GOV 312L • America From the Outside
This FIGBB program takes place in Berlin, Germany We know from anthropology that it is often helpful, when studying a foreign culture, to attempt to think like the subjects you study, to adopt their perspective. But how does one study one's own culture? Here, our familiar categories of understanding, our habits of thought, our perspective, may actually inhibit understanding rather than advance it. We may take for granted some of the most important features of our social life, precisely because they are so familiar to us. To understand our own culture, we need to find a perspective from which familiar practices will appear interesting and strange. We need somehow to get outside of our polity to see it more clearly. One way to do this is to study the most intelligent "outside" observers of American life. This course will be a close study of the most profound book on American politics written by a foreign visitor to the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. We will have the opportunity to read this book as outsider's ourselves in Berlin, Germany and to reflect on what an "outside" perspective entails. To prepare for our trip we will also read selections from a travel diary by Simone de Beauvoir which she wrote when she traveled to the United States from Europe as a young woman in the early 1950's. Students will have the opportunity to create their own diary/reflections on our journey to Europe and to contrast our experiences with those of these two distinguished European visitors to America.
In addition to active seminar participation, students will write three analytic essays (each approximately 6 pages) on topics chosen from a list that I will provide. seminar participation 25% analytic essays 75%
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, (Mansfield ed.) Beauvoir, America Day by Day