Professor Sophia McClennen / Dept. of Comparative Literature , Penn State University, Mailbox: 311 Burrowes, Office:  435N Burrowes Office Phone: 865-0032

E-mail:, Office Hours:  M 1:30-2:30 and by appointment.









Spring 2008


Cultural Studies in the Americas

M 2:30-5:30

Office hours: 1:30-2:30 and by appt.

Burrowes 306


These days everyone seems to be “doing” cultural studies, but how well do we know the history of the practice? And what has been the role of the Americas in these critical shifts? Beginning with an overview of the major precursors and founders of cultural studies theory from outside the Americas (Gramsci, Althusser, Adorno, Benjamin, Williams, Hall, and others), this course will study the cultural turn as a historical event, an innovation in theory, and a major influence in the restructuring of humanist academic study in the Americas.

The cultural turn signaled a sea change in humanities scholarship. It began an era where there was greater attention to the fact that culture mattered, where interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and cross-disciplinary work became a commonly desired method, and where culture was increasingly studied in a global context. Such work led to the displacement of the traditional literary canon and the conventional forms of literary analysis.  These shifts further meant that the cultural turn in the Americas was linked to the rise of theory. 

This course examines these critical shifts in the study of literature and culture with particular attention to the way that these ideas circulated in the Americas.  It is often assumed, for instance, that much of the impetus for these changes came from England and Europe, when, in fact, Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart’s study of mass media in Chile began the trend of analyzing the ideology of popular youth culture and Latin American film theorists initiated the conversation about “third cinema”.  In addition to tracing some of these American innovations, this course reads a number of cultural texts from across the Americas that had a significant impact on the development of cultural theory.



On this page:


General Information

Course Requirements

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Plan of Study





All books will be placed on reserve.  In addition to these books there will be a number of additional readings scanned and placed on Angel or available on the internet.





The Uncomfortable Dead: (What's Missing Is Missing) by Paco Ignacio, II Taibo (Author), Subcomandante Marcos (Author), Carlos Lopez (Translator) Publisher: Akashic Books (September 2006)


Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig (Author), T. Colchie (Translator) Publisher: Vintage (October 5, 2006)


General Information:

Academic dishonesty: Students are expected to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity. Academic dishonesty will be dealt with according to University policies.

Registration Policy: During the drop/add period at the beginning of the semester, the department of Comparative Literature encourages students to visit this and other courses in order to make informed decisions about which courses to take. After the first week, however, only students registered in the course may remain; no student may late-add (or restore a dropped registration) after the third week of the semester without petitioning the department on a form available in the office, 311 Burrowes.

University Access Statement: The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified students with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodations in this course or have any questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible. 

Course Requirements:


Grade Breakdown:

Participation and Preparation


ANGEL/Critical Responses




Final Paper



Grading Scale:

  • 100-93= A
  • 92-90= A-
  • 89-88= B+
  • 87-83= B
  • 82-80= B-
  • 79-78= C+
  • 77-70= C
  • 69-60= D
  • 59-0= F

Course components

1. Participation and Preparation

Your class participation grade is based on observations of student performance in the following categories:

     Attendance- Student regularly attends class without late arrivals or early departures.


     Preparation- Student completes homework assignments and studies course materials thoroughly BEFORE coming to class.  Student completes all assignments before coming to class.


     Class Interaction and Citizenship- Student is attentive and cooperative with the rest of the class; actively participates in class and collaborates with classmates in paired or group activities, and contributes to class discussion.


Participation is not limited to in-class discussion -- we will also be discussing issues on our MESSAGE BOARDS available on ANGEL.

NOTE: For students who are less comfortable speaking in class, sustained participation on the MESSAGE BOARDS can help balance hesitancy in classroom participation. 

The MESSAGE BOARDS have topics listed that are in synch with our course. Please check the message boards before each class for discussion questions, topics to consider, and to respond to issues. You can also use the message boards to post questions or information. If you have questions about how to use ANGEL ask me for help. 

     You should post to the message boards on a weekly basis.  You are expected to post questions, comments, links, or some other info every week. Posting at the end of the semester will not receive full credit. 

     Try to answer the questions posted by your classmates.  

     You should try to post questions so that I can answer them for the benefit of all students.  It is generally better to post a question to the message boards than to me on e-mail, since if you have a question chances are your class mates are curious about the same thing.  Then, when I answer, all will see my response.  

     Post useful web resources and explain why they helped you.  You can also post any tips on using websites.

     You need to check ANGEL before each class, because I will often post important class info there.


Contents of Critical Response/Position Papers:

These brief “papers” (1-3 pages) allow you to develop your critical thinking skills vis-à-vis course materials. Your papers should not be summaries of readings.  Rather, your papers should be critical responses to the reading. At times you may choose to focus on only one element of material covered by developing your own critical response, but reference to all materials should be attempted as often as possible. These papers are opportunities for you to critically examine the issues we are covering. To this end, you may make references to works previously studied in the course, or to other texts you have read in other courses, which you feel intersect critically with the material we are covering.

These papers must be posted to Angel by NOON on the day they are due.

If you are having trouble being inspired, use these questions to orient your "Response" to the reading:
General Questions for Analyzing Critical Essays:


3. Presentations.

You will give a series of presentations throughout the term and also on your research paper at the end of the term.  More information on these brief presentations will be given in class.


4. Final Paper.

A final research paper of 20-25 pages on a topic related to the course.