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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Fall 2006

AMS 310 • Introduction to American Studies: Psychology, Self, and American Culture since 1890

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
29837 MW
3:00 PM-4:30 PM
bur 108

Course Description

America has repeatedly been referred to as a "psychology culture," a culture in which the psychotherapeutic has triumphed, saturating our language, our relationships, and our understandings of ourselves. One need only turn on the television to witness the extent of this infiltration: daily talk shows feature expert psychologists, sitcoms explore psychological themes, and everything from comedy routines to nightly news utilizes psychological terminology.

This lecture course will take a critical and cultural approach to American psychology in the 20th century. Beginning by exploring turn-of-the-century academic psychology, which had just emerged as an academic discipline separate from philosophy, the course will trace the evolution of academic, cultural, and individual understandings of psychology. This synthetic analysis will consider theoretical and applied approaches, with particular emphasis on how they were transmitted to the public and what they meant to the self-definition of Americans. By taking a critical approach to psychology and culture, the course will consider the views of those who roundly criticize our society's concept and treatment of mental health, exploring, for example, the hypothesis that American culture may actually promote mental "illness" rather than health. Cultural critics argue that instead of promoting mental health, as it claims to, American institutions actually devalue activities that might contribute to a more authentic experience of fulfillment and satisfaction for the individual. Instead, American culture tends to prioritize ideals of material abundance and personal independence that are counterproductive to mental health. Furthermore, the medication of mental distress may reinforce a shallow consumer mentality rather than spur patients to question cultural structures that may have contributed to their initial suffering. Students will read both critical secondary sources and the primary writings of American psychologists. By taking an historical approach to American psychology, the readings will help students to better understand our current state of professional, cultural and personal psychology and will cover such diverse topics as psychopharmacology, parenting, marriage, race, romance, gender, psychotherapy, politics and more. A background in psychology is not requisite, but an interest in psychological topics (including an interest in your self) is imperative.


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