LS 898: The Graduating Seminar

Spring 2013  | Dr. Eleanor Stebner

“[W]omen’s entire history has been written by men. Just as in America there is no black problem but a white one, just as ‘anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, it’s our problem,’ so the problem of woman has always been a problem of men.” --Simone de Beauvoir

 “I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight." --Malcolm X

This “capstone” seminar provides students with the opportunity to read and ponder ideas related to gender, race and class and how it might be possible to build a global society based on mutual understanding, respect, and cooperation.

Students will read two classic texts of the 20th century: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and Malcolm X’s autobiography. They will then read a recent book by distinguished historian and urbanist, Richard Sennett, who writes about how civil society might begin to build “togetherness” – a quality that builds on cooperation.

Sennett argues that cooperation is a craft – an art – and it is possible to nurture and develop it. Indeed, he argues that the skills of cooperation (which involve learning to observe, listen, and empathize, for example) could get humans beyond tribalism, a kind of intragroup solidarity that results in othering and various forms and degrees of violence.

Students will present on select reading assignments and complete written tasks. In addition, they will present their “field examination” component, which is required for the completion of the MA in Liberal Studies by course work. (See below.)


Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949) – 2010 translation

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley (1964)

Richard Sennett, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation (2012)

Written Assignments:

(1) A “field examination” is required for students who complete their degree with the course work option.  This seminar meets this requirement, but students must write and present a paper (7 to 10 pages) summarizing their experience in the program. This paper should address the following, as laid out in a SFU brochure describing the MA in Liberal Studies program:

“The central theme of the program is an exploration of significant tensions within our intellectual culture, tensions that have historical origins and that have practical consequences in our present world.”

These papers and presentations are scheduled for the first two weeks of the semester.

(2) A final essay (7 to 10 pages) or project expressing your concluding thoughts on the tensions and ideas that have shaped – and continue to shape – human societies and affairs. Due April 10th.


January 9 & 16    Field Exam presentations
January 23, 30 & February 6    Simone du Beauvoir’s The Second Sex
February 13   

Reading break (no class)

February 20 Simone du Beauvoir’s The Second Sex
February 27, March 6 & 13 The Autobiography of Malcolm X
March 20, 27 & April 3 Richard Sennett’s Together
April 10 

Discussion/celebration--Final essays/projects due