GLS 524: The Contemporary American Workplace
Instructor: Mike Wentworth
William Least Heat-Moon, traveler extraordinaire and author of the classic road narrative Blue Highways, has observed that rather than ask the other’s name, which would seem to be the expected lead, strangers in America, upon some chance meeting, will ask instead “What do you do for a living?” In other words, what’s your job? The notion that we, as Americans, “work for a living” says a great deal about the personal and cultural significance we attach to work and the workplace. We as a nation have always prided ourselves on our work ethic and as far back as Poor Richard’s Almanack we’ve bought into the assumption that prosperity and success are determined to a large extent by “hard work.” Indeed, self-identity and self-worth, for better or worse, are greatly influenced by what we do for a living, though we evidently must really love what we’re doing since, contrary to sociologists’ projections several decades ago, we’re working longer hours than ever before. Though the workplace has played a longstanding and pivotal role in our national history and popular folklore, our course will focus on the contemporary American workplace in a variety of texts, including Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs, Ben Hamper’s Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line (the inspiration for Michael Moore’s first major documentary, Roger and Me), Debra Ginsberg’s Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, Iain Levison’s A Working Stiff’s Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can’t Remember, Larry Brown’s On Fire, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America. While compelling as stories in their own right, each of the assigned texts should invite any number of disciplinary perspectives—economic, psychological, sociological, historical, philosophical, literary—and should likewise invite any number of meaningful personal connections. The course will further address the current status of work and the workplace in regard to such issues and concerns as the dignity of work, ethics and the workplace, gender and ethnic discrimination, work as reality and myth, work and leisure, standard of living, retirement, the workaholic syndrome, job satisfaction, management and labor relations, and education and the marketplace. Written requirements will consist of a personal workplace narrative (5-6 pages) and a critical investigative analysis of one or more of the assigned texts (7-8 pages).
Last Update: December 2, 2011