Seminar in Public Argument: Populism, Liberalism, Rhetoric

We 6:00PM - 8:55PM / 1414 Cathedral of Learning / CRN 31188

Perhaps no term has been thrown around with more interest and concern in the last few years than populism, a polysemous term that at once seems attached to right wing political movements, a socialist running for the Democratic presidential nomination, seemingly leaderless movements for class and racial justice, and the President of the United States. Does populism have an accurate political valence? To what extent does a populist rhetorical style inform a populist politics, or vice versa? How might we distinguish between left-wing and right-wing populism?  How does the republican structure of the United States government condition populism here? Does all populist rhetoric require scapegoating? To what extent is our capacity to name a movement “populist” compensatory to our unwillingness to confront deep structures of sexism, misogyny, class, white supremacy, and heterosexism that constitute American life? Where does the “populist” turn in cultural studies fit in, and to what extent does it constitute an archive useful for thinking through key dilemmas in political thought? This class will pursue these and other questions, through a reading of texts in communication studies, political theory, history, and cultural studies, among others. Each class will also consider at least one historical or contemporary example of a discourse or media object which might be approached as a populist artifact. Readings will be organized around four headings: The Liberal Democratic Tradition, What is Populism?, On, For, and Against Populist Reason, and Melancholic and Mournful Populisms of Right and Left.” Students will be expected to prepare a full length (25 page) seminar paper for the class, to give at least one presentation over the course of the semester, and be active seminar participants.

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Paul Elliott Johnson

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Course Category

Category C: Cultural Antagonisms and Cultural Crises

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