Course Catalog

01:988:387 Feminism, Signs, and Representation

This course is designed to introduce students to many of the major theories and issues regarding representation arising in contemporary cultural, critical and feminist theory, from the pioneering work of the founders of structuralism - Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Pierce and Claude Levi-Strauss - to the recent critiques of structuralism developed by post-structuralists like Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva.  It presents an overview of leading figures within twentieth century critical theory, and also a discussion of the major issues raised in this work for the twenty-first century: according to what models and criteria can one adequately analyze cultural and social life? Should theories of culture and society aspire to the ideals of the natural sciences (as sociology and psychology have tended to do) or should they emulate the models given by the social sciences, most notably linguistics (as anthropology, and some literary theory is inclined to)? Or are other criteria necessary? If, for example, linguistics is taken to provide a model for cultural production, how adequately can it deal with non-linguistic production of the kind undertaken in the visual and performative arts? What are the terms and theoretical methods available to and useful for the analysis of socio-cultural life?

The course itself will be divided into three parts: in the first, basic concepts and pioneering theories will be introduced. Here we will examine the work of Saussure, Peirce, formalism and structuralism (Levi-Strauss, Piaget, Jakobson, Benveniste), their similarities and differences, and the debates their works have engendered. In the second part,  we will look at developments and refinements of their work, particularly in various analyses of social power: among the figures analyzed here are Roland Barthes and his analyses of bourgeois cultural life, and Michel Foucault's understanding of social power and its investments in the production and control of discourses. In the third part of the course, we will concentrate on post-structuralist developments of structuralism, particularly deconstruction, and feminism.