PS 545 Spring 2008

Instructor: Dr. Christopher S. Rice Classroom: CB 201
Office: 1649 Patterson Office Tower Class Times: MWF 2-2:50pm
Telephone: 257-7030 Office Hours: WF 3pm-5pm
Email: christopher [DOT] rice [AT] uky [DOT] edu
Course Website:

PS 545 American Political Thought explores contemporary American political thought, its formation and the ways in which it is involved in major problems of culture, political economy, ideology and identity. We will explore contemporary issues of capitalism, environmentalism, intellectual property and copyright, consumer culture and the schizophrenia of modern capitalist life, the agrarian strain of the American political tradition, and the problem of constructing communities and publics. We will be engaging these questions through a variety of methods. Pedagogically, we will be using deep reading and discussion in class to explore the readings, and using digital ethnographic methods in Second Life to explore how these concepts play out in an artificial digital environment that some political theorists consider to be the idealized tabula rasa of American political yearnings. During the semester we will learn to explore these major issues within contemporary American political thought as political theorists do and as a community of “metanauts.”

Books to Purchase:
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America. ISBN: 978-0871568779.
John Dewey, The Public and its Problems. ISBN: 978-0804002547.
Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine. ISBN: 978-0805079838.
Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture. ISBN: 978-0143034650.
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through. ISBN: 978-0618658251.
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club. ISBN: 978-0393327342.

Course Requirements:
Grade Determination: Your final course grade will be based on three (3) components:
• Mid-Term Exam (March 3) – 25%
• Final Exam II (April 28) – 25%
• Second Life Project (see below for dates) – 50%

The Exams and your Second Life project will be graded on a 0-100 point scale. The breakdowns for how your Second Life Project grade will be determined are detailed under that category elsewhere in this syllabus. Your final letter grade is determined as follows: A=90-100 points, B=80-89 points, C=70-79 points, D=60-69 points, and E=0-59 points. This course is not graded on a “curve.”

Reading: All of the reading in this syllabus is REQUIRED. You should read all of the assigned material before the class period for which it is assigned, be prepared to discuss it in class, and also be prepared to be examined on it even if it is not discussed in class. Our class time will not be spent simply “going over” the assigned readings. Rather, the readings will serve as our point of departure for the lectures and class discussion. Indeed, most lectures will involve information not contained in the readings. So do the readings for each class on a timely basis! Furthermore, you should be aware that this course has a heavy reading load, often 40-45 pages of reading per class session, so you will need to budget your time and effort accordingly. You have been warned.

Exams: Both the Mid-Term and Final Exams will be take-home exams. The question(s) for the exams will be posted to the course website approximately one week before the exam answer is due. All exams MUST be word processed and turned into me at the beginning of class on the day they are due. Late exams will have their percentage grade reduced by 10% for each 24 hour period they are late (i.e., an exam turned in after class but by 2pm the day after it is due which was graded as a 90% exam would be given a grade of 80% in my gradebook). Details as to format and word count will be provided with each question.

Second Life Project:
Introduction: In order to better understand and to be able to apply the concepts in American political thought that we will be exploring this semester, we will be conducting digital fieldwork in the realm of Second Life ( The project will be more fully explained in class and on the course website within the first two weeks of class, but you will need to be aware of the following basic requirements for the project:
• You are required to set up a free Second Life account and create your avatar at and send me your avatar name by January 23.
• You are also required to create a Wikispaces account by going to After creating your account, go to the course webpage while logged in, and click the “Join This Space” button and follow the instructions. Then email me with your Wikispaces ID by January 23. Unless otherwise approved, your Wikispaces user ID should be the same as your complete SL avatar name, only all in one “word.” If possible, please send your Wikispaces ID and your Second Life avatar name in the same email.
• We will only identify each other by avatar name when we are in Second Life and on Wikispaces to preserve anonymity.
• Students will need to form research teams of 4-5 students each. We will discuss in class how to do this (I assign you or you self-organize), but groups must be assigned and a “team page” created on the course webpage by January 30.
• A page explaining the research project will be posted on the course website early in the semester and explained in-class by Dr. Rice. We will also be having an orientation and training session at the W.T. Young Library within the first few weeks of class during our regular classroom period to get you all up to speed on how to do this type of fieldwork and navigate Second Life. Don’t Panic!

Grading: The Second Life Research Project will be a combination of individual and group work. Your grade for Second Life (50% of your course grade) will be broken down into the following elements:
• Each student will create an Avatar Page on the course wiki and keep a weekly working journal there with photos, films, links and observations (usually between 250-500 words per week) documenting your ongoing research beginning the week of January 28th. This journal/digital workspace will be worth 5% (out of 50%) of your SL Project grade.
• Each group will be required to submit a work plan for their research project to their group page on the course website by February 22. When the group submits their final project work on their group page on the course website, it must include an itemization of the work each member contributed to the overall project. On the day of your presentation, you must submit to me a completed evaluation form for each of your group’s members (including yourself) assessing their contribution to the group effort. Finally, you must attend all presentation days during Dead Week. The total value of these activities is 10% (out of 50%) of your SL Project Grade. However, should you miss a presentation day for an unexcused absence, you will forfeit the entire 10% for this portion of the project.
• Each group will make a 15-20 minute multimedia presentation (with 5-10 minutes of Q & A) on their research project during Dead Week. The group must sign up for a presentation day by April 18. The entire group must participate in the presentation, and the presentation must include a PowerPoint element and video and images from your research. The presentation will be worth 10% (out of 50%) of your SL Project grade.
• Finally, each member of the group must produce at least 3500 (but no more than 4000) words and a minimum of 10 images on the group research topic to contribute to the Project. This must be posted to the course website on the group page by April 18. Each member’s contribution should be edited so as to form a part of a seamless whole. Video may substitute for some of the images and words, but this must be negotiated with the instructor in advance. This portion of the SL project will be worth 25% (out of 50%).
• Thus the formula for determining your SL Project Grade will be: .05*(Journal%) + .1*(Group Administration%) + .1*(Presentation%) + .25*(Individual Research+ Writing%) = SL Project Grade (50% of total course grade).

Safety Note: For most of your fieldwork you will be going out into the wilds of The Grid. The University of Kentucky has no control over what goes on in these spaces, and you may occasionally be exposed to something offensive, frightening, or downright bizarre. Much of the Grid is under a Mature designation, meaning you could be exposed to profanity, nudity, giant anthropomorphic squirrels having bizarre bondage sex in an abandoned house, or griefers employing strange scripts (such as a swarm of flying, singing penises) to harass speakers and disrupt public events. While rare, these situations do occur. By continuing in the course past the receipt of this syllabus, you acknowledge that you understand that you may be confronted inadvertently with offensive material. You are not, however, required to stay in the presence of anything or any situation which you perceive to be offensive, threatening or otherwise unsafe. The University of Kentucky has purchased an island in Second Life that is considered to be a “safe space.” The SLURL for UK Island is You are to designate this SLURL as your “Home” location. If at anytime you want to bail out of a situation on The Grid, simply hit the Home button at the top of your Second Life browser and you will be teleported away from the situation instantly and back to UK Island. Dr. Rice will show you how to do this during the second week of classes. I will not, however, provide any eye rinse…
Policies: All participants in PS 545 are expected to abide by Linden Lab’s Community Standards ( All participants in PS 545 are also expected to maintain proper ethical standards in their in-world field research (read for more on this). Visitors to UK Island will be logged by avatar name only. Students and visitors to UK Island are held to the same standards of the real life University of Kentucky Code of Student Conduct ( As a matter of policy, UK Island is a no-use zone for weapons and intentional harm. Do NOT use weapons or destructive behavior to harm or threaten others or property on UK Island. In short, please abide by real-world campus and classroom rules and etiquette while on UK Island. Dr. Rice will explain all of this in class during the second week of classes.

Course Policies:
Attendance Policy: Due to the advanced level of this course, I will not be taking attendance during the semester. This course is not required for your major – you are here because, presumably, you are interested in the course material and have made the commitment to come to class every day, ready to learn. While you are not required to attend most course sessions – the notable exceptions being to turn in your Mid-Term Exam on February 29 and to make your Second Life Project Group Presentation and attend the presentations of your fellow classmates during Dead Week – please don’t think that it is unnecessary to come to class on a regular basis. Regardless of what you may have heard, attendance is very important for success in most college courses. This is especially true for my courses. Exams will be heavily based on lecture material in addition to the course readings and issues covered during class discussion, small group and online work. Most of the lecture material will not appear in the course readings, and you are responsible for all information presented in the lectures and class discussion. Moreover, the lectures will provide important clues as to what things are likely to show up on the examinations. It is highly unlikely that you will do well in this course without regular and engaged attendance.

Email Policy: You may always feel free to contact me via email. However, I do have a few general guidelines you must follow when doing so. First, always begin the subject line of an email to me with “PS 545:”. This will put your email into the appropriate inbox, allowing me to respond to your email in a timely fashion. Emails that do not have “PS 545:” at the beginning of the subject line may not receive a response. Also, emails are NOT text messages/IM communications. When emailing me you should open the email by addressing me as Dr. Rice, identifying who you are and which course you are in (and at what time the course meets), concisely providing the nature of your problem/request, and then signing off with your name. If you have followed these directions, you may expect a response within 48 hours of its receipt. If you have a pressing emergency, you should speak to me during office hours, before or after class, or by phone. As a final note, I will NOT provide your grades (nor discuss any personally-identifiable grade information) by email or over the phone. I also do not accept any MS Office documents by email. If necessary, I may accept a PDF of the document by email, though this must be negotiated with me prior to your sending of the email. I do not open any emails with an attachment unless I am expecting them.

A Brief Note on Cheating & Plagiarism: In addition to being in generally poor form, plagiarism and cheating are theft of others’ intellectual property. Plagiarism or cheating will NOT be tolerated. If cheating or plagiarism is found to occur, it will be dealt with according to University Senate Rule 6.4 DISPOSITION OF CASES OF ACADEMIC OFFENSES. If you have questions as to what constitutes plagiarism (and therefore, how to avoid it), please visit the UK Academic Ombudsman’s website ( and view the document describing the varied forms of plagiarism at

Disputing Exam and Research Project Grades: Should you wish to dispute the grading of an exam or your Second Life project, you may submit a written grievance. Your grievance should identify the question/answer in dispute and provide arguments supporting your position. The appeal must be submitted by stapling your written grievance to your exam or research paper and personally giving this to me within one class period following the return of the exam or research project. I will provide a written response to your grievance within one week of its receipt.

Classroom and Learning Accommodations: Any student with a disability who is taking this course and needs classroom or exam accommodations should contact the Disability Resource Center, 257-2754, room 2 Alumni Gym,

One Last Thing – Dropping the Course: Not that I hope you choose to leave our little soiree, but there are a couple of dates you should keep in mind should the need arise. The last day to drop this course without it appearing on your transcript is January 30, 2008. The last day to withdraw from the course is March 7, 2008.

Course Schedule:
NOTE: All items in the Course Schedule are subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. These changes will be announced in class and/or on the course website. You are responsible for all announced changes, so come to class and visit the course website often.

How do we deal with the Promise and Problems of Capitalism? (January 11–February 1)
Klein, Entire (except Ch. 9-13)

The Politics of Intellectual Property and Copyright Law (February 4–18)
Lessing, Entire

“The First Rule of Fight Club Is You Do Not Talk About Fight Club”: (February 20–27)
The Schizophrenic Condition of Modern Capitalism and Consumer Culture
Palahniuk, entire


Interlude: Thinking about Second Life as American Political Fantasy (February 29, March 5,7)
Reading TBA


The Agrarian Strain in American Political Thought (March 17–28)
Berry, entire

What does a 21st Century American Environmentalism Look Like? (March 31–April 9)
Nordhaus and Shellenberger, Entire

What Constitutes a Public in Contemporary America? (April 11–18)
Dewey, entire

Second Life Project Presentations (April 21–25)
Project Work DUE by April 18