Open to Gallatin first-year students only.
Faith in the notion that one may attain success and virtue through hard work is a dominant ideology in American life. We exalt those who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and repeatedly tell of that ancestor who “came here with a dollar in his pocket” and achieved wealth. This “American Dream” promises self-fulfillment, material comfort, and, importantly, social mobility-- surpassing one’s parents in status and socioeconomic standing. Yet, realizing the American Dream has always been more difficult for some than others, and a deep skepticism of its possibility has always been part of US political discourse. As inequality has soared in recent years (by some accounts, you’re more likely to live the American Dream in…Canada), that skepticism has moved to the center of political and social debates. This course considers the status of the American Dream as cultural concept and social reality. To what extent do concerns of the self, stuff, status and social mobility animate Americans’ notions of the good life? We ask whether an American Dream predicated on social mobility was, is, and will be achievable--and for whom. We explore ways that ideas of the good life are changing in a post-Great Recession context and in the face of ecological limits. We pay particular attention to authors’ theoretical starting points, methods, and interpretation of evidence in order to develop analytical reasoning skill. Reading includes works of sociology, political science, economics, literature, and social commentary.
First-Year Program: Research Seminars (FIRST-UG)