Crime and Culture Assignment #1: Critique a Theoretical Text

Paper #1:  Critique a Theoretical Text (5-6pp.)

Assignment:  Using Vanessa Schwartz’s case study of the Paris Morgue, critique and refine Michel Foucault’s theory about the role of crime narratives in the reflection, and exercise, of power in modern life.

Common Texts:

  • Michel Foucault, excerpts (pp. 3-10, 58-69, 200-209) from Discipline and Punish:  The Birth of the Prison
  • Vanessa R. Schwartz, “The Paris Morgue:  Flâneurie in the Service of the State,” from Spectacular Realities:  Early Mass Culture in fin-de-siècle Paris
  • Charles Dickens, “The Uncommercial Traveller” (on a visit to the Paris Morgue)


Critique a Theoretical Text

For this paper, your assignment is to use Vanessa Schwartz’s case study of the Paris Morgue to critique and refine Michel Foucault’s theory of the role of the role of crime narrative in the reflection and exercise of power in modern life.  In other words, this assignment allows you to “test” a philosophical theory against the evidence fielded by an historian.  Your finished paper should be between 5-6 pages long.

To develop an argument, you will need to show how the history of the Paris Morgue alters our initial understanding of Foucault.  A good paper will push beyond mere description of Foucault and Schwartz, (1) by weighing their respective strengths against each other; and (2) by suggesting where future writing on the topic should go.

Goals of the Essay:

  • Formulate a motivated, arguable thesis.
  • Structure the essay “organically,” avoiding chronological summary, on the one hand, and the five-paragraph essay, on the other.
  • Orient your reader.  You should address your essay to readers who have read some Foucault, but not in depth.  You will need to orient them with important reminders (quick summaries of ideas and arguments), always making sure those explanations serve a purpose in your essay as a whole (not just summary for its own sake).
  • Analyze the evidence.  Never assume that your readers will read a passage in the same way that you do or that they’ll draw the same conclusions.  Your analysis of the evidence should persuade your readers of the validity of your claims.
  • Use active verbs and limit your use of “to be” verbs.  “To be” verbs include is, are, was, were, be, to be, been, and being.  This simple exercise will invigorate your prose, and has its best effect if you remain aware of it as you draft and write, rather than translating sentences out of “to be” mode once the draft is done.
  • Document sources using the Chicago-style citation method.
Posted in Critique a text to support an arguable thesis

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