Seminar in Cultural Studies

ENG 775 Seminar in Cultural Studies: Literature, Biopolitics and Affect Theory

Wednesday 3:30-6:00 Jack Taylor


ENG 775 will engage with the concept of the political while surveying recent developments in political theory that have influenced both literary and cultural studies. To that end, we will be concerned with defining the category of the political. Rather than attempting to survey the entirety of political thought, this course will primarily focus on two modes of doing political theory: biopolitics and affect theory. Biopolitics and affect theory are two recent developments in political thought that are shaping a multiplicity of fields, and literary and cultural studies have felt their influence. Additionally, special attention will be given to recent theories of power and subjectivity.

Politics is not only a means of organizing relations of power, but it is also a lens through which we interpret the world. As such, we will engage these theories not as ends in-themselves, but as a means to interpret literary texts and cultural phenomena. To that end, we will read novels, short stories, and other literary forms and interpret them from the vantage point of the political theory we are grappling with. We will also concern ourselves with how literature does the work of political theory, and can be used as a heuristic to engage and investigate the political.

Possible Texts (Note: these are just possible texts. We will finalize a list collectively as a class)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o A Grain of Wheat

Wright, Richard. Native Son

Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978—1979

Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection

Espositio, Robert. Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy

Derrida, Jacques. Rogues: Two Essays on Political Reason

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End: Notes on Politics

Massumi, Brian. Politics of Affect

Ahmed, Sarah. The Cultural Politics of Emotion

Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics”

Mbembe, Achille. On the Postcolony


– 1 conference length paper (6 – 7pgs.) will be presented in class

– Student led discussion

– Student responses to conferences papers (1 double spaced page in length and containing at least 2 relevant questions)

– 1 research length (~20pgs) paper


– For students grasp essential political concepts

– To understand the genealogy of contemporary political thought

– To understand how political theory responds to specific historical conditions

-Professional development (presenting at conferences, responding to peers, and writing with publishing in mind)