This course offers an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of cultural regions, with a focus on the interrelation between three overarching concepts – community, space, and identity. Taking California as its major case study, the course explores the cultural functions of its ambivalent imaginary as both “utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism” (Davis 18), with special emphasis on the contemporary revisions and critiques of this complex mythology. An eclectic selection of primary sources (photography, murals, installation art, popular music, theater productions, and literature) will support our inquiries into some of the most compelling phenomena that have marked California’s social and spatial configurations in the past several decades. Drawn from such fields as critical urban studies, anthropology, sociology, history, and visual studies, the secondary readings will enable students to develop a nuanced understanding of the diverse disciplinary traditions employed in the study of culturally defined areas. This critical apparatus is also designed to stimulate reflection on the distinctive strengths (and limitations) of a wide array of methodologies from the humanities and the social sciences, including interviews, ethnography, discourse analysis, archival research etc. Finally, the course aims to cultivate an understanding of the possibilities and challenges of applying the theoretical frameworks investigated throughout the semester to other case studies of students’ choice.

Course instructor: Dr. Diana Benea


• A minimum of 50% attendance
• Class participation (discussions, individual and group work, brief ethnographic
exercises) – 50% of the final grade
• Final project – 50% of the final grade