Skip to Gallatin Navigation Skip to Gallatin Main Content

Theorizing Impasse

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number IDSEM-UG1928
Section 001
Instructor George Shulman
Days T
Time 6:20 PM - 9:00 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   SOC



The goal of this course is to explore the idea that American life is “stuck,” because people are gripped by structures of power, patterns of conduct, and genres of narrative that they seem unable to reflect on or change. Major versions of what might be called “impasse talk” depict the hegemony of neo-liberalism, the intractability of white supremacy, or the impossibility of forestalling climate catastrophe because of pervasive investment in economic growth. Globalization, political economy, the two-party system, the racial state, sexual violence and patriarchy, homophobia or hetero-normativity, are depicted recurrently in academic theory as irremediably set in concrete, or open only to incremental rather than fundamental change. How do we assess such claims about the impossibility -or plausibility- of radical change? How do we assess purported distinctions between radical change and mere reform? When does contesting a claim of impasse mean we are disavowing a reality we must instead acknowledge? When is a claim of impasse a self-defeating investment in paralysis? We will explore these questions by arranging theoretical and literary texts in units around race, neo-liberalism, hetero-normativity, and patterns of American political rhetoric, each unit relating claims of impasse to on-the-ground politics.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)