COURSE DESCRIPTION: When we, as individuals and as members of various groups, construct our own “sense of self,” we might think we are in control of ourselves. When other people, and institutions and forces beyond them, define us, we might think we are being controlled, as individuals as well as members of various groups. The problem of whether and to what extent we humans are in control, or can be in control, of ourselves – of our identities but also of our behavior and understanding, both public and private – is what in this course I refer to as the “problem of the subject.” The problem of the subject is the never completed social task of constructing intersubjectively valid understandings of fundamental human identity. For example, are human beings moved by social, emotional, and psychological forces beyond their control or can they control themselves and their environment through the power of their own reasoning? This seminar explores different answers to this question by analyzing seminal works of European and American thinkers of the late modern and contemporary eras, works that have powerfully influenced our notions of the subject today.
The European Enlightenment of the 18th century gave rise to master narratives of the subject as a sovereign figure capable of rational control of his or her worlds. We begin with the “modern, enlightenment self” (Kant, Rousseau, andMarx), taken as an individual, then examine the “solidary self” (Durkheim and Mauss), or the self as a communal member. Next we turn to the “modern self fragmented” (Kierkegaard, Simmel, and Weber), whether for better or worse. Then we examine the “interior self” (Freud), and subsequently the “self as the other of the socially dominant one,” with one examples from sex (de Beauvoir) and one from “race” (Du Bois). Finally we discuss the “symbolically or strategically interacting self” (Mead and Goffman). In lectures introducing each author, I will develop the specific conception of social science offered by each of our authors. The last hour of each session will be devoted to student-organized and student–led discussion among students, in this student-centered seminar.
EVALUATION: The final grade is the average of the grades of four essays, each 5 to 6 pages in length. For each assignment, I provide a list of topics from which students choose one (students may also develop their own topic). Students may modify the topic chosen in ways that suit the logic of their essay’s argument. Each essay should develop original insights about our authors, in the student’s own and unique voice.
REQUIRED BOOKS:  W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk,  Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or,  Max Weber, From Max Weber,  Marcel Mauss, The Gift,  Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society,  Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex,  Erving Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
TEXTS AVAILABLE ON CANVAS:  Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality,  Immanuel Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?,”  Karl Marx, “Estranged Labor,”  Émile Durkheim, “Forms of Social Solidarity,”  Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” and “The Stranger”
Benjamin Gregg (B.A. Yale University, Ph.D. Princeton University) teaches political and social theory, informed by political science and sociology, in UT’s Government Department but also in Germany, Japan, China and Austria. Two of his books, Thick Moralities, Thin Politics (2003) and Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms (2003), confront challenges of social justice in complex modern societies, especially in liberal democratic states. Another two books, Human Rights as Social Construction (2012) and The Human Rights State (2016), analyze problems and prospects for justice across national borders. His current book-in-progress, Human Nature as Cultural Design: The Political Challenge of Genetic Enhancement, explores core issues in bioethics: rapid advances in genetic engineering, particularly of human embryos and fetuses, pose difficult social, political, moral, and legal questions that challenge a range of different conceptions of a just society. His current research was supported by a College of Liberal Arts Humanities Research Award, 2014-2016;a Fulbright Professorship at the University of Linz, Austria, Spring 2016; by Visiting Scholar positions at The Hastings Center (Garrison, NY) and the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Summer 2016; and as a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Spring and Fall 2018. In 2016 he delivered invited lectures on this project in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Spain, Austria, and the USA. In 2017 he will lecture in Brazil.