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Topics in Literature and Society: The World of Work

ENGL 105.601

Studying and writing about work is a relatively new enterprise, one that has produced an explosion of data, theory, manifesto, critique, fiction, memoir and dream. Readings will include a wide variety of texts:  fiction, poems, memoirs, essays, films, photographs and ethnographies. We’ll also read a few key texts in the sociology and psychology of work.

 We’ll first look at work as labor and, sometimes, burden, reading portions of such texts as Arlie Hochchild’s Second Shift, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work and Studs Terkel’s classic Working, , and Atul Gawande’s Checklist as well as stories about war, factory labor, nursing, and housework.

Next, we’ll look at work as a source of energy and joy. We’ll read some classic essays by women exploring the nature of work in art and science, and some recent work on the creative life, from choreographers and poets to woodworkers, (including Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft) all of whom find satisfaction in their hard work.

Reading assignments will be equivalent to a book (approx. 200 pages) each week.  Readings will be drawn from a combination of books and Blackboard postings. Writing assignments will include methods and genres from both the humanities and social sciences. You’ll write short pieces in response to the readings, a reflective piece on your own work history and an oral history of a worker.  There will be a take-home final. 


This course fulfills the Interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Science Requirement (Sector IV)

fulfills requirements
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major