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Syllabus (PDF)


What is the good life, and can you shop there? Would you want that life if you couldn't? Has shopping replaced working as the activity that gives the most meaning to our lives? The theme for this Expository Writing class is Consumer Culture. The class will explore what it means to belong to a consumer society- to think of ourselves, as Douglas Rushkoff puts it, less as citizens than as consumers. Readings will serve both as examples of effective writing techniques and as springboards for discussion. We'll read essays that explore a variety of cultural meanings of shopping and that analyze the way advertising works. We will also read essays that critique consumer culture from several perspectives, including those of psychology, gender, art, environmentalism and ethics. Readings and essay assignments will invite you to reflect on personal, familial and cultural meanings of shopping; to analyze advertisements; and to join in conversation with critics of consumer culture and offer your own critiques.

The primary work of this class is to develop your skills in writing and speaking clearly and effectively, and to help you become aware of your own purposes as writers and aware of the audience(s) you are writing for. You will write four essays on themes relating to consumer culture for a minimum total of 20-22 pages, and give considerable attention to revision. In homework and class discussions, you'll look at the way accomplished writers engage readers and shape the parts of their essays into a satisfying whole; you'll also enter into conversation with the writers about their ideas. To help you become better readers- not only of others students' writing, but also of your own- you'll review peers' writing in workshops. A brief (8 p.) investigative essay will give you the opportunity to research an aspect of consumer culture that especially interests you. You'll also give a brief oral presentation on the topic you investigate. This class may include a service learning component, in conjunction with Essay II.

Required Readings
  • Course Packet.
  • Hacker, Diana et. al. A Pocket Style Manual. New York: Beford/St. Martin's, 2000.
  • A good college dictionary. (Not a pocket dictionary!)

Supplemental readings may be provided as handouts and via Reserved Readings.

Course Policies
Attendance: This class is structured as a seminar/workshop. Therefore, attendance is important. Your responsibility in the class is not only to be a writer, but also to read and respond to classmates' work and to participate in discussions. If you miss more than two classes for any reason, you risk getting a lower grade. With five unexcused absences you will be withdrawn from the class. It is your responsibility to let me know why you are absent and to keep up with assignments when you do miss class. Lateness is discourteous to your classmates and to your professor. Your grade for class participation will suffer if you are habitually late.

Deadlines: To participate in class discussions, you must read assignments on time. It is also imperative that you bring a draft to class on workshop days and be prepared for oral presentations. Deadlines for revisions will be more flexible; I'll announce them as we go. All work must be handed in before Class #19.

Conferences: You are required to have one conference with me, but I encourage more. Bring specific questions about your writing, such as how to make an introduction more vivid or how to enrich the ideas in your essay. You are also welcome to use conference time to continue discussions begun in class or try out ideas sparked by your reading.

Evaluation: I'll give you evaluative comments on all essay drafts, and √, √+ or √- for homework and oral presentations. You will receive a grade at the end of the term for all of your work, which is to be handed in to me in a portfolio. The quality of your writing will be the primary criterion for your semester grade. I'll also take into consideration effort and improvement, especially as demonstrated by revision; homework, and class participation, including your participation in workshops. Receiving a grade of B or better in 21 W. 730 (or in 731 or 732) means that you pass Phase I of the Writing Requirement. (Note: Phase I and Phase II requirements apply only to students who matriculated before Summer 2001.) A grade of C or better satisfies the Communication intensive requirement for students who have matriculated since the summer of 2001. If your work appears to be below a B-, I will let you know, and we will discuss strategies for improvement: for example, I may ask you to visit the Writing Center. All required work must be completed satisfactorily for you to receive a passing grade for the course.

Plagiarism: MIT's academic honesty policy can be found at the following link:

Note: There are no tests in this class. Instructions re: the portfolio will come later, but remember to keep all your work- don't throw anything away!