CHID 390

Unreason: Madness and the Politics of Knowledge

Spring 2011

Course Syllabus


Hours:  TTh    1030-1220


Room: MEB 243

Instructor: Phillip Thurtle

Office Hours: Mondays 11:00-12:30 and Thursdays 1:00-2:00

Contact info: thurtle@u.washington.edu 



Course Overview

Welcome to CHID 390. This CHID colloquium focuses on the theoretical and practical problems of interpretation and knowledge production. In this version of the course, we will study the relationship between knowledge, power, and bodies by investigating the topic of unreason. Western society loves and hates to reason. On one hand it upholds reason as the ultimate enlightenment value. The rise of scientific thought during the 16 and 17th centuries, for instance, is often referred to as the “age of reason”. On the other hand, it produces conditions of life and cultural artifacts that are anything but reasonable. Selfishness and greed, not reason, often seem to guide social policies; while spectacle, sexuality, and violence, not a desire to gather information, often seem to whet media appetites. Western society has been especially harsh with  those who are believed to have unreasonable thoughts or bodies, marginalizing them through incarceration, hospitalization, poverty, or neglect. During the ten weeks of the class. we will read intellectual history, ethnographic analysis, writings of those deemed to have a mental disability, novels, comic books, cultural theory, and continental philosophy in order to gain a more sophisticated understanding of the role of unreason in the theoretical and practical problems of interpretation and knowledge. Come join me as we become a little more unreasonable and a little more informed about the politics of knowledge.

This course employs three interconnected critical practices: reading, talking, and writing. The first objective of the course is to expose students to a wide range of readings that deal, explicitly or implicitly, with problems of knowledge. Some of these texts are quite intellectually challenging; all of them will require careful, thoughtful, detailed reading. The second critical practice is engaging in verbal discussion, which serves to create and sustain a learning community through sharing of views and ideas. One of the things I hope you will gain from this class is an enhanced ability to carry on a conversation about your own and others’ ideas. Finally, you will write regularly in response to the readings. Writing is a crucial component of academic thinking, and is a practice that facilitates engagement in, and understanding of, texts and ideas. 

Required Texts (available at University Bookstore unless otherwise noted):

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

Emily Martin, Bipolar Expeditions

Elizabeth Wilson, Psychosomatic

Michel Foucault, Psychiatric Power

Alan Moore, Batman:The Killing Joke

Assorted papers (online)



Assignments and Requirements

 Active discussion and short papers (40% of grade). Clearly, if you don't attend class, you won't be able to contribute to discussions. If you know that you must miss a class, please call or e-mail me before the class. Discussion is one of the central pedagogical methods of this class. Seminar classes can offer a rewarding way to  shape associations, raise stimulating questions, and push people into new areas of thinking. Unfortunately, seminars can also be tedious, frustrating, and a waste of time if all members don't come prepared to talk or if all members don't feel free to talk. The former is each member's responsibility; the latter is a collective one. You are responsible for doing all of the weekly readings on time (by the Tuesday class meeting) and coming to class with ideas and questions; all of us are responsible for maintaining an environment that is respectful toward others--on e-mail as well as in verbal discussions. 

Students will turn in typed, double-spaced short papers of 2 pages for each week's reading. These papers are assigned for two main reasons. First, to demonstrate that you have completed and thought about the weekly readings. Second, to give you a forum to engage in an idea or set of ideas that interest you. These papers will take two forms: the first is a Q&Q (Questions and Quotations) the second is a Response Paper. A Q&Q paper consists of identifying three important quotes from that week’s reading (please use all sources) and then developing  three in depth questions from each quotation. Q&Qs will be graded on an understanding of the material, the clarity of expression, and the quality of the question. The Response Paper is a slightly more formal paper where you will be expected to identify a theme from the readings for the week, develop a thesis, and then argue your thesis using examples from the week’s readings. These will follow conventional essay format. The short paper assignments begin on the second week of class and we will alternate Q&Q and Response Papers each week. Papers are due at the beginning of class on Tuesdays.

2) Leading Class Discussion (10% of course grade). Each student, in collaboration with another student, will lead discussion for one class session. This discussion must be closely focused on the assigned readings for the week. Working in collaboration is an important component of this assignment. Each "duo" will develop a written plan (including an outline setting up the goals for the class and methods to be used to achieve them) for their discussion. Each pair will meet with Phillip at least once on or before the Monday prior to the class presentation in order to discuss your plan and objectives. I expect you to take this assignment seriously. Extra credit will be given for extra effort, engagement, and creativity. You need not turn in a short paper the week you lead discussion.

4) Research Paper and Proposal (40% of course grade). Students will write a 12-15 page research paper on a topic of their choice (within the themes of the class).  A two page research proposal is due on 28 Apr. The proposal should clearly explain the issue you want to address, why this issue is important, and how you intend to go about your research. Please include three possible sources outside of class readings. I will give you feedback on your proposal which you will incorporate into a final research paper due 10 June. Your research paper should include five possible sources outside of class readings. Please use either Social Sciences or MLA citations--just keep them consistent.

5) In Class Research Presentation (10% of course grade). Each student will present a 10 minute presentation on her research project during the final week of class. Presentations will be graded on clarity of expression, organization, quality of project, and novelty of thought. It is strongly recommended that you practice your presentation before you deliver it. Long and rambling presentations will be stopped at ten minutes length.


Apr 3, 2011 8:41 PM
Course schedule now has facilitators listed!
Send questions about this workspace to Phillip Thurtle.