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Research Guides

Gramsci and Foucault at the Movies: Introduction by Professor Lucero

The Winners of the SIS 202 Media Center Film Paper Competition.

Movies Critiqued


During Spring 2011, in collaboration with the UW Libraries Media Center, our course (SIS 202 Cultural Interactions in an Interdependent World) sponsored a writing competition. As one of the course assignment asked students to use the social and cultural theories we had encountered in class to interpret a film or television program of their choosing, our instructional team decided to add an additional incentive: the “ten best papers” (out of 225, as selected by the course teaching assistants) would be published on the Libraries' website.

The TAs had a difficult job as there were many more than ten truly excellent papers. The ten papers selected and published here represent especially successful examples of dialogues between cultural theorists, International Studies, and the big (or small) screen. In these papers, students have taken the powerful ideas of theorists like Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Fatimah Tobing Rony, Edward Said, James Scott, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith to explore a fascinating set of films and themes.

Kaleigh Boyd and Wei Chen Wang explore the workings of domination and resistance in their papers on the extraordinary German film, The Lives of Others. Sean Leake and Ryan Baker explore a similar set of dynamics in the context of Irish independence struggles (Leake on The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and Haitian political turbulence and activism (Baker on The Agronomist). Christopher Dingle, Erika Murdoch, and Elisa DeMartino produced theoretically informed analyses of gender politics in Mad Men, The Little Mermaid, and The Stoning of Soraya, respectively. Kate Fenimore and Sarah Coney take Said and Gramsci to outer-space and into the future in their insightful respective readings of alterity in Blade Runner and environmental politics in Wall-E. Finally, Anne Wanjiku Gertrud Mwendar uses Slumdog Millionaire to explore a theme that runs through all these films and much of our course materials: the “continuum of violence” that runs from the brutally visible forms of physical torture to the less visible but no-less harmful forms of structural violence that include poverty and social exclusion.

Though these are short essays, they are long on insight and theoretical sophistication. I am delighted to report that these papers and all the other excellent essays written for SIS 202 confirm just how much we have to “read” at the movies, and how much the movies can teach us about what we read.

José Antonio Lucero
Associate Professor of International Studies

(With the help of SIS 202 Teaching Assistants Meri Bauer, Michael Gilbride, Phil Lynch, Roberto Juárez-Garza, and Ashley Rogers; and with thanks to Genevieve Gebhart and John Vallier)