Arts & Sciences 300-2

Social Theory and Cultural Diversity

Dr. Albert W. Dzur

University of Kentucky

Spring 1999

T/Th. 11-12:15


Our histories are marked by struggles over the treatment of social differences in civil society and state action. Contemporary reality presses thoughtful persons to consider the meaning of diversity, both for groups to which we belong and for others. This class is about differences and how societies like ours and people like us promote, celebrate, deny, and use them. We will start with issues of cultural diversity: race, gender, sexuality, collective identity, but our thinking will press on to consider concepts, reasons, arguments, theories involved in current discussions of cultural diversity.

The aim of social theory is to help us think openly and critically about the structure of society and the relations between individuals. "Openly" means taking seriously issues that affect others, issues that we may never have given weight or significance. Social theory in this way makes us more aware. "Critically" means inquiring, analyzing, and defining issues to see what makes them significant. Social theory helps us sort through and make as coherent as possible difficult arguments about social issues. These are complementary movements: we recognize social tensions, and we try to see what is behind them.

This class has three main sections. In the first, we look at one central source of tension, national identity. As we read a history of multicultural America we will address questions of what we mean when we say we are American. What is the meaning of citizenship in America? Do we have, or need, a coherent national identity? What is the relation between dominant, "normal" society and marginal sub-groups? Does mainstream society require marginal groups for its own identity? In the second section, we focus on the question of how social differences can be dealt with fairly. Liberalism, one of the most influential political theories of the West, emphasizes the ideal of impartiality: justice is blind to difference. We will discuss the meaning of this ideal, and the related ideas of tolerance and respect for group difference. In our last section, we discuss the tensions and challenges of diversity in an international context. We will consider two sets of problems. The first deals with difficulties in knowing other cultures. What exactly are the barriers to understanding other cultures? Can we overcome these blocks? The second, closely related to problems of knowledge, has to do with the question of how to judge the practices of other cultures. Is this a necessary activity?


A Different Mirror: a History of Multicultural America. R. Takaki.

Postethnic America. D. Hollinger.

Playing in the Dark. T. Morrison.

Selected articles and chapters on reserve at W.T. Young library.


Class attendance is required. Grades are based on class discussion (5%), short writing assignments (15%), two midterm exams (25% each), and one final exam (30%). Eleven short writing assignments will be given out during the semester. They will be announced or distributed in class and will be due at the beginning of the following class, to be handed in by each person him or herself. The assignments involve writing a few paragraphs on a topic related to the day’s readings. You can miss or drop one of the eleven assignments, but no late assignments are allowed. The midterm exams and the final will be taken in class, and will consist of a few multiple choice questions, short answer questions (drawn in part from the writing assignments), and an essay. Essay questions will be distributed in class a week before the exam. No make-up exams or extensions will be granted.


Th. 1/14 Introduction

I. Diversity and National Identity

A. Defining America

Tu. 1/19 Takaki, Different Mirror, Chs. 1 and 2 (pp. 1-50).

Th. 1/21 Takaki, Chs. 3 and 4 (pp. 51-105).

Tu. 1/26 Takaki, Chs. 5 and 6 (pp. 106-165).

Th. 1/28 Takaki, Chs. 7 and 8 (pp. 166-221).

Tu. 2/2 Takaki, Chs. 10, 12, and 13 (pp. 246-276; 311-369) esp. Chs. 10 and 12.

B. Re-defining America

Th. 2/4 Morrison, Playing in the Dark, esp. Chs. 1 and 2.

Tu. 2/9 Frye, The Politics of Reality, excerpts; Jones, "Citizenship in a Woman-Friendly Polity," on reserve.

Th. 2/11 Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality"; Walker, "Social Movements as Nationalisms," on reserve.

Tu. 2/16 Hollinger, Postethnic America, Chs. 2 and 4.

Th. 2/18 Hollinger, Chs. 5 and 6.

Tu. 2/23 Midterm Exam 1

II. Justice and the Challenge of Difference

A. The ideal of impartiality

Th. 2/25 Kymlicka, Liberalism, Chs. 2 and 3, on reserve.

Tu. 3/2 Young, "Social Movements"; Friedman, "The Impracticality of Impartiality," on reserve.

Th. 3/4 Ruddick, "Maternal Thinking"; Dillon, "Respect and Care," on reserve.

Tu. 3/9 Nussbaum, "Feminists"; Barry, Impartiality, excerpt; Miller, Nationalism, excerpt, on reserve.

B. Pluralism and recognition

Th. 3/11 Kymlicka, Liberalism, Chs. 8 and 9, on reserve.

Tu. 3/16 Spring Break

Th. 3/18 Spring Break

Tu. 3/23 Parekh, "Superior People"; Gray, "What is dead and what is living in liberalism," on reserve.

Recommended: Hampshire, "Justice is Strife," on reserve.

Th. 3/25 Raz, "Multiculturalism: a liberal perspective," on reserve.

Tu. 3/30 Midterm 2

III. Cross-Cultural Difference

A. Knowledge

Th. 4/1 Winch, Idea of a Social Science, excerpt; Hollinger, Postethnic America, Ch. 3.

Recommended: Calhoun, "Cultural Differences," on reserve.

Tu. 4/6 Said, Orientalism, Introduction and Ch. 1, on reserve.

Recommended: Marx, "On Imperialism in India."

Th. 4/8 Clifford, "Introduction: Partial Truths"; McCarthy, "Doing the Right Thing in Cross-cultural Representation," on reserve.

B. Judgment

Tu. 4/13 Edgerton, Sick Societies, Chs. 1 and 2 on reserve.

Recommended: Geertz, "Anti Anti-Relativism."

Th. 4/15 No class meeting. MPSA conference.

Nussbaum, "Justice and Human Functionings," on reserve.

Tu. 4/20 Nussbaum and Sen, "Internal Criticism and Indian Rationalist Tradition"; Sen, "India and the West," on reserve.

Th. 4/22 Tamir, "Hands off Clitoridectomy"; Responses to Tamir, on reserve.

Recommended: Lane and Rubenstein, "Judging the Other," on reserve.

Tu. 4/27 Okin, "Is Multiculturalism bad for Women?" Responses to Okin, on reserve.

Th. 4/29 Review

Tu. 5/4 Final Examination 8:00 am