ENGL 207 A: Introduction to Cultural Studies

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
* *
Gillian Harkins
Gillian Harkins

Syllabus Description:

Professor Gillian Harkins                                                                    Office Hours M/W 1:00-1:30 

Email: gharkins@u.washington.edu                                                          or by appointment

English 207 Winter 2021


Introduction to Cultural Studies:

Common Sense


How did we get here, to this present, with our imaginations limited by a common sense of possibility that we did not choose?

-- Hua Hsu, “Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies” The New Yorker (2017)


Are we brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of ‘the real’ and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams?

  -- Walidah Imarisha, “Introduction” Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements (2015)


This class will introduce you to Cultural Studies, a field that asks how and why “culture” becomes a central concept in contemporary life. “Culture” has a complex history; many activists, artists, and academics have struggled to fully understand its capacity to shape so many diverse, sometimes even contradictory or competing, life-worlds.  Cultural Studies emerges from such struggles, drawing on artistic, activist and academic inquiry to ask how culture is created through, and is used to create, various practices, texts and objects. 

Given the enormous range of Cultural Studies, we will narrow this quarter’s focus to a specific topic: common sense.  As the epigraphs above suggest, common sense often shapes what is perceived as possible or real.  But many people ask how and why common sense has such power, as well as whose sense, where, and when is considered “common” (more than an isolated experience).  Thus we will read works exploring sense-making and sensation, embodiment and imagination, and the role of culture in creating or changing different experiential commons.  This exploration will take us into studies of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism as well as race, gender, sexuality, and embodiment.  Some texts in this class will be sexually explicit and/or deal with epistemic and interpersonal violence; please let me know if you need support negotiating any of the course materials.


Course Format:  Due to COVID-19, this course will be offered on-line through the UW Canvas course platform.  The course is designed so that students can complete the course a-synchronously by completing assigned readings, watching recorded Panopto lectures, participating in on-line discussion activities, and completing the required writing assignments.  For students who prefer Zoom-based interactive discussion with peers and time for Q&A with the Professor, Zoom discussion sessions will be held for the second hour of each scheduled course session. The course materials will be available as links or as .pdf texts on the Canvas website.  


Required Texts: Our readings include poetry, prose fiction, and criticism by: Kathleen Alcalá, Zania Alsous, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Billy-Ray Belcourt, adrienne marie brown, Samuel Delaney, Renee Gladman, Mishuana Goeman, Antonio Gramsci, Stephen Greenblatt, Stuart Hall, Cathy Park Hong, Hua Hsu, Walidah Imarisha, Ursula LeGuin, Lisa Lowe, José Muñoz, Bao Phi, Edward Said. 

On-Line Course Readings: All readings are collected on the Canvas website.  Webpages or videos will be accessible through links on the website syllabus.  Some links will be to external websites.  Please let me know if you have problems accessing course materials.


Course Objectives

  • Grapple with cultural studies
  • Hone cultural decoding skills
  • Engage critical frameworks
  • Encounter contemporary debates
  • Practice critical interventions
  • Develop a cultural studies project


Course Requirements

  • Reading Reflection: You will be expected to participate actively in your own learning process by contributing to regular discussion activities.  You will have the option of contributing to on-line discussion in writing as well as via Zoom (for those who choose this option).  Important: Contributing to discussion within the twice-weekly timeline is required to support collective learning.  It is a courtesy to your peers to stay on top of the discussion activity.  I will create discussion groups to facilitate shared responsibility and more flexible timelines for those who might need them. Please offer 2 posts and 2 replies each week. Course Grade: 20%
  • Exploratory Essays: You will write two short essays exploring key ideas and texts from this class.  The expectations for these essays will be outlined clearly in the Assignment link.  You will hand in your essay as well as an assessment of your own essay according to the expectations.  Essays are due at two week intervals in the first section of the course. Course Grade: 20% each
  • Revision Essay: You will revise one of these two essays in response to feedback.  This is part of the Writing (W) requirement of the course.  You will hand in your revised essay as well as a new assessment in the second section of the course. Course Grade: 20%
  • Final Project: You will produce a final project at the end of the course. These projects will be assessed for their ability to demonstrate learning goals from the class.  Expectations for the final project will be outlined clearly in the Assignment link.  Once again, you will hand in your project as well as an assessment of your project as part of the final assignment.  Course Grade: 20%


Course Policies


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 

On-line advising appointments with the new Humanities Advising Center can be scheduled here: https://hasc.washington.edu/schedule-appointment 


Catalog Description: 
Introduces cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field and practice. Explores multiple histories of the field with an emphasis on current issues and developments. Focuses on culture as a site of political and social debate and struggle. Offered: S.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 13, 2020 - 4:30am