The Working Life

Before I begin the two-week melee of grading, I’ve been pondering what to use for next semester’s Berkeley course. I think it’ll be a broader net than Muckrakers & Robber Barons (as fun as that was). It’ll be called “The Working Life.”

A tentative course description:

What do we mean when we talk about a life spent working? What do we value, as Americans, in the types of work we choose for a profession? Do the institutions and corporations that we support pay any notice to what we want to be — or do they shape those wants directly?

In this writing course, we’ll research contemporary controversies and read the rhetoric of advertisers, journalists, bloggers and television talking heads. How do emotionally charged issues like “green-washing,” economic nationalism, universal healthcare, illegal immigration, gender and racial disparities and the outsourcing of jobs affect our consideration of the facts at hand? What are the tensions between work and life in our society?

We’ll read oral histories, novels of white-collar absurdity and investigations into the fast food industry. We’ll write our own personal narratives and interview those at work around us. Most important: what is the role of the reflective writer in the midst of this debate?

Book list: Course Reader, Fast Food Nation (Schlosser), Working (Terkel), Then We Came to the End (Ferris), The Norton Field Guide to Writing (Bullock).

Films: The Corporation, Supersize Me, Fight Club

What do you think? I’m excited about adding some new texts, like Terkel and Ferris, plus utilizing a broader range of interviewing, oral history and essays on the work-life struggle.

Then We Came to the End in particular intrigues me. Just nominated for the National Book Award, it’s a novel described as “the Catch-22 of the business world”. We’ll see, but I hope it lives up to the glowing, debut-novelist hype.

Speaking of the life one wishes to work.

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2 thoughts on “The Working Life

  1. sounds fab…

    Wish I was taking your class.

    The Red Room did an international project about Work recently.

    Did you come across this book?

    Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture Is Ruling Our Lives
    by Madeleine Bunting

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