INDIVIDUALS IN CONFLICT WITH THE COLLECTIVE
Dr. Lizabeth Johnson
Core: Social and Behavioral Sciences
“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so f*****’ heroic.”
Carlin’s description of the flower or tuft of grass growing through a crack in the concrete can be read as a metaphor for individuals who have, throughout much of human history, found their desires, needs, and actions subordinated to the needs or demands of the collective, whether that collective is defined as the individual’s family, political or religious community, or socio-economic class. As much as the flower or tuft of grass may want to reach out to the sunlight and grow, the concrete serves to hinder that growth. Similarly, as much as an individual, male or female, may wish to strive for personal development, collective institutions often function to hinder that development or even prevent it entirely. In much of pre-modern society, collective structures and institutions such as gender roles, politico-military authorities, and racism limited the ability of individuals to pursue their own goals, regardless of whether those goals had the aim of contributing to the greater good of the collective itself or the good of the individual alone. Beginning in the 19th century, however, as philosophers, political and social scientists, and even poets began to discuss the merits of individuality, individualism came to be viewed in a positive light in the Western world, largely because of a growing emphasis on democracy and legal and social equality. In this class, we’ll examine the ways in which the collective has traditionally functioned, and in some societies still does function, to hinder individualism. We’ll also examine individuals who have, like George Carlin’s flower growing through a crack in concrete, broken through the barriers placed in their way by collective structures and institutions and gone on to be regarded as heroes or, in some cases, villains.
READINGS AND TEXTS
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Dover Thrift Editions, 1995. ISBN 978-0486284996.
Charles Alexander Eastman, From the Deep Woods to Civilization. Dover Publications, 2003. ISBN 978-0486430881.
Christopher R. Browning. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Harper Perennial, reprint ed. 1998. ISBN 978-0060995065.
Jasvinder Sanghera, Shame. Hodder & Stoughton, 2016. ISBN 978-1473631335.
Peter Popham, The Lady and the Peacock: the Life of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Experiment, reprint ed., 2013. ISBN 978-1615190812.
Other readings will be made available on the class website.
FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS
Castro: the Survivor (2016); The Times of Harvey Milk (1984); Becoming More Visible (2016).
COURSE FEE (if applicable) & BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF HOW FEES WILL BE USED
Active participation in discussions.
Leadership of one discussion session, including providing a list of discussion topics/questions.
Two 5-page biographical papers focusing on specific individuals in conflict with their collective.
One 10-page research paper that will focus on the structures and institutions that collectives use to hinder individuality and individualism. This paper may draw from material presented in the two 5-page biographical papers.
An oral presentation on the research paper.
ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR
Dr. Lizabeth Johnson graduated from New Mexico Tech with a B.S. in Biology and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Medieval History from the University of Washington. She teaches history of science courses and social science courses for the Honors College. With regard to social science, she is particularly interested in how gender roles, theories regarding race, and institutionalized racism affect individuals and, in some regions of the world, still prevent individuals from striving for independence and personal growth.