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Culture and Civilisation




Admission Requirements



This course will be an in-depth study of the distinction between the two related notions culture/Kultur and civilization/Zivilisation, beginning with Kant, Schiller, Diderot, Herder, Guizot, Nietzsche, Arnold, and continuing with Freud, Mann, Elias, Hoggart, Marcuse, Adorno, Benjamin, Spengler, Canetti, Fukuyama, Huntington, Bourdieu, and Rancière. Our approach to these notions will be historical and philosophical, special attention being paid to the uses of “culture” in the discourse of Bildung, the anthropological critique of modernist elitism at the beginning of the twentieth century, the discourse of culture by the British left intellectuals, the so-called “cultural turn” and debates on multiculturalism, the rhetoric of a civilizing mission in colonialism and its denunciation in post-colonial studies. To end, we will discuss the hypotheses of an “end of Western culture” and “clash of civilizations” advanced by Fukuyama and Huntington.

Some fictional texts and films will give depth and detail to our discussion of the archive of “culture” and “civilization”. We will start by reading a few excerpts from Petronius’s Satyricon and will watch Federico Fellini’s idiosyncratic film adaptation. They raise not only questions such as what is a civilization, or what counts as culture and how it is transmitted, but also what is the price of culture, and who are the invisible, the forgotten, the silent marginal actors at whose expense civilization is built. A brief acquaintance with Goethe’s Faust will enhance our appreciation of the subtle critique of modern civilization mounted by the futurist Aleksander Wat in Lucifer Unemployed, in complicity with Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Excerpts from T. S. Eliot’s landmark modernist poem The Waste Land, Elias Canetti’s monstrous novel Autodafé, and Mircea Eliade’s novella Youth without Youth will also be part of our discussion, as well as, possibly, films like Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, Sokurov’s The Russian Ark, or Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life.

This course is likely to interest ambitious students who want to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the history of ideas, interdisciplinary approaches to culture, and critical theory.

Course Objectives

As an upper-level seminar, “Culture and civilization” builds on the knowledge accumulated by students in previous courses in anthropology, history, arts, social theory and literature, aiming to integrate these readings, ideas and approaches. Among our objectives around a rigorous understanding of the history of the two related notions “culture” and “civilization.” It aims to enhance the students’ appreciation for ideas in their historical context and their critical ability to evaluate, describe, synthesize, and create original and nuanced interpretations of cultural objects.

Mode of Instruction

The seminar will be based mostly on discussion run by students and on individual presentations of the required and recommended readings. The instructor will occasionally offer short lectures to introduce and contextualize the texts.


Assessment: Writing assignments
Learning aim:
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Monday at 3 p.m. (for assignments given on a Thursday) and Wednesday 11:59 p.m. (midnight, for assignments given on a Tuesday).

Assessment: Writing assignments
Learning aim:
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Friday, week 7, 17h (BB, SafeAssign).

Assessment: Oral Presentation
Learning aim:
Percentage: 20%

Assessment: Class Participation
Learning aim:
Percentage: 10%


Required literature
Mircea Eliade, Youth without Youth
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

All other texts will be made available electronically on Blackboard.

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1 Culture and civilization, between satire and romance: Petronius, Satyricon; Fellini, Satyricon (screen adaptation)
Week 2 Culture as Bildung: Kant, Schiller, Guizot, Arnold, Elias
Week 3 Translatio imperii, a modernist critique: Chaplin, Wat, Eliot
Weeks 4&5 Visions of the end of Western culture: Freud, Canetti, Spengler, Fukuyama, Eliade; the anthropological perspective
Week 6 The “clash of civilizations” debate: Huntington, Chomsky, Said, Berman, Sen
Week 7 Whose culture? The Leftist critique of “culture” (Hoggart, Williams, Weiss, Rancière), mass culture and consumerism (Warhol, Adorno, Debord); multiculturalism (Said, Bhabha, Taylor, Eriksen&Stjernfelt). “Empire” (Hardt, Negri)

Preparation for first session

Students should check out the course Blackboard page and read the excerpts from Petronius’ Satyricon indicated in the “Content” section. It would also be useful if they read Mircea Eliade’s novella Youth without Youth before the start of the block.