Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paper Proposals


1.       American society is preoccupied with hierarchy both in our need to escape it and master it through individuality and also how we are deferential to it in our love of the victorious or great individual.

a.       Vs. American society has rejected hierarchy and is not concerned with it, individualism is not a wish to be king but a wish to be separate.

b.      Why my reader should care:  This is a very essential question as to how Americans are motivated and perhaps the consequences of separating ourselves from a monarchy and a strict class system.

c.       Literature: The use of greatness as a theme in Moby Dick, and Starbuck and the crew’s deference to Ahab’s great madness vs. Ishmael’s disappearing into the universe. Octavia butler, individuality and self-sufficiency being a quirk of our hierarchal model. Ahab tries to escape the world’s hierarchy by asserting himself against the powers of the universe, but by trying to control it he is trying to become the ruler. The social systems within prisons on page 137 of Human Nature shows a contrast between what would be considered hierarchal and non-hierarchal behavior.  Marcuse believes we are not actually our own person because of the way our society functions to take in counter ideas, so none of us are really individuals but are very controlled by the government suggesting a new more total form of suppression.  At the same time the idea of the individual prevents us from banding together for a more total good for us all.

2.        Individualism is essential to how we see ourselves in America and this is reflected in our literature.

a.       Vs. Who we are as an individual is what makes us who we are but individualism is not an American phenomenon or reflected more often in our literature.

b.      Why my reader should care: Americans often like to see themselves as an individual working towards the American dream with only their own cunning and work responsible for their place in society.  We exhort the virtues of the frontiersmen, the self-sufficient man who takes on the world but are we really any different from other countries such as England from whom we received many of our ideas and identity?

c.       Literature:  Again I would mostly use Moby Dick and perhaps the Invisible man.  I would show how each character sees themselves as their own person and show how our narrator in Invisible man is constantly trying to assert himself as an individual even though he believes he represents all blacks. I would like to then perhaps compare the Unions of the US to those of England today or the counties class consciousness and see if I can find any distinctive differences between the two countries. P 136 in On Human Nature subjected people show more knowledge of family groups, which is counter to individualism, slaves in the antebellum south and today in ghettos.

3.        Is the idea of being an individual based off of our “hierarchal urge?”

a.       Why is this a good question?: The idea of being an individual asserts our need to be independent and uncontrolled by others but this very need exists because of hierarchy and the fear of being subjected to someone else’s will.  On the other hand being an individual rejects the hierarchal model by cutting off the group connections of class and status to who a person is and implying a person’s place in society is their own choice.

b.      Why my reader should care: I would say that most people think of themselves as individuals with their own opinions, likes and dislikes but is this singular thought based off our need to be able to dominate others and if so what does this mean for our belief in the great individual and self-reliance.  Would the hierarchical urge being a precursor to individualism mean that individualism is wrong and we should be more focused on the group or does it mean we should accept it and hierarchy with it as a natural impulse?

c.       Literature: Octavia Butler’s view of hierarchical urge causing need to assert ourselves as self-sufficient and individuals. P136-137 On human nature, shows men are more hierarchal than women brings up question of whether men are more individualistic than women which  if the individual is based off the hierarchal urge men would be more prone to than women.

Greenhouse, Carol J. “Signs of Quality: Individualism and Hierarchy in American Culture.”

American Ethnologist , Vol. 19, No. 2 (May, 1992), pp. 233-254

This article speaks on America’s commitment to individualism and how it relates to conflict. I would like to use some of Greenhouse’s ideas about individuality including that Americans use individualism as part of their morality.

Dumont, Louis “Homo hierarchicus” Social Science Information1969 8: 69-87


The online version of this article can be found at:

Speaks on how individualism is a result of democracy and separates us from our ancestors and decedents. Idea of individualism being inescapable in American democracy.

Cooper, Peter J. "Modern America and the diminishing individual." USA Today[Magazine] July 2005: 70+. Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.
Document URL

Talks about the diminishment of respect for the individual but this is not against my argument but shows peoples’ self-interest and lack of care for others.

Box, Richard C. "Marcuse Was Right." Administrative Theory & Praxis (M.E. Sharpe) 33, no. 2 (June 2011): 169-191. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 3, 2012). https://sremote.pitt.edu:11019/ehost/detail?sid=be1d7a9a-383f-4a62-af8f-93a9e798f212%40sessionmgr115&vid=1&hid=126&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=bth&AN=60808401
Paradoxically, although he was widely regarded as a collectivist threat to democracy, he was a passionate advocate of individual liberty and self-fulfillment who resisted domination and oppression no matter the source, whether capitalism or communism.” “The Organization Man. This person is dedicated to the goals of the organization and to group effort rather than individuality or independent judgment.” “society as a great salesroom, an enormous file, an incorporated brain, a new universe of management and manipulation”


  1. I like the direction of all of your ideas for your paper and I think that it is good that you're trying to come up with a very specific focus rather than just throwing out the term individualism and starting to write. A narrow focus is one of the things that he stressed in class as a place for a lot of people to consider to improve their writing so I think it's something good to keep in mind for the final paper.

    As for you three ideas, I think I like the first the best and it seems that you have the most ideas about how you are going to use the books to support your theory. It may be a lot to try to include Melville, Marcuse, Wilson, and Butler though unless you have a very clear focus. I think that it is interesting to not just analyze the books separately but use one to interpret the other - especially using Marcuse and or Wilson to interpret Melville or Butler. And doing this may be easier with fewer texts - in that way, the way you approach your second idea may be a good way to approach using textual support.

  2. What you're doing is presenting a high-level, ambitious theoretical question and trying to answer it. I'm not opposed to the question, or to the questions (I see the question of whether hierarchy and individualism are near-synonyms or near-antonyms as being pivotal here). I do have a large worry, though. This project, as you've described it, if it uses the books we've talked about collectively as guidelines, but also explores other texts which interact with this problem, could easily unfold over 200 pages or longer. In other words, this set of questions could easily guide a book or dissertation. What I'm saying, incidentally, is really just a stronger version of what Coleen is saying.

    How to tame it, making it small enough to work with in 8, 12, 15 pages?

    My suggestion is to *orient* it around one text. I'd suggest Marcuse (you've often seemed on the fence about Marcuse, and depending on where you ultimately take your stand, this essay could easily become either a *defense* or *critique* of Marcuse - that is, a defense of (possibly capitalist) individualism, or an articulation of the easily slide from individualism to hierarchy being another way of describing his central idea.

    You could also orient it around Butler & Wilson, taken together: Wilson's vision of the hierarchical drive, filtered through Butler's dystopian vision, could become a launching point, again, for a defense of or a further attack on individualism.

    Again: the questions are fine, and very interesting. But you need to find ways of tightly organizing these questions around individual texts or events, or you'll become hopelessly lost in a truly huge project.

    Also, the last article in your bibliography looks very interesting. Thanks for pointing it out - and it's another reason why I suspect Marcuse *might* be your central focus.