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ENGL 302 B: Critical Practice

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
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Professor Harkins in front of bookshelf
Gillian Harkins

Syllabus Description:

English 302: 

Cultural Studies of the Novel


‘For whom are we doing what we are doing when we do literary criticism?’ ... The answer to that question determines what orientation we take in our work, the language we use, the purposes for which it is intended. 

                                            -- Barbara Christian, "The Race for Theory" (1988)


COURSE OVERVIEW: This course provides a follow up to English 202, the Introduction to the English major.  It is a practicum of critical methods.  This particular 302 will provide in-depth practice in cultural studies approaches to the novel.  By the end of the course, students should have a grasp of various approaches to the study of culture and narrative forms.   Students will also have been exposed to a range of social and political questions related to cultural studies methodologies, including theories of race, gender, sexuality, class, and colonialism; our specific novels focus on themes of war, empire and displacement.

COURSE FORMAT: The University of Washington is operating in an on-line learning format during the social distancing guidelines required by COVID-19.  My goal this quarter is to keep this learning experience worth your while, to use our time well, and to create an opportunity for the distance-learning format to enhance, rather than distract from, your own learning goals.  To achieve this goal, our Fall 2020 course is offered in a split format: 1) Panopto lectures and suggested lecture exercises will be provided in an a-synchronous format for you to complete independently (but are designed to fit the first half of our scheduled class time, 3:30-4:20, if you choose to maintain the set course schedule) ; 2) Zoom discussion will be held in a synchronous format for the second half of our scheduled class section (4:30-5:20).  Additional weekly on-line writing assignments are to be completed outside class, as they would be in a standard in-person course.  In case you lose internet access or find yourself unable to keep to a shared time schedule for all the many reasons that might happen this term, I have made sure that all coursework can be completed a-synchronously for those who need it.  Please let me know if you require an entirely a-synchronous format.

COURSE PLAN: Our class will be anchored by two novels: Jeanette Winterson's The Passion (1987) and Mohsin Hamid's Exit, West (2017). The first half of the class will begin by reading The Passion on your own terms, "the way you read now," without any broader critical conversation about cultural studies of the novel.  We will use this opening to refresh ourselves on fundamental literary terms like plot, setting, character, style, tone, figures, and theme.  We will next move on to  a small cluster of readings in literary and cultural studies.  These readings tend to be more abstract, and together we will isolate key passages for you to use in building your own reading of The Passion.  Each week will focus on: 1) building your comprehension of theoretical concepts; 2) applying these concepts to your reading of the novel.  These activities will be scaffolded through group discussion work done via in-class Zoom discussion and online (Discussion Assignment) and individual short writing assignments submitted online (Portfolio Assignment).  At the end of this first half of the course, you will have the OPTION to write one 5-7 page paper making a claim about the novel, putting your argument in conversation with a theoretical concept, and drawing evidence from the novel through close reading.  You should be well-prepared to complete this paper through our scaffolded weekly assignments.  [Formal Essay Options: You may choose to write two shorter papers for each half of the course or one longer paper at the end of the course]

The second half of the class begins by reading Exit, West once again on your own terms, "the way you read now," but at this point hopefully blending concepts from the theoretical reading and making them your own. We will next move on to another small cluster of readings in literary and cultural studies.  We will follow the same format, with group discussion work done via in-class Zoom discussion and/or online (Discussion Assignment) and individual short writing assignments submitted online (Portfolio Assignment).  At the end of this second half of the course, you will have the OPTION to write another 5-7 page paper making a claim about the novel, putting your argument in conversation with a theoretical concept, and drawing evidence from the novel through close reading. [Formal Essay Options: If you choose can can instead write one longer paper, of 10-14 pages, due at the end of the course]

COURSE GOALS: The class is designed to support your own reading practice, to enhance it by putting it into dialogue with a range of different reading practices (some provided in readings, some provided in peer discussion), and to leave you with a profound sense of curiosity about how your own practices make sense of world around you.   The assignments are designed to move from low-stakes writing (credit/no credit) to formal essays (graded literary argument).  I provide detailed "literary argument" expectations and assessment rubrics to help make this process transparent.   For people interested in a "deep dive" into specific themes or practices, I have provided weekly extra credit opportunities where you can delve into related literary texts, additional cultural contexts, and broader political and historical questions.  

COURSE SCHEDULE:  The weekly break down of readings, activities, and lectures are provided as Course Modules.  Each Module explains that week's topics, the learning goals, the group and individual activities, and any video content.  Every week you will complete one Module.  All Modules and Assignments are linked through the Home Page.


Required Novels (purchase or borrow):

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (1987)

Mohsin Hamid, Exit, West (2017)

Course Readings: 

Course readings on literary and cultural studies  of the novel are available on this Canvas Website, linked through the Modules on the Home Page and also available through the Files Page.

Course Objectives: 

  • To be able to read a novel critically
  • To be able to write about a novel critically
  • To be able to differentiate between critical methods
  • To be able to discuss the relevance of different critical methods
  • To maybe like one or two particular methods
  • To be very excited about reading novels

Course Requirements:

  • Discussion: You will be expected to participate actively in group discussions each week.  For those with consistent internet access, one hour of synchronous Zoom discussion will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the second half of our scheduled course time, from 4:30-5:20.  In addition to attending these Zoom discussions, everyone should offer at least one on-line discussion post per week and one reply to someone else.  This can be a post before class discussion, to indicate something about the reading you would like to talk about in class.  Or it can be a post after class discussion, to note something you found particularly interesting or useful about discussion.   Think of this as a kind of group note-taking space: it is not meant to be formal, but to allow you all to maintain a conversation across class sessions and to allow options for people who prefer to write down their ideas rather than share them spontaneously in a live discussion.  If you miss the Zoom discussion for whatever reason, you can post extra comments in the on-line discussion so your ideas are still shared with our class.  We will center diversity, equity and inclusion practices throughout our discussions (see Sample Ground Rules for Discussion).  Here is a link to "netiquette" for online discussions:  Discussion: 25%
  • Portfolio: You will be expected to participate actively in your own learning process each week.  To receive full credit for your portfolio, you must complete one assigned portfolio activity every week.   Portfolio activities will be provided in each module and will focus on helping you practice specific skills expected in your formal "literary argument" essays . This will include close reading a literary or critical passage and summarizing a critical essay. Portfolio: 25%
  • Essays: You have the choice to write two essays of 5-7 pages each for this course, due at the midpoint and endpoint of the class, or to write one 10-14 page final essay due at the endpoint of this class.  The essays will make a claim about one novel and situate this claim in relation to at least one critical approach discussed in the course.  The claim and its reasons will be supported by close reading of literary and critical passages (details in the Literary Argument Essay Assignment).  Sample paper topics; literary argument tips; a grading rubric; and sample essays from prior classes are available in this Literary Argument Module.  Each essay is worth 25% of your final grade, or a single essay worth 50%.  Total50%.
  • Extra Credit: Deep Dive!  Take a side track, read some of the associated readings included in this area of the Weekly module.  This is your chance to delve into related literary texts, additional cultural contexts, and broader political and historical questions.  It is also designed to be an accessible way to make up for missed discussion activities due to any accessibility issues posed by our on-line format.  If there are additional accessibility issues presented by the Deep Dive assignment, please reach out to me to create other options.  You can enter or upload a Deep Dive in the Extra Credit: Deep Dive! AssignmentExtra Credit: up to 2.5 points each.

Course Policies:

  • Course Conduct: All students are invited to raise questions and offer additional perspectives about any materials discussed in class. All students are also expected to contribute their ideas in a manner that is thoughtful and respectful of the ideas expressed by others.  We will collectively center diversity, equity and inclusion in class discussion.  Basic agreements for discussion will be covered the first week of class.
  • Academic Honesty: Please review the University of Washington website  for a definition and explanation of plagiarism and academic misconduct.  I will immediately report any suspected instance of academic misconduct to the University.  If you are confused or have any questions about a specific instance, please feel free to see me in advance of the due date.
  • Academic Accommodations: To request academic accommodations due to disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY).  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need in this class.
  • Religious Accommodations: Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

 Additional Resources:

Additional support for technology access, writing and research support, financial and health needs, food, parenting, and legal resources and have been gathered at this link: 

On-line advising appointments with the new Humanities Advising Center can be scheduled here: 

Catalog Description: 
Intensive study of, and exercise in, applying important or influential interpretive practices for studying language, literature, and culture, along with consideration of their powers/limits. Focuses on developing critical writing abilities. Topics vary and may include critical and interpretive practice from scripture and myth to more contemporary approaches, including newer interdisciplinary practices. Prerequisite: minimum 2.0 in ENGL 202.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
June 28, 2020 - 10:50pm