English 216: Literary Criticism

“Theory Through the Lens of Popular Culture”


TextbookCultural Studies has arguably become the dominant mode of critical theory; it has the capacity to contain most, though not all, other theoretical modes—psychoanalytic theory, structuralism/ poststructuralism, modernism/postmodernism, postcolonialism, feminism/queer theory—and directs its attention to the great preoccupation of our day: popular culture as site of political struggle. This course will use cultural studies as the organizing principle of a study of critical theory. The goal is to give students a broad sense of theory in general, including its biases and historical origins, and the ability to both select and apply a given body of theory to an object of study such as a book, poem, movie, video game, or the like.

Every week will consist of a three-hour class in which the first hour is a lecture on the theory of the day. For each week, we will look at an object of popular culture: movie, song, music video, television episode, or the like. I will present some initial ideas about how to use the theory of the day on the object of the day, but the goal is to move to open discussion and/or workshopping ideas for assignments. You, the students, will be doing the talking for at least half the course.


The course will have four assignments. Essay #1 will force you to thoroughly understand one theory or two related theories, and the Proposal prepares you for Essay #2 in which you will apply a theory or theories to a specific “text” or other object of study. Finally, you will present your argument from Essay #2 to the class. There will be a take-home final exam. In addition, there will be a participation grade and a series of unannounced reading quizzes.

Required Text
  • Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 7th Edition. Routledge. 2015.
Optional Text
  • Storey, John. Culture Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. 4th Edition. Routledge. 2008.