Note Bene:  This course is a first-year seminar with limited enrollment.

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An introduction to political economy using a wide range of popular films as the object of analysis.  For example, The Matrix will serve as the foundation for a discussion of epistemology, ontology, and different conceptualizations of society, and the role of these differences in shaping economic theories; Matewan, The Mission, Norma Rae, and Do the Right Thing will serve as raw material for an exploration of a general concept of class process and specific concepts of feudalism, slavery, communism, capitalism, and self-employment. Erin Brockovich provides another opportunity to explore the complexity of capitalist class processes, as well as the intersection of economic, environmental, and cultural processes. Oliver Stone's Wall Street provides an excellent "text" for exploring corporate finance issues.

The basic goal of the course is for students to learn the basic concepts and logic of economic theories, orthodox and heterodox, and the language of contemporary social scientific debates over class, agency, colonialism and post-colonialism, and structuralism and post-structuralism. Economic concepts will be used in a variety of theoretical contexts in producing different understandings of the market, freedom, bureaucracy, state, labor, capital, and so on.

The course begins with an exploration of identity formation, epistemology, and consciousness. Economic theory is analyzed as a lens shaping the way reality is perceived. The neoclassical concept of autonomous preference orderings and utility maximization as the key to understanding agency is juxtaposed to contemporary theories in psychology and alternative economic conceptions of agency and subjectivity. Film as cultural artifact, an embodiment of theories (representations of the world shaped by theories), is understood, in this context, as both an object to be analyzed (theory deployed in making sense of the composition of the film) and as a transmitter of theories (carriers of culture). Thus, exploring film is, in a fundamental sense, an act of intellectual archeology (as Foucault would have put it). The first film examined in the course, The Matrix conceptualizes consciousness and identity as fluid and malleable, human experience as subject to interpretation and reconstitution, and poses epistemological questions about perceptions of reality and will, therefore, serve as an appropriate starting point for this journey.

A key objective of the course is to help students to become comfortable engaging in discussions of economic and broader social scientific issues. Students who wish to prepare themselves for specific 200-level courses should speak with the instructor to set up a tailored plan for knowledge acquisition over the semester.


This is not a course in the economics of the film industry.

This course provides an introduction to both the study of economics and film studies. Since this course began about ten years ago, it has been much imitated and inspired a handful of academic papers, some referencing the course and others not, including at least one paper that takes many of the films used in this course and attempts to illustrate the way they could be used to teach neoclassical economics. Imitation is, indeed, the best form of flattery. (By the way, if neoconservatives have their way, neocalssical economics may lose its privileged position in economics courses, as alternative economic theories are finally allowed into the introductory courses in microecnomics and macroeconomics.)

It is hoped that students will become more comfortable using economic theory for analysis and be capable of constructing stories using more sophisticated economic analysis (including the use of such theoretical tools for creative writing purposes).

Grading will be based on three papers (the first paper contributes 20%, the second paper 25% of the course grade, and the third paper contributes 35% of the course grade). Class participation contributes 20% of the course grade. Note: Extra-credit projects will NOT be granted, nor will time extensions be granted for taking exams (except where the student has a documented and unpredictable medical problem).    




Copyright 1999-2003 Satya J. Gabriel, Mt. Holyoke College