COAS E104 Fall 1998 SECTION 0153

1:25-2:15 MW, BH310
Instructor's Office
: 242 Student Building, Phone 855-3901
Office Hours: Tuesdays 10-12 AM or by appointment
Instructor's Email address: WILKR
Associate Instructors
: Nathalie Arnold (naarnold), Lena Mortensen (lmortens)








Is American culture covering the earth like a blanket of paint? Does everyone in the world wear Nike and eat at McDonalds? Is the planet going to become one big shopping mall, full of people who listen to the same music and watch the same movies? Or is the world entering a period of tribalism and fundamentalism, as nations break apart and everyone scrambles for their own piece of territory? Scholars simply don't agree. We have to look at the evidence, listen to the arguments, and try to figure out what kind of world we will be living in during the next century.

One thing is clear. Consumer culture - lives built around the media, celebrities, mass-produced goods, and shopping malls, is spreading everywhere. Can the earth sustain 7 billion consumers, their cars, refrigerators, and appetites? Many ecologists don't think so. Does the spread of consumer culture mean the end of cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity, of families and communities? Would anyone want to live in a world where Indianapolis, Tokyo, Bombay, and Paris looked, sounded, and tasted the same? Social science does suggest some ways that people in different parts of the world are using to preserve their own unique heritage, knowledge, and taste.

This course will examine the evidence for the spread of global consumer culture, looking at the ways that people in different parts of the world have learned to be consumers. We will ask the tough questions about the future, about the environmental impacts of consumption, and the way our own cups of coffee and running shoes tie us together with a whole globe of other producers and consumers.

A topics course is meant to teach you about the ways we know thing about the world, about the process of learning and inquiry. Therefore your professor will draw frequently on his own research, and will bring all kinds of evidence to the class for you to evaluate, think about, and question. Dr. Wilk is an anthropologist - you will be learning a good deal about anthropology this semester, because anthropological concepts like culture and social change are so important for understanding the direction of global consumerism. Dr. Wilk has been studying the Central American country of Belize for more than 25 years - he will often bring in examples from his work there, as well as from his work in the United States and in West Africa.

The goal of the semester is not just to give you abstract knowledge about a distant intellectual puzzle. We all live in a world surrounded by consumer goods. The average college student is watching more than three hours of TV a day, and is bombarded with hundreds of advertisements. The way we dress, the things we eat, the person we imagine ourselves to be, all are shaped by the world of goods, the almost endless variety of things that we consider so basic to the good life. But what about people who don't have credit cards and shopping malls? Those who can't walk into a store and buy clothes, but still have to grow their own food, weave their own clothes, build their own house from sticks leaves? Are they unhappy, unfulfilled, miserable in their "poverty?" Does our own material abundance make us joyful and happy? The issues we will talk about this semester are the stuff of everyday life, the kind of thing all of us need to think about as we set life goals and seek our own happiness. The same issues are the key to predicting what kind of a planet we will be living on in a hundred years - a smog-ball water-world, or a place where humans live in some harmony with nature.

Course Format:
The course has two major parts, the lecture and the discussion sections. The lectures present basic course material, concepts, and ideas that will be covered on midterm and final exams. The discussion section helps you review the lecture material, guides you through the course readings, and presents additional material in films and discussions. The discussion sections are where you will be challenged to use the ideas and issues raised in lectures and readings in your own critical thinking. Discussion section leaders will also guide you through the process of writing the paper assignments.

There will be two 50-minute lectures each week, on the attached schedule. The lectures coordinate with the readings in the texts, but there will be little duplication. In order to get the maximum from lectures, you must keep up with the reading schedule and come to each class prepared. We do not keep attendance records at lectures, but coming regularly is a course requirement. I strive to make the lectures interesting and to make sure you are understanding the key points, but if I am falling short in any way, I would like to hear from you, either in person, through a note, or by email.

What do you have to do to get an "A" in this course?
We will operate on a system that requires a number of short assignments rather than one or two big projects or exams. We want to keep you thinking about course materials, questioning what you have learned, and assessing the material we give you. Some of the assignments are in-class and require no study. Some require some independent research, in the library or a variety of 'real-life" settings. Some just require you to read and reflect. In general, to get an A in this course you have to stay involved, instead of just dropping in for a week before the midterm and a week before the final. You need to develop your abilities to express yourself and formulate ideas through your writing. These are the requirements:

  1. A mid-term (100 points) and a final (300 points). But these are not exams - we call them audits. They give us a chance to find out what you think, what questions you have, and how your thinking has changed during the semester. We are not checking facts you have learned or examining you on your ability to think quickly.
  2. Five 3-4 page papers (100 points each). On the first two papers you will be given the chance to revise and resubmit to improve your score. On the fourth paper you will serve as a reader and reviewer for another student's paper. You get 50 points if you do this effectively.
  3. Discussion participation; each student can get another 50 points, at the discretion of his/her AI, for participation in discussion sections. If you miss more than five discussion sections you automatically lose eligibility for this 50 points.
  4. There will be several short extra-credit assignments during the semester as well, so you can add points to your total as you go along.

Your final grade will be based on your semester total; an A grade requires a minimum of 900 points out of a total of 1000 possible points. There is no curve, but a fixed scale. This way you will know all semester how you are doing.

Final grades will be based on the following point totals:

970 - 1000= A+ 870 - 899 = B+ 770 - 799 = C+ 670 - 699 = D+ 0 - 600 = F

930 - 969 = A 830 - 869 = B 730 - 769 = C 630 - 669 = D

900 - 929 = A- 800 - 829 = B- 700 - 729 = C- 600 - 629 = D-

Required Texts: George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society. Pine Forge Press..

James Watson, Golden Arches East. Stanford University Press.

Reader for E104 - xeroxed articles at Mr. Copy on 10th St. & Dunn.

You must buy these. Books are available at TIS and the IU Bookstore. The reader has essential readings for course assignments, and is required for the course. If you have any trouble obtaining the books, you can have them in two days by direct ordering from

I try very hard to be clear in lectures and to go along at a moderate pace - not too fast or too slow. But there will be times when I go too quickly, or don't explain something clearly. In a class this size it is hard to stop and take questions, so there are four things you can do to get something cleared up, to ask a question, or to let me know I got something confused or mixed up.

1. Write a note. Put your question or comment on a piece of paper and give it to the professor after class, or to your AI later in the week to pass along.

2. Send an Email message. If you don't think the whole class needs to hear an answer to your question, send email to me or your AI (address at the top of this syllabus) and s/he will respond ASAP. Note that we do not in general answer last-minute questions about tests or papers through email.

3. Wait and ask your AI during the discussion section. This will allow you to discuss the issue at more length, but you may also find that your AI does not agree completely with the professor (yes, there is room for disagreement and controversy in anthropology).

4. Raise your hand and interrupt the lecture. Reserve this one for important comments ("speak louder" or "I can't see the slide"), requests ("spell that", "repeat that") or serious problems with the lecture ("You just said it was Margaret Mead and now you are saying it was Ruth Benedict").

Discussion Section:
By the second week of the semester you must choose a discussion section and stick with it through the whole semester. If you want to attend a section different from the one you registered for you must get the approval of the AI in the section you want to add, but this is rarely a problem.

The discussion sections has three main purposes:

To give you a chance to discuss and question the material presented in lectures and the text.

To expand on issues raised in the lectures by exposing you to a wider range of sources, including film, newspaper articles on current events, and other writing. You are strongly encouraged to bring in articles, cartoons, newspaper clippings, and any other material you come across relating to the course into discussion section to share.

To give you the chance to put what you are learning into practice through short research projects, each of which leads to a written report. These reports will be critiqued and discussed by your fellow students.

The discussion section is your place to process, think about, and take issue with the ideas and information presented in the text and lectures. Remember, your AI is a professional, with long experience with other cultures. Draw on their knowledge and experience to get the most out of the course.

Your AI will monitor your reading and writing assignments. Regular attendance at discussion sections is a requirement of the course, not an option. The AI will take attendance at each section meeting. If you miss more than two sections, your AI can deduct points from your discussion participation. If you miss more than five, you lose all 50 points automatically. If you miss more than five discussion sections, you will have great difficulty doing the paper assignments, and the professor and AI may choose to deduct further points from your grade. You must have a medical excuse for absences if you do not expect to lose points. Athletic practice is not an excuse for repeated absence.

Anything concerned with the class can be discussed privately with the AI or with Professor Wilk during office hours or by appointment. If you are having trouble with course content or assignments, don't wait until the very end of the semester to go see your AI. While it is usually best to talk with an AI first, any problem or issue can be discussed with Dr. Wilk directly. Email is a good way to start. The important thing is to make your concerns known early in the semester while we can do something about it!

Our obligations to each other:
Nobody has forced me to become a professor; and nobody has forced you to become a student either. These facts form the basis of our obligations to each other in the classroom situation. I consider it my obligation to listen carefully to your questions and answer them as well as possible given the need to finish the lecture. I also feel obligated to present material in an interesting and understandable way: if you don't understand what I am saying speak up! I will try again. Finally, I am obligated to be fair and explicit about grades, and about what to expect from the class.

The other side of the story is your obligation as a student to me and to the other students in the class. The most important is not to disrupt the class by your behavior; try to get there on time, and make a quiet entrance if you are late. Getting up and leaving in the middle of a lecture is also disruptive. Don't distract other students by talking during the lecture or films. You are also obligated to think ahead about grades and exams: if you are going to miss an exam, you must come and arrange a makeup at least two weeks before the exam date. You are also obligated to attend lectures regularly; showing up and listening is a basic form of respect for the content of the education you are paying for!

Make-ups, late papers, and incompletes:
I repeat; makeup audits must be arranged two weeks in advance of the scheduled date. Makeup audits will only be given if you have a very strong excuse backed up with documentation. The makeup audit will be given at a time and place set by the AI at their convenience. Incompletes will only be given with a medical excuse or in cases of documented family emergencies. You must speak with an AI in advance of the final about getting an incomplete.

Late papers cause all kinds of problems for AIs, who are trying to get them graded as a group quickly so they can return them to you. You lose five points automatically for every day it is late. Exceptions only with medical excuse. If you anticipate problems with getting the writing done, go see Writing Tutorial Services as soon as you get the assignment handed out in section. You must attend the discussion section to turn in the paper on time. If you hand in the paper after discussion section meets, it counts as a late paper.

Honesty Policy:
All cases of cheating will be handled according to the rules stated in the University Bulletin. In particular, in this course you must provide original work on all assignments - you are not allowed to work together with other students in writing the assignment, unless you are expressly asked to do so. All written work must be your own, and should not be copied or paraphrased from other sources. If you quote someone you must tell the source of the quote. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism, ask your AI. You are required to attend discussion sections and lectures, even if there is no attendance taken. Be aware that it is not permitted either to copy another student's work or to knowingly allow your own work to be copied. Violation of these rules can get you thrown out of the University !!!


Richard Robbins Internet Resources on Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism

Richard Wilk's "Global Consumer Culture Page"

Cultural Factors in Business - Resources and Bibliography

Consumer World on the Web