Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Class Description

The United States is a society that has historically preferred to think of itself in class-less terms as a land of economic opportunity. Yet, social class remains a central social fault line in the U.S. even if often discussed in other terms. This course will explore the experiences and understandings of class found among Americans positioned in different ways along the U.S. social spectrum. This class relies heavily upon narratives—whether in the form of oral histories, memoirs, novels or "auto-ethnographies"—to explore how class is experienced by people in their day-to-day lives. In addition, this class examines a variety of classic frameworks useful in theorizing social class and considers how class interacts with other forms of social difference such as race and gender. Many of the narratives used in this course point to key moments in U.S. history in which class relations have come to be reconfigured in new ways.

Course Requirements and Grading

Attendance and participation 10%
First essay (5-7 pages) 30%
Second essay (4-5 pages) 20%
Final essay (7-10 pages) 40%


Attendance at class is crucial given that this class meets only once a week. (Please note: If you miss more than 1 class session without permission of the instructor, your grade will be lowered [½ of a letter grade for every two classes]). Course materials must be read for the assigned day in class and participation in class discussion will count for 10% of your grade.

Written Assignments

  1. A 5-7 page paper due 5 days after Ses #6 and worth 30% of your grade. This paper will be on an assigned topic and will analyze various theoretical frameworks used to understand class.

  2. A second 4-5 page paper due 2 days after Ses #10 and worth 20% of the grade. For the second paper, each student will write about class in one of two ways:
    • by offering an analysis of class dynamics found in 2-3 films or in music lyrics of the students' choosing, or
    • by writing an "auto-ethnography" based on a student's personal observations either at school or home.

  3. The final assignment is a 7-10 page essay on an assigned topic due in Ses #13. The final essay is worth 40% of your grade.

Required Books

Buy at Amazon Terkel, Studs. Working [1974]. New York, NY: New Press, 1997. ISBN: 9781565843424.

Buy at Amazon Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward [1867/8]. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1985. ISBN: 9780140390339.

Buy at Amazon Hamper, Ben. Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 1992. ISBN: 9780446394000.

Buy at Amazon Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography. Boston, MA: D. R. Godine, 1982. ISBN: 9780879234188.

Buy at Amazon Sittenfeld, Curtis. Prep: A Novel. New York, NY: Random House, 2005. ISBN: 9781400062317.

Buy at Amazon DeParle, Jason. American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Penguin, 2005. ISBN: 9780143034377.


1 Talking about class: Expanding inequalities in the 21st century
2 Studs Terkel's Working

Anthropology, narrative, and social class

Doing "auto-ethnographies"

Theorizing class: Competing frameworks
4 Theories of class - Part I: Marx and Weber
5 Theories of class - Part II: Bourdieu and post-structuralism
6 Intersecting identities: Class, race, and gender First paper due 5 days after Ses #6
Narratives of class in the U.S.
7 Searching for the American dream: Narratives and counter-narratives of upward mobility
8 Class and race in black women's auto-biographies from the 1930s and 1940s
9 The post World War II middle class
10 On the American Assembly Line: A vanishing industrial working class? Second paper due 2 days after Ses #10
11 The Worlds of the rich
12 Up and down: From climbing the social ladder to a fear of falling
13 Welfare and the politics of the U.S. "underclass"
14 The politics of red and blue, rural and urban, and a widening social gap Final paper due