CSCLW 1301, Section 003; Reading Culture: Theory and Practice

355 Nicholson Hall; Monday/Wednesday; 8:15 – 9:30 am

Derk Renwick;; 612-624-5233

Office Hour: Monday/Wednesday 9:30 – 10:00 am in room 364 -OR- 235 Nicholson Hall and by appointment.

Class calendar available at:


Culture is all things to all people. Stick around. We’ll show you a view or two you may not have considered before.

This course is designed as a cultural studies introductory course on language, representation, and social action in 21st-century American society. Our goal in this course is to make available and render desirable critical and oppositional modes of thinking as alternatives to the prevalent culture of uncritical consensus and conformity, and to help produce active participants in culture rather than passive consumers of it. Finally, you are encouraged to investigate the modes of production that have influenced your own way of thinking as it relates to culture.

My name is Derk Renwick. I’ll be your instructor. I am not a professor—professors must go though a rigorous and harrowing hiring process before they earn that title. Please call me Derk. Learn about me on the CSCL “People” page at: My office hours are Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:15 – 9:30 am in room 355 Nicholson Hall and by appointment. Office hours are held in common, in other words: the door is always open and folks are welcome and expected to share their questions/comments in a small-group, community environment, unless you make a specific request to meet privately. All are welcome at the table, however requests for privacy will be honored.

Themes from the field of critical pedagogy—pedagogy being the art of teaching (and learning!)—(e.g. self-actualization, empowerment of minority groups, freedom in the classroom, democratic education, etc.) underlie this entire course. It is my goal to provide as transparent a learning environment as I possibly can. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome, as it is precisely your experience that I am here to serve.

We’re going to be discussing socially and politically divisive topics in this class. This is an exciting idea for some, for others it is offensive. Still others may refuse to engage in this type of activity altogether. Please know that we will be discussing potentially incendiary material in this class from a critical perspective—critical meaning thoughtful analysis. By taking this course you are agreeing to engage this material and subject yourself to the class structure (and I’d like to talk about these words: subject and class structure). Please note: attendance and participation are required. Underlying the content of this course—the material you need to know as part of our educational contract—is my stated intention to establish a space where students are comfortable expressing their opinion with the sweet sound of voice. Any opinion. All opinions. All opinions are to be honored as acts of expression of experience, and what we are doing here is evoking experience. You are not here to learn what I know. You are here to witness culture from one hundred points of view—to struggle with the basic notion that culture means all things to all people.

Theorizing Theory[1]

We will engage theory in this course. Theory does not begin with a capital “T”. While theorists do need to be named—recognizing the importance of attributing thought to particular figures and acknowledging academic standards of citation—theories are not immediately or necessarily connected with “theory” as an abstract category; theory is a located and ongoing practice. Neither up on the shelf, covered in dust and cobwebs, nor mere personal reflection, theories are a living process of discourse and self-actualization—a paradox of ideas that wrestle with questions of how our thoughts, values, and motivations are produced, driving at the fundamental moment “when one begins to think critically about the self and identity in relation to one’s political circumstance,”[2]  and how one should act moving forward from this historical moment—theories mean:

  • Trying to see and understand the world differently, and therefore to act in the world differently; that is, not taking “the given” at face value, and attempting to create new forms of social action
  • Recognizing a dissonance between the values/concepts that are claimed as important and what is actually occurring (between “myth” and “reality”); or, recognizing a disjunct between the actions that people take, and how they are being talked about
  • Feeling and cognitively discerning that the order of things is not just
  • Articulating that pain is not acceptable, that people should not have to suffer
  • Theory without practice is verbalism; practice without theory is activism

Praxis Theory

Theory is “theory” is theory is theories without practical application. We aren’t just going to talk about culture, we are going to do it. What does it mean to “do” culture? You will learn basic literary concepts, research techniques, and writing mechanics for use in writing about culture. You will apply what you learn to your writing, and you will produce a piece of critical writing that you will publish on the internets.

Writing Theory

This is a writing course. Writing is an act of expressing or creating the human experience. We have our agreed-upon understanding of genre—this one “looks” like a narrative, that one “looks” like poetry—but, at the core, all we are doing is acting out our ideas using symbols that represent our ideas. Remember this as you write; think of it like a conversation, a good conversation, but using the rules of grammar (of morphology [form], lexicology [meaning], and syntax [function][3]) and proper citation (Modern Language Association [MLA] style).

[1] Special thanks to Courtney Gildersleeve for much of the following paragraph

[2] hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge, 1994. 47.

[3] de Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966. Chapter VII; 134–37.


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