American Studies | Colloquium in American Studies / Topic: Rhetoric & Visual Culture
G620 | 25016 | John Lucaites


Jointly offered with CMCL-C617
This seminar is concerned with developing a program of inquiry that
draws upon the interdisciplinary field of visual studies to explore
how persuasion and public culture depend upon visual practices.
Visual studies are becoming increasingly important across the human
sciences and the relationship between rhetoric, public culture, and
visuality can be explored in any number of ways.  Our focus this
semester will be on the relationship between visuality and
citizenship.  Citizenship has been renewed as an important topic in
rhetorical and cultural studies, as well as political theory.  We
will address the contemporary problem of citizenship by exploring
the question:  What does it mean “to see” or “to be seen” as a
citizen in a liberal-democratic public culture?  That is, we will
direct our attention to the ways in which visuality is implicated in
constituting and managing the norms of civic public culture through
a democratic optic (or aesthetic).   What does the good (or bad)
citizen “look” like? What are the norms for visually performing
one’s citizenship?  How are citizens schooled “to see” the world
around them? What is “seen” within the civic culture?  What is
considered “invisible”?  And so on.

The field of objects open to such study is enormous and could
include television and film; museums and monuments; urban design and
public spaces; political and commercial advertising; performance,
embodiment, and fine art; and numerous other practices as well.  We
will focus the majority of  our attention in class conversations on
photography and photo-journalism – what some have dubbed the “public
art” of liberal-democracy – so as to provide a sustained focus to
our discussions (but members of the seminar will be encouraged to
develop semester projects that draw from the full range of media and
visual practices relevant to the general theme of the class).  And
we will be concerned with how photography and photojournalism have
played a central role in visually defining citizenship throughout
the last century.  Particular topics that we will address will
concern the ways in which seeing or being seen as a citizen
implicates social and political identity (including race, gender,
and class, as well as nationality); cultural and public memory; and
the norms of democratic civic behavior (How does one visually
perform citizenship in the presence of war or crisis?  How does one
visually perform dissent?  Civic duty?  Etc.)

Readings will include theoretical work on visuality that speaks to
enduring problems of visual meaning and analysis as they have been
set out in both classic statements and contemporary scholarship, as
well as critical and historical works on the visuality of U.S.
citizenship and public culture.  We will also consider some
contemporary literature on the problem of citizenship   The reading
will be substantial, as is commensurate with the expectations of a
seminar designed to train scholars in a competitive,
interdisciplinary field of study.  Students will be asked to make
occasional in-class reports based upon short positions papers (3-5
pp. in length) and to prepare a semester long research project
commensurate with the goals of the class.