Culture and Politics

Shiloh Krupar, Field Chair; Anthony Pirrotti, Curricular Dean 

CULP is an intellectually rigorous program that enables students to engage with questions of culture, knowledge, and power. Students will gain a complex understanding of these terms, their histories, and effects. We approach politics as mediated by cultural practices, and culture as suffused with power. Power is embedded in institutions and the social order, and conditions individual and collective action.

Since no single approach encompasses the relation between culture and politics, the CULP major stresses fluency in different theories, definitions, and genres of culture. Different analytical tools from a variety of fields allow students to practice critical self-reflection, understand the politics of interpretation, and enhance their theoretical sophistication.

CULP fosters an environment for critical inquiry, creative engagement, and collaborative learning. All majors take the foundational course, Theorizing Culture and Politics, and then go on to choose their own five-course sequence around their individually chosen concentration, in addition to three courses each from the social sciences and the humanities. The high degree of flexibility afforded to students requires them to become independent agents of knowledge capable of designing their own program of studies according to their individual interests and talents.

Goals of the Major

The CULP major is designed to provide students with a complex understanding of the relationship between culture, knowledge, and power. It aims to provide students with theoretical frameworks and analytical skills that enhance cross-cultural tolerance, social justice, and ethical leadership, in order to make a difference in a world marked by power hierarchies and cultural conflicts. Students learn to apply analytical tools from multiple fields as they practice critical reflection on self and society, and enhance their analytic sophistication through collaborative problem solving.

The CULP major offers great individual flexibility. Students build a rigorous foundation for their studies through an in-depth gateway course that stresses fluency in a variety of theories, definitions, and genres of culture. Students then go on to assemble their own course sequence around individually chosen concentrations, in consultation with their mentor or dean. All students are expected to master the analytical methods and skills necessary to become thoughtful, rigorous readers and writers of scholarship on cultural power relations in the international arena.

CULP students are actively involved in publishing their own scholarship, linking up with such Georgetown programs as the Center for Justice and Peace and the Mortara Center for events and speakers; student groups such as the Critical Theory Society; and utilizing the rich cultural and social resources of Washington, DC.

Objectives of the Major 

The contemporary world is characterized by extensive cultural contacts that enhance connections, but also pose new challenges to acting responsibly and sensitively to the unfamiliar. Cultural competence and diplomacy are central to the peaceful functioning of a global system marked by deep, historically grown inequalities. Preparing students to treat opposing viewpoints and experiences with respect, CULP fosters a sophisticated and informed understanding of cultural diversity and the politics of identity. To prepare students for unforeseen conflicts and opportunities, they will be educated to do the following:

  • Identify, compare, and synthesize the key concepts and scholarly research in cultural and social theory across multiple disciplines—including history, anthropology, sociology, geography, literature, music, performing arts, film and new media, visual studies—that address the connections between power, culture, and identity.
  • Explicate, evaluate, and critique cross-cultural political issues, dynamics, and events in clear, concise writing.
  • Recognize multiple perspectives and dimensions of cultural interactions, and apply critical frameworks to competing claims to rights and recognition.
  • Develop the substantive, analytical and ethical skills necessary to question stereotypical, polarizing, and essentialist views of difference, as a precondition for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the domestic and international realm.
  • Understand and apply an expansive concept of culture that empowers ordinary people, organizations, and institutions as agents of change.

Students in the Honors program will further develop these abilities and their research and writing skills, and will produce theses comparable in quality and depth to many Master’s theses.

Writing in the Culture and Politics Major 

The Culture and Politics major develops students’ writing skills in the gateway course Theorizing Culture and Politics, as well as in upper-division courses that provide opportunities for conducting and presenting original research.  Some eligible CULP majors opt to write an Honors Thesis that proposes an original research question, surveys the existing literature on a topic related to culture and politics, and matches the appropriate methodology (quantitative or qualitative) to the research project.

Because CULP is an interdisciplinary major, there is not one methodology or genre that students must master.  The self-designed concentration may require a combination of discipline-specific methodologies that may be housed in the School of Foreign Service or the College.  The gateway course teaches the fundamentals of strong academic writing, which progresses from summarizing, and comparing and contrasting, to evaluating primary sources (be they cultural artifacts, historical texts, or theoretical writings).  Through carefully scaffolded assignments, students advance from primarily descriptive genres like the academic précis and the encyclopedia entry to more synthetic, interpretive papers.  These can range from analyzing a film or studying maps to providing historiographies or critical guided tours of specific places.  In addition, students learn to consider secondary sources that allow the writer to judge the merits of different viewpoints and position her or himself within a debate.  More advanced courses prepare students to generate research questions and devise plans to test and prove a hypothesis, in order to produce new knowledge.

Honors in the Major

(See http://bsfs.georgetown.edu/academics/honors/major/ for details about Honors)

The standards and expectations for honors-quality work are consistent with the ideal that students completing Honors in the Major are among the premier thinkers and writers at Georgetown.

Qualifications

In order to graduate with honors in Culture and Politics, a student must:

  • Earn a cumulative grade point average of 3.33 and a grade point average of 3.67 in the major by the date of graduation.
  • Submit, and gain approval for, a thesis proposal outlining the research project.
  • Successfully complete two semesters of tutorial work dedicated to preparation of the thesis.
  • Submit a senior thesis on an approved topic which is judged to be of honors quality by a faculty committee appointed for this purpose.

Application Deadline

Research proposals are due on Friday, March 14th by 5pm.  Thesis proposals may be submitted in person or by e-mail, fax or snail mail to Dean Gregory.  

Completed Theses Deadline

Completed honors theses are due by 5pm on April 15 of senior year.  

Defining a Culture and Politics Research Question

Consider a question that is centrally focused on the intersection of Culture and Politics (see our CULP Mission Statement).

Your research should make a meaningful contribution to our understanding of the relation of Culture and Politics.

For example choose a topic that you have discovered in scholarly literature which you want to explore in more detail, or a topic that emerges from theoretically sophisticated reflections on your own experiences.

Beginning with your initial proposal, you will need to be in regular conversation with your faculty mentor about your project. This may include periodic progress reports required by the CULP Honors Committee.

Define a clear and coherent theoretical framework in which to explore your topic. It is ideal if you have taken a social science research methods course prior to application.  If this is not possible, you will need to work closely with a faculty member to develop a coherent framework.

View a sample honors thesis proposal

Institutional Review Board Approval

If any part of your research design involves research involving other people (interviews, surveys, etc.) and you think that you might want to publish the results of this research in the future in an article, book, report, or other document that can be consulted by the general public, you must go through the IRB review process before your application.   http://ora.georgetown.edu/irb/

Tips for choosing a Faculty Mentor

Many professors do not respond to e-mail inquiries as quickly as students wish they would. Before you email a professor you have never met:

  • Develop a list of potential research questions (see "defining the question");
  • Read the professor's own work on the topic;
  • Identify sources you might utilize

To increase your chances of receiving a helpful and timely response, frame your initial message to a potential mentor with care.  You need to show that you have already given your thesis question thought, and are now looking to the professor for guidance.

  • Introduce yourself and explain why you are writing and how you discovered that this professor might be the right mentor for your project.
  • Outline your research question(s) and the reasoning behind them. If you know your proposed project will require special skills (language ability, experience with statistics, etc.) make sure to tell the professor that you possess them. If you have already drafted a proposal, include it.
  • Describe briefly the research you have already done.
  • Ask for specific information. Has this question already been answered in the literature? Are there enough resources locally to complete this project? Would it be better to approach this question from another angle? Does the professor have colleagues at Georgetown or elswhere who might be helpful?
  • Explain the timeline - ask if the professor could get back to you in a given time frame. You may want to offer to call the professor during office hours if a personal conversation would be more useful than an e-mail exchange. If you have only a few weeks to develop your proposal, acknowledge that you are starting late, and ask whether the professor would be able to read a draft and provide comments soon enough for you to submit the final proposal on time.
  • Do not expect the professor to agree to be your mentor until you have given him or her an actual proposal.