ENGL 302 B: Critical Practice

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
CHL 101
Gillian Harkins
Gillian Harkins

Syllabus Description:

Professor Gillian Harkins                                              Drop-In Office Hours: Thurs 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Email: gharkins@uw.edu                                                                                                            A-306 Padelford Hall




A writer’s handling of reality is affected by his basic philosophic outlook on nature and society and his method of investigating that nature and society: whether for instance he perceives and therefore looks at a phenomenon in its interconnection or in its dislocation; in its rest or in its motion; in its mutability or immutability; in its being or its becoming; and whether he sees any qualitative change in its motion from one state of being into another.  A writer’s handling of the material can also be affected by his material base in his society, that is his class position and standpoint.

-- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, “The Language of African Fiction” (1986) 


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.  What kinds of critical practices – close reading, narratology, historical research – are important to cultural studies methodologies?  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, and class; our specific novels focus on themes of war, empire and displacement.

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 theory.  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 online (via Discussions or Collaborations) and individual short writing assignments submitted online (Assignments Portfolio).  At the end of this first half of the course, you will 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.  

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 theory.  We will follow the same format, with group discussion work done online (via Discussions or Collaborations) and individual short writing assignments submitted online (Assignments Portfolio).  At the end of this second half of the course, you will 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.  

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 the signs all around you.   The assignments are all 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 extra credit opportunities where you can delve into related literary texts, additional cultural contexts, and broader political and historical questions.  

COURSE FORMAT: This is now an on-line course.  After the first week, all the assignments are designed so that you can access the course if you lose internet access or find yourself unable to keep to a shared time schedule for all the many reasons that might happen this quarter.  For people who prefer live conversation, rather than primarily on-line formats, I will hold group discussions during the first hour of our regularly scheduled class time via Zoom.  I will also be available for regularly scheduled Office Hour live chat or Zoom drop-in meetings, and I can schedule individual times as you request.  My goal this quarter is to keep this learning experience worth your while, to use our time well, and to create an opportunity for this distance-learning format to enhance, rather than distract from, your own learning goals.  Let's do this!


The weekly break down of readings, activities, and lectures are provide as Course Modules.  There is a Module for each week that explains that week's topic, the learning goals, the group and individual activities, and any video content.  Please use the Modules tab to access the course schedule for each week.


Required Novels (purchase or borrow):

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (1987)

Mohsin Hamid, Exit, West (2017)

Course Readings: 

Course readings on cultural studies  of the novel will be available on the Catalyst Website.

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.  To receive full credit for discussion, you must complete the assigned group activity each week.  Discussion activities will be listed in the "To Do" section every week, and may include discussion posts, shared work in google docs, or zoom meetings.  We will center diversity, equity and inclusion practices throughout our discussions (see Sample Ground Rules for Discussion in Week One).  Here is a link to "netiquette" for online discussions: http://blogs.onlineeducation.touro.edu/15-rules-netiquette-online-discussion-boards/.  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 the assigned portfolio activity every week.   Portfolio activities will be listed in the "To Do" section every week, and will focus on helping you practice specific skills expected in your formal "literary argument" essays . This may include explaining how a literary term describes the text, close reading a theoretical or literary passage, coming up with a claim and reasons, and identifying underlying assumptions in an argument. Portfolio: 25%
  • Essays: You will write two essays of 5-7 pages each for this course, due at the midpoint and endpoint of the class. Each essay will make a claim about one novel and situate this claim in relation to one critical approach discussed in that section.  The claim and its reasons will be supported by close reading of at least two literary passages.  Sample paper topics; literary argument tips; a grading rubric; and sample essays from prior classes are available as a Literary Argument Module here: Literary Argument Essays.  Each essay is worth 25% of your final grade.  Total: 50%.
  • 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.  Please enter or upload these in the Extra Credit: Deep Dive! assignment area on Canvas: link here Deep Dive!. Extra Credit: 2-5 points.

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 websitehttp://depts.washington.edu/grading/issue1/honesty.htm 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 (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).

 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: https://english.washington.edu/resources-times-need 



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: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 17, 2020 - 2:00am