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Special Study: American Dreaming: Suburbia, Literature and Culture

  • Module code: EL6009
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: Year 6
  • Credits: 30.00
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Co-requisites: None

Summary

The explosion of suburban development is undoubtedly one of the greatest social changes to have taken place in twentieth-century America, to the extent that the USA today can with some justification be considered a suburban nation. Drawing on some of the recent pioneering work of Kingston University’s Centre for Suburban Studies, this Special Study module examines how the suburbs have been the object of endless fascination for American writers, from the Jazz Age to the recent financial crisis.

The module explores how representations of suburban environments and lifestyles have captured central tensions within American society: about race relations and ethnic identity, gender roles and sexual deviance, the threat of nuclear war, and consumerism. At the same time, the module looks at how writers have sought to reimagine these seemingly banal environments as sites of wonder or as places with complex histories; close attention is paid to the formal innovations involved in telling new suburban stories. The module considers suburban fiction in relation to recent theoretical approaches to space, place and the everyday, and students will examine material drawn from a range of disciplines, including philosophy, geography and architectural studies.

Students will read and discuss novels, plays and short stories from a variety of genres, for example, crime, science fiction, Gothic stories, and gay & lesbian narrative. Writers studied may include F. Scott Fitzgerald, James M. Cain, Lorraine Hansberry, Christopher Isherwood, Philip K. Dick, John Barth and Jhumpa Lahiri. Students will also consider examples of visual material depicting America’s suburbs, including clips from Hollywood films and sit-coms, public service announcements, cartoons strips, and documentary photography.

Aims

  • to permit a detailed and extensive study of literary representations of the suburbs, explored in relation to historical, literary and social contexts
  • to introduce theoretical debates about space and place
  • to provide students with an opportunity to conceptualise and structure an extended essay and a practical project

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module students will be able to:

  • present detailed knowledge and understanding of a suburban literature in specific historical, literary and social contexts
  • display a sophisticated understanding of theoretical debates around space and place
  • demonstrate the ability to conceptualise and structure an extended essay and a practical project

Curriculum content

  • An examination of how literary representations of suburban environments and lifestyles have captured central tensions within American society: race relations and ethnic identity, gender roles and sexual deviance, the threat of nuclear war, and consumerism.
  • A consideration suburban literature in specific historical contexts: white flight, mass production, civil rights, financial crisis.
  • An evaluation of the formal and generic strategies employed by writers of suburban literature.
  • A consideration of suburban fiction in relation to contemporary and current theoretical approaches to space and place.

Teaching and learning strategy

The Special Study modules will be taught in two-hour  workshops. For each workshop students will be expected to follow an extensive programme of reading. Each two hour teaching session will include formal instruction and group discussion. Standardly there will be a set text which will be investigated with regard to its form and its social, theoretical and historical context.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive KIS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching whole group workshops 26
Guided independent study 274
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

Assessment strategy is designed to test students' knowledge and conceptual understanding of the specialised topic. Formative assessment is delivered through the fortnightly workshops, group tutorial process and individual feedback. Summative assessment is delivered through a Special Study portfolio (100%) which will include a well-researched argumentative essay of c 6000 words (70%) and a practical/creative project (20%) and a set of workshop-related tasks such as reading logs or journals (10%).

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
present a detailed knowledge and understanding of a particular author or topic assessed formatively through formative feedback; assessed summatively through the portfolio
analyse the ways texts relate to pertinent social, historical and theoretical contexts Assessed formatively through formative feedback; assessed summatively through the portfolio
ability to write an extended argumentative essay Assessed formatively through formative feedback; assessed summatively through the portfolio

Breakdown of Major Categories of Assessment

Assessment Type Assessment Name Assessment Weighting
CWK Portfolio 100
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS a requirement that the major category of assessment is passed in order to achieve an overall pass for the module

Bibliography core texts

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce
  • Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road
  • Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Philip K. Dick, Time out of Joint
  • Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man
  • Bret Easton Ellis, Less than Zero
  • Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
  • D.J. Waldie, Holy Land
  • Lisa D'Amour, Detroit

Bibliography recommended reading

Annesley, James, Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture and the Contemporary American Novel (London: Pluto, 1998)

Augé, Marc, trans. John Howe, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (London: Verso, 1995)

Bachelard, Gaston, trans. Maria Jolas, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon, 1994 [1964])

Baxendall, Rosalyn Fraad, and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic, 2001)

Beuka, Robert, SuburbiaNation: Reading suburban landscape in twentieth-century American fiction and film(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)

Coontz, Stephanie, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York: Basic, 1993)

Dines, Martin, Gay Suburban Narratives in American and British Culture: Homecoming Queens (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

Hanlon, Bernadette, John Rennie Short, and Thomas J. Vicino, (eds) Cities and Suburbs (New York: Routledge, 2008)

Hubbard, Phil, Rob Kitchin and Gill Valentine (eds) Key Thinkers on Space and Place (London: Sage, 2004)

Jackson, Kenneth T., Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Open University Press, 1987)

Jurca, Catherine, White Diaspora: the suburb and the twentieth-century American novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)

Kenyon, Amy Maria, Dreaming Suburbia: Detroit and the Production of Postwar Space and Culture (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004)

Murphet, Julian, Literature and Race in Los Angeles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Nicolaides, Becky M., and Andrew Wiese (eds) The Suburb Reader (New York: Routledge, 2007)

Roediger, David R., Working Towards Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White – The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic, 2004)

Schein, Richard (ed.), Landscape and Race in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2006)

Spigel, Lynn, Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs (Duke University Press, 2001)

Skolnick, Arlene S., Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty (New York: Basic: 1999)

Vidler, Anthony, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994)

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