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The Work of Art: Labor in Contemporary Literature and Visual Culture


Course Description:

In this seminar we will examine imaginative accounts of work and workers in recent literature, art, and film. Garment workers, miners, computer programmers, taxi drivers, teachers, and sex workers will take center stage as we consider the shifting meanings of paid and unpaid labor in contemporary culture. Class materials will consist of an international mix of novels, poems, photographs, performance pieces, theoretical texts, documentaries, and feature films. Topics to be considered include women’s work, labor migrations, the rise of service work and other forms of “affective” labor, and the representation of the body at work.

Required Texts:

The bulk of our readings and visual course materials will be posted on the course website. The following are actual books available at the college bookstore:

Stefan Al, Factory Towns of South China
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Da
Ed Park, Personal Days


Attendance is mandatory and will be recorded. Please arrive on time, having completed all required assignments. Always bring the book or other reading materials under discussion to class. Unexcused absences will reduce your final grade, and three or more will cause you to fail the course. Since this is a seminar, you will be asked to contribute regularly and thoughtfully to class discussions. Your class participation grade (15% of total) will reflect how prepared you are to join in class discussion, and how carefully you listen to and engage the observations of others. If you have concerns about physical access to class or class materials because of a disability, I am happy to make arrangements with you.


All assignments must be completed to receive a passing grade. These consist of four formal essays, due according to the schedule below. Essay assignments will be circulated and discussed in class. The first essay will involve a mandatory revision and re-write. I will also require you to meet with the peer mentor/writing tutor for at least one paper (preferably the second or third one). This will involve writing a rough draft due one week ahead of schedule. You will then meet with the peer mentor outside of class and turn in a revised draft on the final due date. Papers will generally be due on Fridays by 5pm (in my department mailbox) so as not to interfere with classroom discussions on Monday and Wednesday. Extensions should not be expected apart from emergencies documented by a doctor’s note or dean’s excuse. Late papers will be marked down a half grade (i.e., from a B+ to a B) for every day late, including Saturdays and Sundays. You will occasionally be asked to complete short written exercises (discussion questions, brief responses, etc.) to provoke discussion; these assignments will be graded under the rubric of class participation.

Your grade breaks down percentage-wise as follows:

  • Collectively, the papers constitute 80% of your grade (with the first paper weighted slightly less than the subsequent ones).
  • Class participation 20%

Academic Integrity:

The language and ideas in your written work should be your own unless they are enclosed in quotation marks and attributed to clearly identified sources. In this class you will not be asked to consult secondary sources (scholarly essays, etc.) while writing your papers. However, if you do choose to consult them, or any other source, you are required to acknowledge and document all borrowed language and ideas according to the MLA citation style—as described in the MLA Handbook. Please write the Middlebury Honor Code Statement on each assignment to indicate that you understand and uphold the above principles.


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