TF 4003

Professor Hervé Varenne

Fall 1992

Tuesdays 5:10-6:50

A fundamental feature of American culture at its most principled is that it is illegitimate to talk about an American culture.

Such paradoxes of life in the United States organize this introductory tour of various "domains" (family, religion, community, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.) from the point of view of what many observers have recognized as their cultural particularity. The discussion will be grounded in, mostly, anthropological and sociological discussions of this particularity. While discussion of American culture are necessarily political, both in the United States and internationally, the approach in this course will be analytic and inductive from case studies. In other words, it is a review of what cultural anthropologists and the sociologists most sympathetic to anthropological approaches have said about America as a culture, and thus of the more fundamental controversies about it.

The course should be of interest of students from all departments of the College who have a strong sense of the need to understand the broad context of their practical action in education, psychology or the health professions. It should also be of interest to foreign students wishing an intellectual introduction to the classical works on America.

The course is also by necessity, an example of the use of the concept of culture to attempt to deal with a set of empirical and practical questions.


While there will be no quizzes or exams to check whether the
required readings have been made, I will always assume that they
have indeed been made.  Class lectures and discussions will never
simply summarize the content of the readings.  Rather the readings
serve as the basis for further elaboration grounded in the

The major requirement is a research paper (20-30 pages) on a topic
of interest to the student that is to be handed in at the end of
the semester.  This research paper should consist mostly of a
review and discussion of the contribution of the literature in the
social sciences to the topic.

Two other small essays are required (3-5 pages).  They are
intended to get me to understand better the intellectual and
practice concerns that have brought you to be concerned with

Schedule of required work

9/29  3-5 pages essay outlining the source of your interest in
      "America."  What is "America" to you, intellectually?

11/3 (preferably) or
11/10 (at the latest) 3-5 page outline of the research paper you
      are considering, including rough plan for the paper,
      bibliography, etc.

12/15 Final paper.  This is the absolute deadline that guarantees
      that I will enter a grade for the course.  I am somewhat
      liberal with incompletes.  I do however expect more from a
      paper that is handed late, and that does not have to be
      completed under a time pressure.

Office Hours

I am available on Thursday afternoons, from 2 to 4, and by
appointment ([212] 678-3190) in room 278 DH.  Phone coverage is
intermitant.  Leave messages on the machine.  Remember: we are a
literate culture!  The easiest manner to reach me may be in

                         Required Reading

Introduction: America, Culture, Education

   9/8   Introduction.

   9/15  [NO CLASS]

         de Tocqueville Democracy in America.
            Vol. 1, Part I,  chapters 3, 4, 5
            Vol. 1, Part II, chapters 1, 5, 7
            Vol. 2, Part II, chapters 1-9

   9/22  Varenne, Hervé "Introduction, Chap. 1, 2" Symbolizing
            America.  Lincoln, NE: The University of Nebraska
            Press. 1986 

Ideology: Individualism, Communalism, Interpersonalism

   9/29  Bellah, Robert  The broken covenant.  New York: The
            Seabury Press. 1975 

   10/6  Kluckhohn, Florence, and Fred Strodtbeck   Variations in
            value orientation.  Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson and
            Co.. 1961 

         Shweder, Richard, "Does the concept of the person vary
            cross-culturally?" in Shweder and LeVine, eds.,
            Culture theory, 158-199. Cambridge: Cambridge
            University Press. 1984 

   10/13 Carbaugh, Donal  Talking American.  Norwood, N.J.: Ablex
            Publishing Corp.. 1988 

   10/20 Schneider, David   American kinship.  Chicago: University
            of Chicago Press. 1980

Dilemma, Contradiction, Revitalization, Change

   10/27 Canaan, Joyce  "Why a 'slut' is a 'slut': Cautionary
            tales of middle-class teenage girls' morality." in H.
            Varenne, ed., Symbolizing America... p. 184-208

   11/10 Varenne, Hervé  "'Drop in any time': Community and
            authenticity in American everyday life." In H.
            Varenne, ed., Symbolizing America... p. 209-228.

   11/17 Newman, Katherine   Falling from grace: The experience of
            downward mobility in the American Middle Class. New
            York: The Free Press. 1988
   11/24 Dumont, Louis  "Caste, racism and 'stratification':
            Reflections of a social anthropologist." In Homo
            Hierarchicus, 239-258. Chicago: University of Chicago
            Press. 1970 [1966] 

         de Tocqueville Democracy in America.
            Vol. 1, Part II, chapter 10

The culturing of American education

   12/1  Sollors, Werner   Beyond ethnicity: Consent and descent
            in American culture. New York: Oxford University
            Press. 1986

   12/8  Dewey, John  Democracy and education. New York: The Free
            Press. 1966 [1916] 

   12/15 Conclusion