Syllabus—The Challenge of the Citizen-Scholar

Civic Engagement and Graduate Education Seminar

Fall 2013 | CFS 495-0 Section 20


Time and Place
Mondays 2:00-5:00pm
Center for Civic Engagement Seminar Room, 1813 Hinman

Dr. Michael Kramer | twitter: @kramermj |
Harris Hall 212, Office hours: by appointment

Seminar Description
What does it mean to be a citizen-scholar? This seminar probes the question of connecting specialized academic research to broader audiences from multiple perspectives. We explore both historical models and contemporary debates as we think across the humanities, arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and applied fields of design, engineering, law, journalism, non-profit work, and business. The course pays particularly close attention to the new opportunities and challenges of public scholarship in the digital age: how might the digital offer new ways of moving between academia, specific communities or institutions, and conceptualizations of a broader public? Students contribute weekly posts and comments to our collective blog, maintain a collective Twitter feed at #nugeo, and complete a final, longer “white paper” that relates to the particular internship completed during the quarter. The seminar convenes in connection with the Graduate Engagement Opportunities Program at the Northwestern Center for Civic Engagement.


Assignment Guidelines
You are going to write a lot in this course, but your writing will often be different than the typical research essay. Instead, we want to use the course to investigate our writing styles more closely in terms of how we can connect specialized academic knowledge to broader audiences. What does it mean to “bridge” this divide? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?

Since our blog is public, you might think of your audience not only as your classmates and me, but also as a broader readership of interested people. You might consider how those at your placement site might respond to the readings and your responses, or you might imagine your audience as others who also wish to pursue a civic engagement internship and enroll in the seminar but are unable to do this term. In other words, try to write clearly and precisely, describing what you are reading and thinking about as well as offering your interpretation of materials and experiences. Be honest. Take seriously that your words and comments matter, that others rely on them to be substantive, civil, and judicious. Don’t be afraid to not understand things. Ask questions. Take a chance. Model what it means to write in the space between being a scholar with a developing expertise in a field of specialized research and a citizen-at-large, an equal with others who also has something distinctive to say.

1. Weekly blog posts. We will be using a WordPress blog for our course. Each week I will ask you to post a response to the readings and an additional post. Be sure to add the proper category to your post and add tags.

2. Weekly responses. Each week I wish for you to respond to at least one other student’s post. What did it make you think about? What kinds of constructive criticism can you offer? Be substantive!

3. Weekly follow up comment. Sometimes revelations emerge after we read or write something and have some time to reflect on it. Therefore I ask you to write a short follow up comment to your previous week’s post. What has changed for you since you wrote the post? What remains the same? Be substantive!

4. Twitter. I would like each of you to create a Twitter account. It can be an existing one or you can create a separate one specifically for this course. We will use Twitter to share ideas, thoughts, information, and more with a broader community of people interested in where academic and public scholarship meet. We will also consider the problems of using Twitter in this way: how does it extend scholarly and civic engagement? What are its shortcomings? Please use the hashtag #nugeo so that we can compile tweets for the course. My “handle” is @kramermj if you are trying to find me on Twitter.

5. Final essay. A more sustained final paper or project—roughly 10-15 pages—analyzing or contributing to the substantive, public work of the internship or field study is due at the end of the quarter. Ideally, the paper or project can also be a kind of “white paper” that is of direct value and assistance to the community organization or public entity with which you are interning. But it can also review the analytical or research work completed or connect your research interests to your internship in other creative ways.

A final note on using a public blog:

If you have any concerns—technical, personal, ethical—about contributing to a public course blog, please feel absolutely free to confer with me to make arrangements. Generally, I advocate what has become known as “open access,” but there can be very important and worthy exceptions to this philosophy. If you are curious, here is more on the ethics of public blogs for classroom use:

Seminar Grades
Grades for the seminar will be based on class participation (30%), weekly assignments (40%), and the final project (30%). The experiential work done in the internship will not be graded as such, however students must perform their weekly hours at their internship and stay in good standing with the host organization for seminar credit to be earned.


Book to Purchase
• C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, with a new afterword by Todd Gitlin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), available at online bookstores and through NU Reserves.

• Lucy Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 179-305, available at online bookstores and through NU Reserves.

• All other readings online at either Blackbord ( or respective link.


Weekly Schedule

9/30 Getting Engaged

• Julie Ellison, “The Humanities and the Public Soul,” in Practising Public Scholarship: Experiences and Possibilities Beyond the Academy, ed. Katharyne Mitchell (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), 113-121, see Blackboard.

• George J. Sanchez, “Crossing Figueroa:
The Tangled Web of Diversity and Democracy,” with Responses, Imagining America Foreseeable Futures Position Papers #4, 2005,

• Jenny Pickerell, “The Surprising Sense of Hope,” Practising Public Scholarship: Experiences and Possibilities Beyond the Academy, ed. Katharyne Mitchell (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), 132-137, see Blackboard.

• “What Is ‘Public’ About What Academics Do? An Exchange with Robert Kingston and Peter Levine,” Higher Education Exchange, 2004, see Blackboard.

• Michael White, “Traditional New Orleans Jazz as a Metaphor for American Life,” wth Responses, Imagining America Foreseeable Futures Position Papers #9, 2009,

• Nick Spitzer, “Rebuilding the ‘Land of Dreams’: Expressive Culture and New Orleans’ Authentic Future,” Southern Spaces, 29 August 2006,

• Imagining America Page Fellows blog posts from Fall 2013,


A. Blog assignment due 9/29:

a. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your academic research and your civic engagement work this quarter.

b. Develop a 2-3 paragraph response to one of the readings in which you seek to explain it to a friend who is not in academia. What is the argument of the essay? Can you paraphrase it? What do you see as the key words or phrases in the essay? Why? What do you agree with or disagree with and, most importantly, why?

B. Comment due 10/2.

C. Followup due 10/4.

10/7 Expertise and Democracy, The Public and Its Problems

• Walter Lippmann, Excerpt from The Phantom Public (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925), 3-52, see Blackboard.

• John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 3-74, 143-184, see Blackboard.

• Sue Curry Jansen, “Phantom Conflict: Lippmann, Dewey, and the Fate of the Public in Modern Society,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 6, 3 (September 2009): 221-245, see Blackboard.


A. Blog assignment due 9/29:

a. What should the role of the “expert” scholar be as a citizen in society? What does it mean to be a scholarly “expert”? What are the challenges of this role? Develop a 2-3 paragraph post in which you draw upon Lippmann, Dewey, and Jansen along with your own experiences to probe the meaning of the expert in a democracy.

b. Write 1-3 paragraph reflection about your placement internship thus far. What are you noticing? What has been exciting? What is frustrating you? If you had to start writing your final essay today, what would its topic be?

c. In a few weeks, I am going to ask you to write an online essay about one event or speaker at the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Northwestern Day. Begin thinking about what you wish to write about and let us know this week. You might write a review of a speaker’s book or article, conduct a q-and-a podcast or interview with a speaker, tell us more of interest about the content behind one of the events, or imagine some other creative way of engaging with this kind of public event and the public scholarship it entails.

B. Comment due 10/9.

C. Followup due 10/11.

10/14 Sociological Imagination 1: C. Wright Mills as a Case Study

• C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (1959; reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1-99.

• Mills, “The Cultural Apparatus,” in The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, ed. John H. Summers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 203-212, see Blackboard.

• Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction and Overview,” Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 1-27, see Blackboard.


A. Blog assignment due 10/13:

a. Develop a 2-3 paragraph response to this week’s readings.

b. As Mills does with the paragraph of Talcott Parsons, select a paragraph from your favorite article or book in your academic speciality and translate it into prose that is accessible to a general audience. Quote the original in your post and, as Mills does, follow with your translation.

B. Comment due 10/16.

C. Followup due 10/18.

10/21 Sociological Imagination 2: C. Wright Mills as a Case Study

• Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 100-228.

• Jonathan Sterne, “C. Wright Mills, the Bureau for Applied Social Research, and the Meaning of Critical Scholarship,” Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 5, 1 (2005): 65-94, see Blackboard.


A. Blog assignment due 10/20:

a. The Sociological Imagination has just been republished. How does it hold up? Develop a short book review of the book. You may incorporate observations from your internship and materials from the other readings about Mills. But the review should connect Mills’s work from 1959 to contemporary times. What still matters about the book specifically and what doesn’t?

B. Comment due 10/23.

C. Followup due 10/25.

10/28 Chicago


• Chicago: City of the Century DVD, see Blackboard. More at

• Lucy Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 179-305.

• Harold Washington This American Life Special,

• Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995; reprint, New York: Broadway Books, 2004), 133-206, see Blackboard.

• Mary Pattillo, “Negotiating Blackness, for Richer or for Poorer,” Ethnography 4, 1 (2003): 61–93, see Blackboard.


A. Blog assignment due 10/27:

a. Connect a specific aspect of the materials for this week to your own reflections on Chicago.

b. Write a short essay for a smart reader about one of the events at the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Northwestern Day. The essay should be geared toward publication on the Internet. Think about multimedia components (images, sound recording, etc.) that you might utilize. Consider how you might write differently (down to the size of paragraphs and the very design of your font style, size, color, links, etc.) for the medium of the web. Think of your piece as a sharply written Talk of the Town essay in the front of the New Yorker. It should be substantive but accessible. You should make an argument and provide evidence but you can be creative with your voice, tone, and style to reach a smart reader who might not be an academic specialist.

B. Comment due 10/30.

C. Followup due 11/1.

11/4 Going Digital

• Henry Farrell, “The Tech Intellectuals,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas 30, Fall 2013,

• Peter Dahlgren, “From Public to Civic Intellectuals Via Online Cultures,” Participations 10, 1 (May 2013), 400-404, see Blackboard.

• Diana Taylor, “Save As… Knowledge and Transmission in the Age of Digital Technologies,” Imagining America Foreseeable Futures Position Papers #10, 2010,

• Axel Honneth, “Idiosyncrasy as a Tool of Knowledge: Social Criticism in the Age of the Normalized Intellectual,” Transformations of the Public Sphere,

Browse the following websites. Pick one to discuss in your blog post this week:

• Mukurtu,

• DH Press,

• The Community Tool Box,

• History Harvest,

• Freedom’s Ring: King’s I Have a Dream Speech,

• Prison Valley: The Prison Industry,

• The Knotted Line,

• Public Sphere Forum,

• The Chicago Arts Archive,

• Digital Media and Learning, MacArthur Foundation,

• Geographical Perspectives: A Geographer’s Thoughts on Business, Real Estate, and Education,


A. Blog assignment due 11/3:

a. What can the digital offer to civic engagement by scholars? What problems does it raise for the citizen-scholar, for the expert, for conceptualizations of the public? Write a 2-3 paragraph response to these prompts that draws specifically upon your sense of the readings for this week’s seminar.

b. Write 1-3 paragraph reflection about your placement internship thus far. What are you noticing? What has been exciting? What is frustrating you? If you had to start writing your final essay today, what would its topic be?

B. Comment due 11/6.

C. Followup due 11/8.

11/11 Citizen-Scholar and the State (Guests: Dan Lewis, Human Development and Social Policy, Institute for Policy Research, and Center for Civic Engagement; and Stephen Eisenman, Art History)

• Theda Skocpol, “The Tocqueville Problem: Civic Engagement in American Democracy,” Social Science History 21, 4 (Winter, 1997): 455-479, see Blackboard.

• Tony Judt, “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?,” New York Review of Books, 17 December 2009,

• Rebecca Solnit, “The Uses of Disaster: Notes on Bad Weather and Good Government,” Harper’s, 1 October 2005, 31-37, see Blackboard.


• Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, “Tamms Is Torture: The Campaign to Close an Illinois Supermax Prison,” Creative Time Reports, 6 May 2013,

• Dan Lewis, Gaining Ground in Illinois: Welfare Reform and Person-Centered Policy Analysis (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010), 110-129, see Blackboard


A. Blog assignment due 11/10:

a. What role should the state play in civil society? How should the expert-scholar relate to the state and those in political (or economic for that matter!) power? What about to other institutions, from corporations to non-profit associations to the university itself—how should the citizen-scholar position herself or himself in relation to institutions? Develop a 2-3 paragraph response that draws upon this week’s readings with specificity.

B. Comment due 11/13.

C. Followup due 11/15.

11/18 Art and Engagement, Local and Global: Visit to Soyini Madison’s “Studies in Performance” Seminar, Krause Studio

• Soyini Madison, Introduction and Epilogue, Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010),


A. Blog assignment due 11/17:

a. Write a short profile of someone at your internship. It can be in the form of an interview, an essay, a podcast, a videocast, or another form that you think best expresses your conversation with this person.

B. Comment due 11/20.

C. Followup due 11/22.

11/25 Presentations

Final Get Together and Celebration December

Michael’s house. Screening of The Examined Life, food and drink, conversation.

A Few More Notes

Academic integrity

Be sure to comply with all academic integrity policies at Northwestern: Be aware that the instructor is required to report any suspected instances of academic dishonesty. The instructor also reserves the right to assign a failing grade for the course if a student is found to have violated university policy concerning academic integrity.

Special Needs

Students with special needs and disabilities that have been declared and documented through the Northwestern Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) should meet with the instructor to discuss any specific accommodations. For further information, see the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) website:

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