fierce political debates. In a new and urgent way, the Americans are grappling with how we endure—and inflict—violence. How did we get here? Is America—a former colony that conquered a continent—endemically and uniquely violent? What are the relationships between different modes of violence—interpersonal, political, and economic—and how sustainable are those distinctions?
In this class, we’ll address these questions through a survey of the contemporary landscape of violence in America. Our method will be interdisciplinary, drawing on sociology, history, and political science. Our focus will be intersectional: How is violence in American experienced, distributed, and conceptualized along race, class, and gender lines? Ultimately, we’ll seek to develop a comprehensive critical perspective on American violence both as a concept and as a matter of history, politics and everyday life. Topics to be explored include: workplace violence; domestic violence; hate violence; police violence; vigilantism and self-defense; and the role of American militarism and the War on Terror. Examining American violence in its many dimensions (as a feature of American cultural and imperial history, its expression in gun ownership, its role in supporting white supremacy, its place in the family, etc.), we’ll read authors like Hofstadter, Bryan Burrough, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Caroline Light, Carol Anderson, Ida B. Wells, Jeremy Milloy, Kay Whitlock, Gary Younge, and Michael Bronski.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
February 28 — March 21, 2018