Monday, September 22, 2014

Plight of the Other Syllabus

The syllabus for an independent study on the role of genre fiction as an agent of cultural awareness and enlightenment.

This semester presented me with a couple of challenges, some of which turned out to be opportunities. For example, having two of my classes inexplicably cancelled just days before the the semester began prompted me to design an independent study which has since been approved. 

So, now, I get to do this: 

S. Liam Meilleur
Independent Study Proposal

Plight of the Other:
An analysis of race, gender, and class as depicted in contemporary speculative fiction

Rationale and Purpose:
Speculative fiction contributes to social awareness through the license that it gives both writers and readers to explore contentious social issues. From Hermione Granger’s outrage over the mistreatment of house elves to the misogynist theocracy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, speculative fiction provides society with the means to discuss contentious topics by framing them in new ways. The purpose of this study is to explore contemporary speculative fiction publications in search of identifiable patterns and trends that demonstrate or refute the genre’s role as an agent of critical thought and social awareness.

Upon completion of the study, the following questions will be answerable:
  1. Are current speculative fiction publications addressing contemporary issues of race, gender, and class? If so, are they doing so in a critical and constructive fashion?
  2. Which side do their narratives take? Which voices are privileged and which are othered? 
  3. What are the race, gender, and class of the protagonists and antagonists? Are the conflicts centered on overcoming the self, the system, or a specific obstacle (such as a villain or natural disaster)?
  4. Are subaltern characters present in these narratives, and if so, what roles do they play?

To answer the above questions, a significant volume of speculative short fiction will be read and analyzed, with individual works and the characters within them being categorized based on race, gender, and class components. Based on this collected data, patterns or the absence thereof will be identified, and the implications will be explored through a mixture of academic and creative writing.

Required Readings:
Clarkesworld Magazine, 4 months of short fiction (12+ stories)
Asimov’s Magazine, 4 months of short fiction (30+ stories)
Analog Magazine, 4 months of short fiction (30+ stories)

Beginning with the September 2014 issues, each magazine will be incorporated into the study as new issues are released.

Participation and Progress (10%): Each week, a reading list will be submitted to the advisor consisting of the works read during that period along with a 1-2 paragraph report on general findings, expectations, and interpretations.  In addition, these weekly reports should address the topic of possible field exam questions that could evolve from this study.

Midterm (30%): A 7-10 page report discussing the findings to date. The focus will be on identifying patterns, interpreting them, and exploring the implications. This may take the form on an annotated bibliography in which each work is addressed.

Final (60%): A 10-20 page work of creative fiction that incorporates the trends and craft elements employed in the readings. This work may, instead, speak as an indictment thereof (pending the findings). Alternatively, a research paper of the same length may be substituted for the creative work. In addition, a brief (1-2 page) paper detailing possible field exam questions related to this study is also required.

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