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Paper 4


Write a 5 pp. essay (double-spaced) in response to one of the prompts. Due Dec. 6, by 5pm in the mailbox outside my office (302 Axinn).


1)    When it appeared in 2012, Ross Perlin’s book Intern Nation provoked heated debate about the meanings and consequences of unpaid internships. Some argued, like Perlin, that internships disguise exploitation as “opportunity” for young jobseekers. Others have argued that internships provide a necessary foothold for college grads negotiating a dismal post-recession job market. Where do you weigh in on this debate? You can build your argument in the way that makes sense to you, but you may want to consider a) responding directly to the arguments in Perlin’s book, b) discussing your own experience as an intern, or c) doing some further research into the matter by looking at contending arguments about internships and/or representations of internships in recent American culture.

2)    In many of our discussions of affective labor, gender has been an important, if somewhat muted, concept. Write an essay exploring why gender matters, or should matter, to our understanding of affective/immaterial labor. To what extent are the challenges and dilemmas of affective labor described in terms of qualities conventionally attached to women? How do writers like Arlie Hochschild deal with this issue?  How do you see narratives about gender identity play out in the artwork and/or TV and film clips that we have watched in the last few weeks? What would a feminist response to these representations look like?

3)    Construct an argument of your own design about either Ed Park’s Personal Days or the film The Internship. In this assignment, you have the freedom (and responsibility) to identify and explore whatever issues you feel are key to understanding these texts. These could be stylistic/aesthetic issues related to the construction of the texts, or they could relate to the conceptual/philosophical ideas about work that we have been working through this semester. Try to ground your argument in details drawn from the text in question, and patiently work your way through these details in order to explain their meaning. As an overarching question, try to think about what these texts are trying to say about work today and, just as importantly, how they go about saying it.



Paper 3


Write a 5 pp. essay in response to one of the prompts. The first draft will be due Nov. 15, by 5pm in the mailbox outside my office (302 Axinn). You will then arrange a one-on-one meeting sometime during the following week with either Halley or myself. This time, surnames Agsten through Moore will work with Graves; the rest with Halley. Final draft due Nov. 22 by 5pm.


1)    Ben Davis’s “Art and Class” and Chris Kasper’s “Open Letter to Labor Servicing the Culture Industry” share an interest in the economic position of the art worker, but they come to radically different conclusions about the nature of that position and the resulting capacity for social change in the art world. How would you describe these differences? Whose outlook do you prefer and why?

2)    As we learn in The Factory Towns of South China, the “factory town” is a complex, recent invention in Chinese history – the result of many overlapping social changes. Originally, the engineers and designers of these towns had utopian goals and plans in mind; these factory towns were to be the solution to a number of social problems and a way of generating a sense of community and improving living standards for workers. But do today’s factory towns accomplish what their designers originally had in mind? Based on the evidence in the book, do you think factory towns improve or harm the lives of Chinese workers? How so?

3)    In the worker profiles in The Factory Towns of South China, one submerged but important issue is the changing status of the nuclear family in Chinese culture. And this is also an issue at the heart of Last Train Home, the film we watched in conjunction with the book. Finish watching the film (on reserve at the main library), and then write an essay exploring the role of the family in the book and film. How does the experience of migration affect the family life of Chinese workers in the new factory towns?

4)    In the chapter from Stayin’ Alive, we learned about the articulation of class in musical culture during the 70s and 80s. But what about our own time? Choose a current band or performer and write a paper exploring the issue of “class” in their music, identities, appearance, and celebrity. How would you describe the band’s (or performer’s) class identity?

5)    Choose one of the artists from Nov. 7 on our syllabus (or the George Saunders story) and try to describe how that artist deals with the issue of “affective labor” as described by Michael Hardt. How does the artist imagine the meaning and consequences of affective and/or immaterial labor in his or her work? What does he and she appear to be saying about it?

6)    Write a paper on a topic of your own design, as long as it addresses the course material from Oct. 17 onwards on the syllabus. If you choose this option, please consult with me in office hours.

Paper 2

Write a 5 pp. essay in response to one of the prompts below. The first draft will be due Oct. 11, by 5pm in the mailbox outside my office (302 Axinn). You will then arrange a one-on-one meeting sometime during the following week with either Halley or myself. This time, surnames Agsten through Moore will work with Halley; the rest with me. (We will switch for the next paper.) Final draft due Oct. 18 by 5pm.

 1)   Write an essay comparing and contrasting the photographs in Allan Sekula’s Fish Story to those of Sebastiao Salgado (online on ArtSTOR). How do their approaches to their subject matter differ? How would you characterize their key stylistic and thematic differences? How do these differences register the two photographers’ ideas about work and globalization? In constructing your argument, try to make detailed observations about particular photographs.

2)   At the end of Dirty Pretty Things, Okwe describes himself and his fellow immigrant laborers as the “people you do not see.” One ambition of the film is to make visible the otherwise invisible lives of London’s migrant work force. But how does the film go about “picturing” these workers? Craft an argument about the way Okwe, Senay, Guo-Yi and Juliet are presented in the film. What details in the film seem important to the construction of their characters? For example, why is Okwe always chewing khat leaves,looking at clocks, and changing clothes? Why is Senay often seen gazing upward at the closed-circuit surveillance camera? In your argument, try to make sense of how these details add up to a cumulative portrait of London’s dirty, pretty things.

3)   Hans Haacke is often described as a “systems artist” who is interested in the nature and relationships between institutions (such as the MoMA museum, the Guggenheim, or Mobil oil). Focusing on any combination of the Haacke pieces on our syllabus, make an argument about how he portrays and thinks about whatever “system” is under scrutiny. What elements of that system does he want us to think about? What maneuvers does he make in his art in order to raise those issues?

4)   Write a paper describing how you think Haacke would go about exploring the “system” of Middlebury College. Perhaps begin with some strategic observations about Haacke’s artworks and the way they explore the contradictions of institutions (namely, museums). Then try to articulate what a Haacke artwork about Middlebury would look like.

5)   Kazuo Ishiguro, in The Remains of the Day, trains our focus on the character of the butler Stevens. The novel includes several memorable scenes describing the working conditions of Darlington Hall, as well as numerous passages devoted to Stevens’ own description of his job. Zooming in on particular passages and episodes in the novel, make an argument about the way Ishiguro constructs the situation of the working butler. What kind of activities, sacrifices, and rewards does this work involve? How does Stevens’ work affect his personal life?

6)   Craft an argument on a topic of your own design, as long as it has to do with either Dirty Pretty Things, Allan Sekula, Sebastiao Salgado, Hans Haacke, or The Remains of the Day. If you choose this option, please come and talk to me about it in office hours (Tu and Th, 9-10:30, Axinn 302).





Paper 1

 Write a 4-5 pp. essay (double-spaced) in response to one of the prompts below. Whichever option you choose, you should base your argument on careful observations of evidence drawn from the work in question. In order for your argument to be successful, this evidence must be carefully presented, carefully sifted through, and discussed in great depth. Due Friday, Sept. 20, by 5pm in the mailbox outside my office (302 Axinn).


1)   In “Alienated Labor” Marx describes four kinds of alienation experienced by workers: 1) alienation from the product of labor; 2) alienation from/in productive activity; 3) alienation from “species-being”; and 4) alienation from other workers. Out of these four, which form of alienation do you think is most relevant to today’s 21st c. workforce? Describe, in your own terms, what you think Marx means by the particular form of alienation you’ve chosen, and then show how and why it is still a pressing issue today.

2)   Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times presents its viewers with a striking and often unusual array of images (animals, clocks, machines, etc.). Watch the rest of the film; it is on reserve at the main desk in the library and is also on Youtube in full at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDrmKbOgAbk.) Then construct an argument about an image or pattern of images that you feel is important to the film’s representation of factory work. How do these images shape a certain understanding of work? What ideas seem attached to these images and how are they dealt with over the course of the film? Make sure to ground your argument in careful observations about particular scenes and moments in the movie itself.

3)   One of the ambiguities of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is that it’s not altogether clear how Weber feels about the work ethic that he describes. Does he endorse it? Or is he critical of it? If so, how does he build his critique? How does Weber describe the consequences of the spiritual vigilance and material acquisitiveness so championed by Ben Franklin? What specific parts of it does he find problematic?

4)   Bodies and body parts figure prominently in the excerpt from Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days. While often dwelling on John Henry’s body, the narrator also attributes a certain fleshiness to inanimate objects. Write a paper exploring Whitehead’s representation of bodies and body parts. How does this imagery help the reader understand John Henry’s predicament, and the larger issue of work around which the story circles?

5)   The video art and installations of Mika Rottenberg often involve surreal or absurd labors culminating in the production of unusual “products” (fingernails, baldness elixirs, etc.). Many of these work activities deliberately exaggerate the features of more familiar kinds of work, rendering them ridiculous or ambiguous rather than strictly practical. Choose a particular video (I recommend either Dough or Mary’s Cherries) and describe how Rottenberg goes about constructing the imaginary work activity the workers are engaged in. What are the key features of the work that the women are performing and the products they ultimately produce? What issues do these unique work practices allow Rottenberg to raise? What questions do you think Rottenberg is trying to get us to ask about them?

1)    The murder case at the heart of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles turns on a curious assortment of physical evidence. How do the different characters react to this evidence, and what does this tell us about them? To what extent do their opinions appear to be divided along the lines of gender? Considered as imagery, how does the evidence shape your understanding of the alleged murderer and her life? How does this evidence speak to the play’s title?

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