Winter 2018

image for Who do you think you are? course

"Who do you think you are?!"

What is a self? Is it something we are born with, or something we become in response to our surroundings? Do we have more than one self? Is a woman's self different from a man's? Is a black or brown self different from a white one? A queer self different from a straight self? What happens when our own sense of self is threatened? How does our internal sense of self differ from, or depend on, others' perception of us? Can we ever truly know the "authentic self" of another person?

This course will pose and begin to answer such questions, ranging widely over time, sampling the ways in which philosophers, playwrights, theologians, psychologists, neuroscientists, and others have grappled with issues of authenticity, falsehood, transparency, deception, and power. We will consider matters of essentialism (is selfhood innate? are we born to be particular kinds of people?); epistemology (how do we know--or can we know--who someone really is?); performance (are we different people depending on the roles we play? can we distinguish a person's actions from his/her identity?); and discourse (is selfhood best understood as an effect of culture? what kinds of power allow a person or an institution to shape another person's self?). Through close attention to readings, documents, films, performances, and experiments, the course will challenge our assumptions about what we mean when we pronounce "I am."

Readings may include:

William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre
The Return of Martin Guerre (film)
Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Herman Melville, The Confidence Man
Nella Larsen, Passing
John Guare, Six Degrees of Separation
Richard Powers, The Echo Maker
All About Eve (film)
Joan Riviere, “Womanliness as Masquerade” (1929)
Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
S. Reicher & A. Haslam, Questioning the banality of evil
B. Fredrickson & T. Roberts, Objectification Theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and
mental health risks
R. Engeln, Beauty Sick: How the cultural obsession with appearance hurts girls and women
R.F. Baumeister, The Self, in The Handbook of Social Psychology, Volume 1, Fourth Edition
J. LeDoux, J. Debiec, and H. Moss (eds.), The Self: From Soul to Brain
H. Markus & P. Nurius, Possible Selves
M.B. Brewer, The social self: On being the same and different at the same time
J. Polivy & C.P. Herman, “If at first you don't succeed: False hopes of self change” (2002)
M.R. Leary, L.R. Tchividjian, & B.E. Kraxberger, “Self-presentation can be hazardous to your
health: Impression management and health risk” (1999)


Renee Engeln is a body image researcher and Professor of Instruction in Psychology. Her research focuses on issues surrounding women’s body images, with a particular emphasis on cultural practices that create or enforce the frequently contentious relationships women have with their bodies. She has won numerous teaching awards at both Northwestern and Loyola University and has presented her research on fat talk, objectification, and media images of women to a variety of academic and professional groups around the U.S. She is author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women (Harper, 2017).

Kasey Evans is a scholar of English Renaissance literature who teaches in the English Department and in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her current research combines psychoanalysis and religious history to examine scenes of resurrection in Renaissance texts. She is the author of Colonial Virtue: The Mobility of Temperance in Renaissance Texts (University of Toronto Press, 2012), and a recipient of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award.

Lane Fenrich is a social and cultural historian of the modern United States and teaches in both the History department and in Gender and Sexuality Studies. His research focuses especially on the period since the Second World War and he is at work on a book entitled Fear of Spying: Learning to be Normal in America's Queerest Decade. He is a winner of the Weinberg College Distinguished Teaching Award and the Charles Deering McCormick university-wide teaching award.