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Border Crossings: Identity in the Age of Globalization

(09) Border Crossings:  Identity in the Age of Globalization - Jennifer Hayward, Department of English

Recent cultural, economic, and technological shifts have conspired to create a world that seems smaller even as it explodes with new possibilities; these changes compel us to reexamine our ideas about national and individual identity.  This seminar will investigate “border crossings” in literature, film, art, and popular culture, asking (for example), how does language shape us?  Are selves constructed by environment or invented by individuals?  What does it mean to identify with a particular geographical space, and how are we affected when we emigrate from that place?  What happens when family languages and cultural practices conflict with those of school, work, or other public spaces?  How do we navigate the complex and competing claims of culture, nation, race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexual identity, and to what extent can we build bridges across their borders?

We will explore a wide variety of texts that cross borders—of genre as well as in the questions they raise about identity—emphasizing Central and North America, the Caribbean, and South Africa for context and continuity.  Readings will include popular culture (news stories, advertisements etc.), films like All the Pretty Horses, Sugar Cane Alley, Skin, and The Crying Game as well as literature by authors like William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Edwidge Danticat, Gloria Anzaldúa, Junot Diaz, Athol Fugard, Gcina Mhlophe, Frantz Fanon, and Homi Bhabha.  We will focus on the stories we tell about ourselves and the way these function to shape our lives, asking whether different narrative forms produce different senses of identity and how these new media will eventually shape our lives.  At the end of the semester, students will cross borders themselves, testing the identity models we’ve studied by creating research projects to capture their own sense of self.