American Dream: Exploring Class in the U.S.

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 21A.235 (Spring 2007)
Course Title: American Dream: Exploring Class in the U.S.
Course Level: Undergraduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Department: Anthropology
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Christine Walley
Course Introduction:
Syllabus When you click the Amazon logo to the left of any citation and purchase the book (or other media) from, MIT OpenCourseWare will receive up to 10% of this purchase and any other purchases you make during that visit. This will not increase the cost of your purchase. Links provided are to the US Amazon site, but you can also support OCW through Amazon sites in other regions. Learn more.

Topics covered in this course are available in the calendar below.

Class Description

The United States is a society that has historically preferred to think of itself in class-less terms as a land of economic opportunity. Yet, social class remains a central social fault line in the U.S. even if often discussed in other terms. This course will explore the experiences and understandings of class found among Americans positioned in different ways along the U.S. social spectrum. This class relies heavily upon narratives—whether in the form of oral histories, memoirs, novels or "auto-ethnographies"—to explore how class is experienced by people in their day-to-day lives. In addition, this class examines a variety of classic frameworks useful in theorizing social class and considers how class interacts with other forms of social difference such as race and gender. Many of the narratives used in this course point to key moments in U.S. history in which class relations have come to be reconfigured in new ways.

Course Requirements and GradingGrading criteria.REQUIREMENTSPERCENTAGESAttendance and participation10%First essay (5-7 pages)30%Second essay (4-5 pages)20%Final essay (7-10 pages)40%Attendance

Attendance at class is crucial given that this class meets only once a week. (Please note: If you miss more than 1 class session without permission of the instructor, your grade will be lowered [½ of a letter grade for every two classes]). Course materials must be read for the assigned day in class and participation in class discussion will count for 10% of your grade.

Written AssignmentsA 5-7 page paper due 5 days after Ses #6 and worth 30% of your grade. This paper will be on an assigned topic and will analyze various theoretical frameworks used to understand class.A second 4-5 page paper due 2 days after Ses #10 and worth 20% of the grade. For the second paper, each student will write about class in one of two ways: by offering an analysis of class dynamics found in 2-3 films or in music lyrics of the students' choosing, orby writing an "auto-ethnography" based on a student's personal observations either at school or home.The final assignment is a 7-10 page essay on an assigned topic due in Ses #13. The final essay is worth 40% of your grade.Required Books

Terkel, Studs. Working [1974]. New York, NY: New Press, 1997. ISBN: 9781565843424.

Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward [1867/8]. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1985. ISBN: 9780140390339.

Hamper, Ben. Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 1992. ISBN: 9780446394000.

Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography. Boston, MA: D. R. Godine, 1982. ISBN: 9780879234188.

Sittenfeld, Curtis. Prep: A Novel. New York, NY: Random House, 2005. ISBN: 9781400062317.

DeParle, Jason. American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Penguin, 2005. ISBN: 9780143034377.

Recommended Citation

For any use or distribution of these materials, please cite as follows:

Christine Walley, course materials for 21A.235 American Dream: Exploring Class in the U.S., Spring 2007. MIT OpenCourseWare (, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Downloaded on [DD Month YYYY].

CalendarCourse calendar.SES #TOPICSKEY DATESIntroduction1Talking about class: Expanding inequalities in the 21st century2Studs Terkel's Working3

Anthropology, narrative, and social class

Doing "auto-ethnographies"

Theorizing class: Competing frameworks4Theories of class - Part I: Marx and Weber5Theories of class - Part II: Bourdieu and post-structuralism6Intersecting identities: Class, race, and genderFirst paper due 5 days after Ses #6Narratives of class in the U.S.7Searching for the American dream: Narratives and counter-narratives of upward mobility8Class and race in black women's auto-biographies from the 1930s and 1940s9The post World War II middle class10On the American Assembly Line: A vanishing industrial working class?Second paper due 2 days after Ses #1011The Worlds of the rich12Up and down: From climbing the social ladder to a fear of falling13Welfare and the politics of the U.S. "underclass"Conclusion14The politics of red and blue, rural and urban, and a widening social gapFinal paper due