The System

The System. Nobody wants to get stuck in it. Lots of people want to blame it. Some say it’s rigged. Some try to beat it.

But most of the time we don’t even notice it, as it quietly runs in the background, shaping our society and the entirety of our experience. And it is precisely in those moments when we don’t notice The System that it is having its greatest effect.

The System takes many forms. It is The Market, The Media, and The Man. It is Transportation, Criminal Justice, and The University. And all of its forms are interconnected.

Our task will be to notice The System, to develop ways of analyzing its various guises and effects, to explore how we can affect it, and to predict its future. We will resist being glum about The System, and we’ll conclude the course with a party.

Inside the classroom

Students in this class will contemplate their own relationships to The System. Does it dominate or facilitate your life? Can you evade its effects? Can you change it? If so, how?

Through discussions, readings, movies and videos, excursions, and experimentation, we will immerse ourselves in thinking about The System and its many forms. We will ask: How does The System work? How has it changed over time? Who or what controls and maintains it? Whose interests does it serve or curtail? Does it undermine or support such values as democracy and community? What can we learn from those who’ve tried to escape or resist it? What does science fiction teach us about its future?

For answering these questions we will borrow tools from a wide range of fields, including sociology, cultural studies, American studies, economics, philosophy, popular culture, and future studies. Students will learn to demystify and analyze complex social systems, plan and facilitate course units on topics of their choice, explore their agency in relation to The System, interrogate their responsibility for its effects (with special emphasis on social inequities), and, drawing lessons and inspiration from science fiction, utilize these skills in predicting The System’s future.

At least six evenings during the semester will be designated movie nights, where the class and guests will screen and discuss titles related to the course such as Blade Runner, CitizenFour, Inside Job, and TED talks.

Outside the classroom

During the fall semester the class will go on local excursions to practice our skills in demystifying The System. These Richmond excursions might include trips to The Mall, The Jail, The Grocery Store, The Housing Project, and The Hospital, experiences that will help prepare us for our class trip to Los Angeles, California, where our focus will be on system convergence—that is, how seemingly distinct systems intersect and affect one another.

Why Los Angeles? Well, some argue that California in general and Los Angeles, in particular, are the future. To be sure, Los Angeles is a unique site for observing many of The System’s intensities and excesses. In and around Los Angeles, systems regulating human movement (immigration, incarceration, policing) are intimate with systems of global image/dream production (Hollywood, Disneyland), privatized suburbs, and other forms of System-sanctioned escapism. Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles is the busiest container port in the U.S., a fact that illustrates the importance of Los Angeles in the global economy.

Research and Capstone projects

Building on the fall semester and insights from Los Angeles, student working groups will predict the future of a system or related issue for an audience of their peers, offering reflections on navigating that future. These projects might take the form of posters, video installations, original speculative fiction, or mixed media that will be incorporated into the atmosphere of a campus party, both to maximize the student audience, and to celebrate our determination for an exciting future.