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The World of Work

ENGL 455.640
W 6-9:00


            Sigmund Freud said “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness” or, less elegantly,  “Love and work – work and love—that’s all there is.”  In this interdisciplinary course, we’ll look at work and its dual nature – as acts of the mind and of the body.


            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. Our readings will include fiction, poems, films, memoirs, essays, photographs and ethnographies. Our central texts will be Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, Studs Terkel’s Working and Atul Gawande’s Checklist,  These books will teach us how to find thought and intelligence in what we may disdain as ordinary labor.


We’ll look at work as labor and, sometimes, burden, reading accounts of war, factory labor, food service and undertaking. (Yes, the work with bodies.) We’ll read a volume of short stories, a few poems, and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.


The class will help design a portion of the semester.  You’ll form a small affinity group, in which you’ll choose, then analyze a book about a particular sort of work. (In the past, groups have looked at accounts of medical training, hospital nursing, woodworking, professional cooking, creating modern dances, working as a nanny, and learning to play the guitar.)


Writing assignments include very brief responses to the weekly readings, a reflective piece on your own work history, and the oral history of a worker you choose to interview. 

fulfills requirements