A Loving Science–My Fall 2012 Course!–and Pepe Le Pew?

I’m getting real psyched for the course I’ll be teaching in the fall with the Thompson Writing Program at Duke. I’m working on my course description (which is a work-in-progress). I figure I’ll post what I have so far so I can document the stages that will lead to my syllabus. This specific course description will be available for students when they register and it will also find itself on my syllabus (probably tweaked some by then). Well here’s the course description and what it’s looking like right now. Comments/suggestions are always welcome!

Also, one quick note about the Pepe Le Pew feature image: I think Pepe is generally a fascinating character: a skunk that’s attracted to a cat. There’s something “unnatural” about his desire even as it’s biologized “heternormative” desire. He even paints over his skunk stripes to fool the lady kitty.  I really might have students watch a short–I think it might be fun and a useful learning tool.

Instructor: Cheryl Spinner

MW 1:25PM-2:40PM

 A Loving Science: Love, Desire, and Empiricism

Sexual attraction is often represented as chemical, magnetic, or electric: think of cartoons characters whose eyes jump out of their sockets and ears that hiss with steam when aroused. This course will explore this history of eyes that spark desirous electric bolts and the bubbling attraction between individuals and their surrounding objects. Although scientific concepts of chemistry have become part of the way we understand love and desire, science itself refuses to embrace a loving practice. Enthusiastic engagement with one’s scientific study in often considered bad empirical method. In this course we will think more generally about what constitutes “good” science versus “bad” science, who has historically generated the “good” and the “bad,” what exactly is a scientific object, and why the practice of loving one’s scientific object does not fit with traditional empirical scientific practice.  Additionally, we will think about the ways science has participated in making sexual attraction between men and women “natural” or “biological,” as well as how race and gender has been excluded from active participation in the formation of scientific knowledge.

Over the course of the semester, we will examine the weird, strange, and queer scientific practices of the 19th and 20th centuries, some of which include the study of the supernatural and the spiritualist movement, sex magic, and the science of the orgasm. We will read novels from the 19th and 20th centuries, watch science fiction films, and encounter major theorists of science, gender, and sexuality in order to help us think through the major themes of the class. Students will be given their very own research blogs, which will track their interests and general thoughts about the readings or class discussion. Writing can often be a solitary enterprise; the research blog will help students think about how their writing exists within a larger community and not simply for the professor’s eyes. The blog will also help visually archive how their interests have progressed over the course of the semester; it will be especially valuable come final paper time. While our primary object of study will be love and its relationship to the chemical sciences, the theoretical readings are structured so that students may get a general grasp of the fields of science studies and gender and sexuality studies. Thinking about writing for a larger community will help prepare for the final project, which will be a paper that will be addressed to a particular existing scholarly audience. Other forms of writing will include two short response papers.

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